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Address By His Excellency The President, During The Inauguration Of Newly Elected Councillors Of The Local Government Councils

Mr. Chairman,
Honourable Vice President,
Ministers of Government,
Honourable members of Parliament,
Members of the Diplomatic and consular Corps,
Paramount Chiefs and Local Dignitaries,
Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen

President KabbahLet me congratulate you all on your election as Councillors for this Municipality. While I do so, we should also congratulate ourselves as a people for the peaceful and transparent nature of the recent Local Government elections. This is the fourth in the series of freely conducted elections in our recent history. It is an assuring sign that democratic traditions are once more taking a firm root in our beloved country. Democratic practice should continue to be consolidated as one guarantee of a peaceful and prosperous future.

I want to take this opportunity to express my Government's appreciation for the support we have received from our Development Partners in bringing about the necessary reforms in Governance that are essential for the economic recovery of our country. Special thanks must be given to the officers and members of UNAMSIL, who in no small measure assisted in the conduct of the Local Government elections. The World Bank, EU, DFID and UNDP are also committed in diverse ways to assisting and supporting the Decentralization Programme of Government. For this we are grateful. The decentralization programme has kick-started with the elections of Councillors to the 19 Local Government Councils. It was in pursuit of the principles of democracy that my government has, as one of its declared aims, the restoration of Local Councils with members freely elected by our people. The system of freely and democratically elected local councils was abolished some 32 years ago. Today marks the fulfillment of that long felt dream. I am particularly pleased that power will, in future, be shared with our people through you their elected representatives.

You have now gone through the election process. You therefore deserve our recognition and congratulations. Now that the elections are over, we are to concentrate on the provision of services and much needed development for this municipal area. I urge you all to realize that even though you have been elected to this Council on the basis of your political affiliations your primary responsibility should always be to lead and spearhead the development aspirations of this municipality. Political Party interests or considerations should not supersede the socio-economic development needs of this city. I want to encourage you Councillors, from the different political parties represented here to always cooperate and work together as a team for the development of this Municipality. If you do this, you will succeed in effectively serving the people whom you now represent. Do not misunderstand me. I am not calling for the reintroduction of a one-party system of Government in Sierra Leone. It destroyed our country and no longer has a place in our society.

You should always remember that this Council is charged with responsibility for the local administration of the capital city of this country. All Sierra Leoneans are rightly concerned about the city's upkeep as it is the gateway to the whole country. In the recent past, particularly during and after the war, large number of people have migrated to and remained in this city to the extent that services and facilities available here some years ago cannot now meet its growing population. You are therefore required to be a little more imaginative in the performance of your duties so as to ensure that the needs of this municipality are well and truly catered for.

Always remember that yours is the first elected Council for this city in 32 years. But unlike other Councils, you are taking over an established local government infrastructure, which it is your duty to build upon. If you do not allow politics or political considerations to dominate the Council's thinking and actions there is every chance that you will succeed. This is my earnest wish for you.

You must also always remember that every ethnic group is represented within your local government area. You therefore need to develop a system of management that will accommodate all these different groups without appearing to favour any particular group of people or organization. You may have to take hard decisions, which may be required to ensure that the city is clean and orderly, and that the services which the law enjoins you to provide are efficiently provided. Such decisions should be taken in the sole interest of this municipality.

Some of the sources of income the municipality will be depending on to perform its functions will be rates and market dues. In determining the level of rates and dues to be levied, consideration should always be given to the prevailing economic circumstances and the city's needs.

The Council should also ensure that prudent and transparent use is made of funds and resources available to this Council. They are meant solely for the development and the provision of services for this municipality. Further, the Council should always work within the Local Government Act 2004, which should be its guide. In this way it will promote good governance and enhance cooperation between it and the central government.

I wish to mention here that the original position of my Government was that the local elections were to be conducted on a non-partisan basis. The main reasons for this were that we considered local council elections as local affair where the best local person was to be elected irrespective of any political party affiliation. We were aware that there were some good people who would be willing to serve and be invaluable assets to their communities, but who may shy away from party politics and may be unable to compete with candidates of political parties. We had in mind the basic function of local councils, which are to provide services and development for the Districts and the local government areas and the person who was considered most capable of serving the local community was the one we thought most fitted to become a Councillor. This is in fact the practice in some other African countries where local governments are well developed and are thriving. We thought local elections were not the proper place to introduce and concentrate on national and party politics. Our view was that engaging national political parties and the concentration on politics, were matters to be reserved for national elections. The APC party insisted on our having partisan elections with the involvement of political parties. We yielded to their demand and the result is as we have today. That is:

No. of Councils Councillors Percentages
SLPP 15 330 70%
APC 4 116 22%
Independent - 10 8%

In Tonkolili District alone, the SLPP more than doubled its votes in these Local Governments elections as compared with the last General Elections results.

Therefore, out of a total of 19 Local Government Councils the SLPP has control over 15 Councils, and is the sole party in a number of such councils. If not for anything else, we welcome this outcome, as it is a clear endorsement and appreciation of the policies, which my Government has been pursuing in spite of great odds. The results also show that our original desire to have non-partisan local government elections was not because as a party, we wanted power for its own sake or were scared of defeat by the APC. Our only desire was to have the best persons in the Councils who would best serve their people without any political considerations.

Now that the elections are over, we are to concentrate on the provision of the much needed development and services for our local government areas. Such services should be provided on a needs-basis and not in a discriminatory manner. For instance, priority should be given to providing schools, roads, health and other facilities to areas and communities where the need for those services is greatest and most urgent.

I urge that the Council focuses on matters that will enhance the development of this municipality; matters that will promote peace, and unity and cohesion among the people in this city. If this is replicated in all local government areas as I have already urged other councils to do we would achieve that development, permanent peace, national unity and national cohesion which my government is striving hard to enhance and maintain in this country.

Contrary to current propaganda, government has had no hands in fixing prices of food as our staple food, rice, is imported mainly from Asia. The cost of transportation alone is one-third of the total cost of the rice. The producers dictate the price of rice itself. Both elements are determined without reference to or input by Government. That is why we should concentrate on the production of our own food to ensure enough food and longer and healthier lives for our people. Even in the city the development of school and kitchen gardens could be encouraged and promoted for the cultivation of vegetables. This will not be a new phenomenon and it will not detract the Council from its core functions. Rather, it will be a practical demonstration of the Council's leadership role in the efforts to achieve food security.

Councillors, your functions are stipulated in the Local Government Act 2004. They are to: -

(a) mobilize the human and material resources necessary for the overall development and welfare of the people of the locality;

(b) promote and support productive activity and social development in the locality;

(c) initiate and maintain programmes for the development of basic infrastructure and provide works and services in the locality;

(d) be responsible for the development, improvement and management of human settlements and the environment in the locality;

(e) initiate, draw up and execute development plans for the locality;

(f) co-ordinate and harmonize the execution of programmes and projects promoted or carried out by public corporations, other statutory, bodies and non-governmental organizations in the locality;

(g) cooperate with relevant agencies to ensure the security of the locality;

(h) perform additionally the functions

(i) specified in the third Schedule of the Act.

(j) Functions prescribed, that would be in the Statutory Instruments.

I wish to express my government's readiness and willingness to support meaningful development programmes that will be pursued by all Local Councils.

Once more I congratulate you all and wish you a successful tenure of office.