Concord Times (Freetown)

Sierra Leone: FCC Debunks Annie Walsh Relocation Ruse

Contrary to reasons advanced earlier by the Secretary to the President,E.B. Osho-Coker, for the proposed relocation of one of the oldest secondary schools for girls in the West Africa sub-region and Sierra Leone in particular, the Chief Administrator of the Freetown City Council(FCC) has categorically denied his institution had held discussions with any state authority for the transfer of the school from its current location to give way for the construction of a modern market as stated in the letter of the Secretary to President Ernest Bai Koroma.

John Conteh said though the Ministry of Trade and Industry can construct markets for traders, yet it is the primary responsibility of the council to ensure that traders within the municipality are provided with a conducive environment to carry out their normal business activities, adding that relocating that historic school for market purposes is not a wise decision.

"We have never identified that area [Annie Walsh compound] for the construction of a market. The Freetown City Council has other areas to construct a modern market to house all the traders within the Freetown municipality.I think the school authorities only need to improve on the perimeter fence and to relocate the main entrance for the pupils and then normal schooling will continue,"Conteh told Concord Times in an exclusive interview. "The decision is debatable; maybe government has considered that the area has become more congested. But I think it is good to maintain that structure and for its purpose of education."

It could be recalled that Mr. Osho-Coker, on the 29th January, 2013, wrote a formal letter to the Lord Bishop of Freetown and the North (c/o Bishop's Court) categorically stating government's position on the issue of the school.He said with the massive growth in the city's population and concomitant expansion of trading activities eastwards, the area occupied by the Annie Walsh school has become an unsuitable environment for the pursuit of academic excellence, thus the compelling need for relocation of the school to Regent.

"As you are no doubt aware, when the Annie Walsh Memorial School (AWMS) moved to its present location on Kissy Road, Freetown in 1865 the environment was ideally suitable for a school that pursued excellence in all areas including high academic performance, sound discipline and a solid Christian foundation. With the passage of time that has witnessed a massive growth in the city's population and concomitant expansion of trading activities eastwards, the area occupied by the school has become an unsuitable environment for the pursuit of academic excellence. As Government intensifies its efforts at waste management, improvement of road safety and decongestion through 'Operation WID', the compelling need for relocation of the AWMS to a more ideal site has been identified. The selection ofthe site will be at the behest of the proprietors of the AWMS and arrangements will be concluded with Government for acquisition of the land and construction of the new school. The land vacated at Kissy Road will then be utilized for the construction of a modern market to be occupied by traders that are being removed from the streets of Freetown.

"His Excellency the President has instructed me to bring this proposal to your attention so that it can be initially considered by the Church and School authorities. Please be informed that His Excellency looks forward to a favourable consideration of the proposal contained herein," theSecretary to the President's letter stated.

However, a release issued Thursday (Feb. 14) from State House stated that discussions were held between President Koroma and a senior clergyman of the Anglican Diocese who confirmed that plans were already afoot for the relocation of the school.

"The Office of the President notices with grave concern the acrimony and vitriolic attacks coming from some sections of the public over its letter addressed to the Lord Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Freetown and the North,proposing the relocation of the Annie Walsh Memorial School to a more conducive environment. The fact of the matter is that prior informal discussions were held between His Excellency the President and a very senior clergyman of the Anglican Diocese who confirmed that plans were already afoot for relocation of the school, and explained that they were constrained by the huge financial outlay involved. The President saw this as a golden opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by helping to actualize the dreams of the proprietors of the school while simultaneously securing a suitable site for developmental purposes. The President was encouraged to have the proposal officially forwarded to the Lord Bishop for initial consideration by the Church and School authorities.

"It is pertinent to mention that contrary to what is being rumoured, government has neither presented the Anglican Diocese with a fait accompli, nor has it given any indication that it intends to subject the said property to compulsory acquisition. The onus is now on the Church and School authorities to take a dispassionate view of the situation and revert to the Presidency with their reaction. Such reaction could include concerns about preservation of the monumental value of some of the buildings housing the school and other issues that require critical examination.

A response to the letter under reference is awaited," the State House release concluded.

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