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Monday, July 4, 2022
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PONDER MY THOUGHTS: FCC INQUIRY REPORT: A CASE OF “WORKING FROM ANSWER TO SUM”?

By Andrew Keili

Have you ever worked on a mathematical question for which you already know the answer (by some means-spying or being deliberately given the answer beforehand)? A friend of mine did and when he got the answer of three and half men by his calculation, he justified his answer of three by saying the extra half man was a boy who did not count!

This is the kind of difficulty the committee looking into the affairs of the FCC faced. Reading the recent Administrative Inquiry Report into the Management of the Freetown City Council leaves one with the impression that a hidden mandate might have been to sully the reputation of the Mayor and dissolve the Mayor’s Delivery unit (MDU) (no disrespect to the “distinguished” members of the panel, who might have been constrained by the Terms of Reference). Let us take a closer look at what the report actually said (or did not say).

Firstly, what did it say?

  1. Cooperation between the FCC and Chief Administrator is poor and processes and procedures are often flouted

The report makes the following claim: “There are staff members, mostly non-core staff, who report directly to the Mayor as per the Mayor’s verbal directives, leaving out the Chief Administrator (CA) who should actually be communicating the Mayor’s directives.” It also claims that “most decisions are not taken at Council level in breach of the Act” and that “what appears to be Council’s initiatives are mostly decisions taken by the Mayor”.

In general, the report stresses on the need for greater consultation and attention to the needs of core staff and need for the FCC to follow legislated processes and procedures.

  • The MLGRD grossly lacks the capacity to monitor and control councils

The report makes some scathing criticisms of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD). It states that the MLGRD is yet to develop a legal and regulatory framework to monitor the operations and performance of the local councils including the FCC and is challenged in identifying existing gaps in terms of capacity of the FCC to carry out their activities as well as mobilise and manage revenue, both own source and fiscal transfers from the central government.

It also claims that the MLGRD has not undertaken the Comprehensive Local Government Performance Assessment System for local councils including the FCC, which involves the simultaneous conduct of a nationwide assessment of the performance of all local councils in terms of revenue mobilisation, financial management, records keeping, reporting, infrastructure and service delivery. This would have helped inform the Ministry about the capacity needs of the FCC.

The report also says the Ministry is not well represented at the FCC and the Resident Technical Facilitator (RTF) who should be the liaison between the FCC and Ministry has had limited logistic support to enable him effectively execute his Terms of Reference.

It is obvious from the report that MLGRD has not been meeting its mandate in the area of supervision of councils.

  • The MDU is an illegal body that contributes to the mayhem in the FCC

The report acknowledges the MDU was created to be the implementing wing of the Mayor’s ‘Transform Freetown Agenda’, but says the Mayor formed the Unit without doing any gap analysis to find out if there were existing staff within the FCC staff she inherited who had the requisite expertise to put into effect that agenda. It says staff of this Unit are implementing all donor-funded projects undertaken by the FCC. It claims this Unit is the main reason for the “war” at FCC and recommends that “there is urgent need to critically re-examining the position or status of the MDU within Council with a view of abolishing it”.

Now, let us look at what it did not say or do.

  1. There is no assessment of the efficiency of the MDU or the utilisation of donor funds

It is a surprise that given the prominence of the MDU and the use of donor funds in this entire FCC saga, none of the donors or groups implementing projects seem to have been interviewed and no reference is made to the success of implementing such projects. Also no mention seems to be made of the fact that various MDAs of government seem to have been hand in gloves with the Mayor on many aspects of the “now illegal” Transform Freetown Project until the “falling out”.

The treatment of the MDU in the report indicates a lack of understanding of how donor projects are implemented. FCC is not alone in having a delivery unit for donor projects. Most major Ministries with big donor funded projects now have such units, staffed by highly donor-paid experts including Energy, Transport and mines. These are essential for timely and efficient execution of donor projects which are cumbersome in their procedures and processes.

One valid criticism of such units however is that it must be ensured that competent core MDA staff are either given the opportunity to participate in the projects or not overlooked in their job growth and satisfaction within the MDA. This criticism seems to be a valid one for the FCC. Notwithstanding these, the MLGRD’s decision to shut down the MDU instead of revisiting its operation may turn out to be a case of “cutting your nose to spite your face”. One very much hopes they have given some thought to whether donors will continue with the funding, in the absence of a Project Management Unit or if they contemplate one, how it will be staffed and run.

The Mayor in an earlier report prepared on 7th Septembe,2021 to assist the Inquiry had provided information on Donor (FCDO/DFID) Funded Projects in which she claimed that various donors had in fact contacted the Chief Administrator to discuss their projects but had been rebuffed. Some specifics which the Committee should have investigated are as follows:

❑ The Head of DFID sent an email on 17th July 2020 offering to send a DFID team to meet the CA and other staff to explain DFID’s policy of only working through NGOs. The CA refused to respond to the email and demanded DFID send the money to Council.

❑ The CA received an email from CRS to the ESO dated 26th March 2020 with all the Transfer Station project documents attached. The CA and core staff participated in meetings and protracted negotiations re the land sites for the Transfer Stations including the final meeting on 4th January 2021 at the Ministry of Planning attended by the Ministers of Planning, Lands and Local Government. The Transfer station documents were handed over to CA for processing.

These seem to contradict the claim that the CA was not kept abreast of donor funded projects.

  • There is no consideration of FCC’s accusation of financial malfeasance by the CA

The report does not delve into the Mayor’s accusations about malfeasance by the CA which were specific in nature and could have been investigated. Here is a sample:

❑ “Illegal issuance of lease of FCC’s Ambrose Street Community Centre to the CA’s family member in January 2018 whilst Council was dissolved for elections.”

❑ “Withholding of devolved funds payments to the hospitals managed by FCC to pressure them to make payments to him. The medical superintendents eventually met with me and wrote a letter of complaint in 2019.”

❑ “The Cleanest Zone Competition……… The contractor failed to deliver after receiving Le 450m. I had the contractor arrested but he was released by the CA who said he signed an undertaking that the materials would be returned to FCC. To date we have still not received a single paving slab and CA is taking no action”.

  • The recommendation for the Mayor’s PA to pay back funds expended on her may be biased

Another surprising recommendation is for the Mayor’s Personal Assistant to repay the Le 200m expended in travelling and expenses when she accompanied her on trips in which she played a justifiable role of assisting the Mayor with demonstrable good results because “the payment contravenes the Act”. I guess the several assistants, not budgeted for or who are probably not official ministry employees who travel with Ministers will also be asked to repay funds expended on them….and lest I forget the paid-for supporters who went to the recent AFCON tournament!

Clearly, there are problems within the FCC which need to be resolved. There are obviously things that the Mayor can do to improve the situation. The report however suffers from the practise of “selective amnesia’, skating over some areas in its prescriptions for the solutions to the FCC’s problems. The CA has had several accusations against him indicating poor financial practices and an unwillingness to cooperate with donors. These have not been alluded to in the report and the only recommendation regarding him, which is merely a slap on the wrist is the following: “That the CA should be reprimanded for improperly communicating with his superiors, including the Mayor.” The MLGRD itself has not criticised in the report and I am surprised they are releasing the report with glee. It portrays them as grossly lacking capacity and lagging behind in formulating various policies and guidelines and as a Ministry guided by antiquated policies and laws with conflicting provisions.

There is little doubt this report is akin to working from “answer to sum”.

Ponder my thoughts.

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