By Emmanuel Bangura.
Thousands of indigenes and residents of the Masiaka Town in Port Loko District took to the street with cultural music (Bubu) and other related performances in welcome and honour of the Energy Minister, Alhaji Kanja Sesay as he switched on the solar mini grid which is going to provide sustainable and affordable electricity supply at the strategic township.
The occasion which was held at the chief’s barry attracted distinguished personalities, among them were the Regent Chief for Koya Chiefdom, Saidu M. Conteh, Members of Parliament for Constituencies 072 and 088, Honorable Alimamy Claude Kanu and Honorable Kekura Vandy of Bo, Councilors Abubakarr Kamara and SAJ, development partners, other stakeholders and the general public on Friday, 26th February, 2022.
In his keynote adress, Minister Kanja Sesay extended gratitude to the Government of Sierra Leone, funding and implementing partners of the project, including FCDO, UNOPS and the British Government for their firm support in ensuring that the electricity needs among residents in that part of the country was addressed.
“My role in this gathering today is to turn on the switch and give you sustainable electricity supply”, said Sesay and described Masiaka Township as very important because it’s the only way from Freetown to the provinces.
The hardworking Minister intimated that as far as he concerned, there should be no colour or barrier when it comes to development.
He specifically gratified the British Government as the first to support the completed solar mini grid project in Masiaka.
“We are paying GST in Freetown, but the Government had removed the Goods and Services Tax subscription fees for those customers that are making use of the mini grid light program to cut down expenditures.
As a result of the successful implementation of energy projects across the country, Sesay said more institutions, including the World Bank had demonstrated interest to support the process and issued stern warning to beneficiaries that he doesn’t want to hear about electricity theft and encouraged consumers to buy top up to always enjoy the facility as it supposed to be.
Minister Sesay emphasized that a fine of Fifty Million Leones (Le50M) will be imposed for any illegal connection case or five years jail term.
The Minister continued that he had listened to the request for the extension of the mini grid project to Songo.
Before he formerly commissioned the project, Sesay admonished young people to not allow to misled, used or fooled by bad politicians to fuel or cause mayhem against their own country and people.
In his welcome adress, the Koya Chiefdom Regent Chief, Saidu M. Conteh described the occasion as a dream that comes true and expressed thankfulness to President Bio for what he labelled as good work. He also recognized the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) for electrifying Masiaka, which he described as an important an strategic town in the Koya Chiefdom.
Mr. Conteh told the gathering that the indigenes of Koya Chiefdom were happy for the project and drawn the attention of the Minister that Songo Village had not only grown rapidly with many houses and population with the help of Government, but they were equally in need of sustainable energy supply.
Representing UNOPS, Technical Team Lead, Ezekiel Moosili described the event as very important for the people of Masiaka and the country at large, noting that the project was been implemented on behalf of the Ministry to increase energy access for economic growth and social development. He added that over eighty one communities have gained access to the use of renewable energy across the country and spoke on the importance attached on the use of clean technology to improve or transform lives.
He accounted that FCDO funded UNOPS to implement the project.
Representing Power Leone, VP of Engineering and Co-Founder of Power Leone/Energicity, Joe Philip said their main focus was to provide rural communities with electricity to boost businesses and encouraged stakeholders to protect the facility and ensure its long life span. He dilated that they would like to work with implementing partners and Sierra Leoneans to make communities electrify and The country transform to a great nation.
Ezekiel confessed that they received the highest and needed support from residents of Masiaka during the time they were busy working on the now finished project. He deliberated that they are expecting to meet 100 rural communities in the next few months and talked about the special training they were going to provide on the use of the solar system and meters.
The Member of Parliament for Constituency 072 in Port Loko District, Hon. Ibrahim Claude Kanu buttressed that the entire Masiaka Town were very excited for what he called a wonderful development and opportunity which they were waiting for, confessing that “As a member of the Committee on Energy in Parliament, “To be honest with you, Alhaji Kanja Sesay is trying in the development of the energy sector”. He explained that they needed more electricity poles to be erected in Masiaka Town because it had existed with over three thousand houses.
Representative of the Ministry of Finance, Dr. Alusine Mansaray entreated that they are one hundred percent in support of the energy ministry to electrify Masiaka Town, adding that the Ministry of Finance have demonstrated their support for the energy sector through the removal of various taxations on light, including the GST for it to be accessible by all.
The MP for Constituency 088 in Bo City, Hon. Kekura Vandy said they are in Parliament to make laws and performing oversight functions and spoke about the Government plan and commitment to increase electricity access in every corner of the country and assured that the mini grid project would provide sustainable light distribution among rural communities.
He sensitize that CLSG was formed by four West African countries, including Ivory Coast, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone to make electricity affordable for all. He recalled that CLSG project was ratified in Parliament in 2013. He encouraged parents to send their children to school for the good of themselves and the country as a whole.
Delivering message on behalf of the British High Commission in Sierra Leone, the Development Director, Kobi Beney recounted that the British Government had poured about thirty seven million pounds Sterling’s (37Million Pounds) in Sierra Leone to boost the Ministry of Energy, adding “Am happy that Masiaka is a beneficiary of the project”, she said.
She lauded Government and all development partners that came together to ensure the actualization of the project.
Other speakers including Councilor Abubakarr Kamara and the oldest Section Chief in Masiaka, Pa Alimamy Thoronka also expressed similar sentiments.
PUBLIC REVIEW ARTICLE
PONDER MY THOUGHTS
FCC INQUIRY REPORT: A CASE OF “WORKING FROM ANSWER TO SUM”?
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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
2. 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”.
3. 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.