July 27, 2017 By Jariatu S. Bangura
Deputy Majority Leader and Chairman of Finance Committee in Parliament, Hon. Hassan Sheriff, has threatened to close down local councils across the country due to failure of some of their officials to provide adequate information about their operations to the committee.
Speaking during a public hearing at Committee Room one on queries raised in the 2014 Auditor General’s Report on local councils, Hon. Hassan Sheriff disclosed the House was currently working on a concept paper for the closure of certain councils as Finance and Procurement Officers were in the habit dodging committee appearances or not providing documentary evidence requested by the committee.
“The concept paper will be forwarded to President Koroma for the closure of some council premises. If they are closed down, they will be run by a parliamentary oversight committee for two years in order to keep the record straight. If some administrators are lucky, we will call them again to work,” he said.
He charged that the councils have to answer numerous charges which ought to be thoroughly looked into.
He said the issues raised in the Auditor’s Report 2014 include poor budgetary performance, failure to follow procurement procedure, faulty financial statements, duplications of salaries to core staff, and lack of supporting documents on claimed expenditures.
Other issues raised in the report are stalled cheques, non-payment of withholding taxes, inadequate control over generation, banking and recording of revenue, and inadequate management of waste.
Hon. Sheriff noted that for years now, council officials have failed to address burning issues that are of concern to the nation regarding whether tax payers money were being utilised effectively and efficiently, adding that they have identified three councils which are particularly found wanting, including Koinadugu and Kono District Councils.
Hon. Helen Kuyembeh also accused council officials of failing to attentively look at the report and discussing it among themselves before coming to parliament to face the finance committee members.
“All of you know that we would not be calling upon NRA [National Revenue Authority] for withholding taxes or call upon the banks for bank statements, but when an institution is summoned by parliament, it is its members’ responsibility to take to parliament important documents that were not presented to Auditors,” said the opposition lawmaker.
She said the committee wanted evidence not just words of mouth to clarify the issues in the Auditor General’s Report, noting that explanation alone will not help to solve the issues.
Local Councils were dissolved in 1972 by the Siaka Stevens administration citing among other reasons corruption. They were reinstated in 2004 by the Tejan Kabbah led-government, more than three decades thereafter.
However, an expert in local councils governance has expressed doubt whether the path threatened by the ruling party lawmaker is the right procedural pathway recommended by the Local Government Act of 2014.
Section 100 of the said Act gives the President power, with the approval of two-thirds of Members of Parliament, to assume the powers of any local council – but such would be upon the request of the council or in the public interest, or during a state of emergency in the locality, or where it has become extremely difficult or impossible for a local council to function or the council persistently acts beyond its powers.
The expert adds that the President can exercise that power to take over councils via an individual or body of individuals he may appoint, who shall so act for a period not exceeding ninety days, unless Parliament approves a longer period, adding that “Upon the expiry of the period, the President shall hand back the administration of the locality to the incumbent local council,” adding that other options include fresh elections in the local council or an extended term of the pro tem administration.