Sierra Leones Local Governance And Decentralization Politics

Essay add: 16-06-2017, 17:00   /   Views: 11

The phenomenon of Local Governance and Decentralization in Sierra Leone is not a new development in the country's political history. It has been in existence since the period of colonial rule and was maintained even after Independence was attained in April 1961. Historical accounts have also maintained that Sierra Leone had its own governance structures rooted in the institution of chieftaincy, which constituted an important ingredient of local community governance. Although the system of local governance retained a colonial outlook at independence, it was evident that the district councils established in 1946 were in need of reforms particularly as it became clear that they were not fully representatives and were not meeting the increasing need for the delivery of social services. In spite of these shortcomings in the system of local governance, the local structures bestowed by the colonial authorities at the eve of independence, were considered to be relatively effective and efficient in performing their traditional roles of providing services, maintenance of law and order and promoting community development.

The decline of the local government structures started after the death of the first Prime Minister, Sir Milton Margai in 1964 and the ascension to power of his younger brother Sir Albert Margai from 1964-1967. The once thriving local government system waned remarkably with the emergence of the practice of tribalism and rampant corruption in the operation of the District Councils. As a result of the persistent outcry against the councils, the government of Sir Albert Margai took the bold step of suspending the councils temporarily, in the hope of introducing some sanity and order in their operations. However, the intense political rivalry witnessed in the 1967/68 elections further worsened the situation.

The change in the political leadership in 1968, following the victory of the All Peoples Congress (APC) did in no way remedy the situation in spite of their affirmed promise to revive the operation of the councils as was enclosed in the party's campaign manifesto. As financial impropriety and mismanagement continued amidst the attempt to introduce meaningful reform, the APC government formally and officially abolished the district councils in 1972. The state then introduced a heavily centralized system of administration where powers, duties and responsibilities once exercised by the local government structures were taken over by the central government. This practice continued until it became a policy for the central government to govern by deconcentration, which has its hallmark the establishment of outposts or branches in the interior.

It is widely believed that the establishment of the over-centralized system of Government under the inept and corrupt one party state of the All People's Congress Party with its attendant ills of bad governance, alienation of the rural population, neglect of basic service delivery like health, education, shelter and employment constituted a key factor for the outbreak of the civil crisis in 1991 and the consequent gross abuse of human rights unprecedented in Africa's history.

Sierra Leone like all other countries emerging from years of conflict has been physically, politically and economically devastated by long years of centralized dictatorship and corruption. Economic and political institutions have been destroyed and the social fabric of society torn apart. Though post war reconstruction has brought together an unusually wide range of actors, the resources provided by them have been flowing through weak institutions, an ineffective and inefficient government, public service, a divided civil society and other organs. This situation is yet to be addressed, as government institutions still suffer from inadequate capacity and technical skills, resulting in huge setbacks which creates innumerable opportunities for corruption.

Sierra Leone's post war recovery landscape is largely driven by the International Community, whose major concern is instituting good governance reforms in all sectors of Government. One key area is the revitalization of the Local Government and Decentralization Process. In 2003, the United Nations Development Programme successfully undertook a Civic Education and Public Sensitization Project which culminated in the reinstitution of the System of Local Governance and Decentralization through a Local Government Election in May 2004.

The passage of the 2004 Local Government Act, the creation of the 19 local councils and the subsequent holding of local government election was considered as a right step towards extending governance to the local level and ensuring that citizens can participate and effect meaningful changes in their localities through participation in decision making processes. The Act which also makes provision for women's participation is very important considering the political landscape and culture of the people. Furthermore the Act is the only legal document to date that gives a quota share for women's representation in ward committees.

The passage of the 2004 Local Government Act envisages three important outcomes:

The decentralisation of key services (Health, Agriculture, Education, etc) to local councils by 2008

The institutionalization of transparency, accountability and participation and

An active civil society that inputs into policy formation and monitors the delivery of services.

As this is the first stage in the redistribution of power and resources from central government to the 19 Local Councils, it is hoped that this could go a long way to address the rampant corruption and patronage that has continued to flourish nationwide. It is also hoped that if successfully carried out with the active involvement of the general public, Sierra Leoneans could enjoy a remarkable level of influence within government, thus allowing them an opportunity to participate, scrutinize and effect meaningful changes in their various communities

Thus the successful execution of the ongoing decentralisation process is of utmost importance to the people of Sierra Leone and the international community as a whole. Emphasis has been placed on civil society and the public at large, to make their voices heard by participating in local council meetings and monitoring their activities and budgets including information which is required to be made public. At the community level, the Act provides for Ward Committees, (which are to represent the public at the lowest level through recommendations to the local councils) to address the needs of their constituencies. In addition, Section XV (108) of the Act stipulates that "the ministry shall promote participatory processes in local councils and encourage citizen's inclusion and involvement in governance." Thus provision was made for the participation of citizens in local council and ward committee activities, which if effectively executed could ensure a high level of openness and transparency within government.

Corruption has been and still is a serious problem in Sierra Leone. It has proven a major stumbling block for the establishment of an effective and modern state in the country, increasing poverty and hindering progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. For example, Sierra Leone is richly endowed with natural resources - gold, diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, rutile, iron ore and fertile agricultural land - yet has been classified by the UNDP Human Development Index as the least developed country in the world for the last four years. The level of corruption is nearly impossible to assess, but it is safe to say, based on our own survey evidence and the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), that corruption is endemic in Sierra Leone. Surveys conducted over the past five years have shown that an overwhelming majority of Sierra Leoneans think corruption is rampant throughout society and specifically within government [] . In 2000, a Corruption Perception survey indicated that 94% of respondents thought corruption was widespread. Our 2004 Corruption Household Survey shows that 97% of respondents believe corruption to be a serious problem.

Corruption has been widely acknowledged as a principal factor in the socioeconomic decay, poverty and instability of Sierra Leone [] , as well as a major cause of the decade-long civil war.The undermining of the state's ability to utilise resources, collect taxes and exercise a monopoly of violence in the country is a result of the 'personalization' of government and its services. The emergence of a shadow state that uses the apparatus of formal government for informal or personal uses was a key factor in the collapse of the state in Sierra Leone. This patrimonial system became firmly entrenched during the regime of President Siaka Stevens from 1968 to 1985, who created a one-party state that concentrated authority in his hands and those of his cronies. His grip on power strengthened over time as he disbanded the local government system in the late 1970's, centralising all government activities in Freetown, where he wilfully starved government institutions and treated the national bank as his own personal account. Both the rampant corruption and the over-centralization of state resources are often attributed as the principal causes of state collapse.

Post-war Sierra Leone, like most countries emerging from conflict, has been physically, politically and economically devastated by long years of centralised dictatorship and conflict. Political and economic institutions have been destroyed and the social fabric of society torn apart. Most of the horizontal institutions of accountability created to check government excesses have disappeared or been rendered ineffectual. Post-war reconstruction has brought together an unusually wide range of economic, political and social actors in response to the situation on the ground. However, the resources provided by these actors have been flowing through weak institutions and inefficient, ineffective government, public service bureaucracies and civil society groups, characterized by a lack of administrative, financial and management skills. Thus the situation has not been addressed for decades, as government institutions still suffer from a lack of capacity and technical skills, resulting in enormous problems for the country and created innumerable opportunities for corruption.

Corruption in Sierra Leone has gained momentum during post-war recovery, seeping into virtually every aspect of political, economic and social life. Cultural values and expectations have become distorted, and a system of perverse incentives and behaviours has emerged. Massive corruption within all sectors of society has become a threat to the country's fledging democracy, rule of law and the protection of human rights, economic development and national stability.

Recent developments, however, offer a glimmer of hope for the future of Sierra Leone, as the passage of the 2004 Local Government Act promises to bring governance and development out of Freetown to the local level for the first time in 30 years.

The Act envisages three important outcomes:

The decentralisation of key services to local councils by 2008

The institutionalization of transparency, accountability and participation

An active civil society that inputs into policy formation and monitors the delivery of services

The passage of the Local Government Act heralds great potential for the system of governance in Sierra Leone. A meaningful redistribution of power and resources from Freetown to the 19 local councils and their constituencies could go a long way toward addressing the pervasive corruption and patronage networks that flourish in Freetown. If successfully carried out and with active involvement from the public, the people of Sierra Leone could enjoy an unprecedented level of influence within government, allowing them their first significant opportunity to participate and affect change in their own communities.

Thus the successful execution of the ongoing decentralisation process is of the utmost importance, though remains highly dependent on the ability of external actors, in particular civil society and the public at large, to make their voices heard by participating in local council meetings and monitoring their activities and budgets; information which is required by law to be made public. On the community level, the Act provides for Ward Development Committees, which are to represent the public at the lowest level through recommendations to the local councils to address the needs of their constituencies. In addition, Section XV (108) of the Act stipulates that "[t]he ministry shall promote participatory processes in local councils and encourage citizen's inclusion and involvement in governance." Thus provisions are made for the participation of the citizens in local council and Ward Committee activities, which if effectively executed could allow a hitherto unknown level of openness and transparency within government.

We have our reservations, however, about the decentralisation process which is currently being implemented. With the inability to control corruption on the national level, how is it to be expected that local government will be any less corrupt and any more effective at bringing progress and development to the people? The lack of accountability mechanisms in place at the local level is cause for alarm, especially considering the broad mandate given to local councils to manage natural resources, as well as to levy and collect taxes. Thus, there is grave danger that the decentralisation process could merely decentralise corruption. NAG, therefore, emphasises the absolute need to take a stand against corruption on the local level to ensure that this does not happen.

Thus, public and civil society participation is the key to preventing such a scenario, though this role must be filled without delay. This is perhaps the most crucial time to promote accountability and transparency within the local government system; a time when preventative measures can be implemented before management of services rests completely in the hands of the local councils as they are gradually devolved to the district level. It is due time for the people themselves to decide their future and in what manner they want their public resources to be used.




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