Jallomy — Decentralization can be understood differently by different people at different times but a concurrence will be that decentralization brings the power of decision to plan, execute, monitor and celebrate the development process to the door steps of people in their respective localities. Great though it may sound, decentralization is a painfully difficult process that finds explanation in the political, economic and cultural conditions of a country.
Decentralization was thrown overboard since the 70s following the closure of the local councils in Sierra Leone. A little over 30 years later in 2004, the resuscitation of the local councils became a reality. Whether this was externally induced by some development partners, the truism was that it received the blessing and support of the political leadership and people of Sierra Leone. Effectively, 2004 saw the election into office of chairpersons, Mayors, councilors and Ward Committee members to run the affairs of their respective councils. It was an interesting political reality and Sierra Leoneans were massively overwhelmed by the creation of new political leaders within and around them. Like independence in 1961, hopes of a new beginning that will lead to greater good for the people of Sierra Leone were entertained and celebrated.
The resuscitation of the local councils was very deliberate, intentional and designed to improve the political engagement and socio economic wellbeing of the people of Sierra Leone. High level human resource capacity, logistical and infrastructural support was thrown around particularly by the World Bank.
Fifteen years down the road, decentralization has still not taken roots and demonstrated the desired impact as envisioned by the people of Sierra Leone and our development partners. The structures and infrastructure are assembled, periodic cash allocations in the form of subventions from central government and doles from development partners were ever present and ready. It is believed that the Decentralization Secretariat is gaining support from World Bank mainly for its operations and oversight role including, of course, technical and capacity building support. However, this has not changed the equation and the local councils are still heavily dependent on central government subventions with a conspicuous capacity deficit.
The Decentralization Secretariat was established to be the main hub for the decentralization process but they are falling short of the drive to ensuring that the local councils truly become self reliant in terms of capacity to generate income, report on resources allocated to it and deliver on the various and varied activities of the local councils. Transparency, accountability and good stewardship are strange elements in the overall management of the Local Councils. In fairness to the Decentralization Secretariat, a team of local experts dubbed Resident Technical Facilitators are fielded in each local council to ensure adherence to and compliance with policies and regulatory frameworks; and overall capacity building. For these reasons, the Resident Technical Facilitators were meant to be technically minded, subject matter specialists, sufficiently schooled and highly experienced people. I am not sure this is the case as most Resident Technical Facilitators are chronically dysfunctional and lacking in technical skills, knowledge and capacity to drive the desired change. You cannot offer what you don't have is a living truism. Most of the Resident Technical Facilitators are coming across as interns, not grounded professionals to assuage the situation in Councils.
The consequence of this is limiting the capacity of local councils to effectively and sustainably carry out their roles.
The institution of paramount chieftaincy is pivotal and relevant in Sierra Leone. It is therefore incumbent on us all to see the institution as needing urgent democratic reforms. The truth is that local development can be easily and effectively generated at the chiefdom level as the smallest administrative unit. This, however, takes robust, intentional and deliberate efforts to ensure that paramount chiefs function effectively in their respective chiefdom domains. They must open up to new ways of doing things and correspondingly broaden the scope of accountability and transparency. Paramount chiefs are a natural fit in their respective chiefdoms and their longer term governance in their chiefdoms practically guarantees ownership and sustainability.
The redistricting and corresponding de-amalgamation of chiefdoms in Sierra Leone is not only laudable but the surest way of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the paramount chiefs and their chiefdom councils. Chiefdom governance and oversight can be a huge challenge if the chiefdom area is too big and subjects widely dispersed.
De-amalgamation of chiefdoms must go in tandem with chiefdom institutional reforms. Paramount chiefs must go beyond the customary and traditional boundaries. Paramount chiefs must be effective agents of state governance at the chiefdom level. Correspondingly, this means providing salaries, transport logistics, and other basic infrastructural support to paramount chiefs.
The local councils cannot still break the barriers and their relationship with the paramount chiefs can be largely described as sour and one of rivalry; and the local council Act of 2004 just compounded the situation.
Institutional reforms and strengthening are significant hallmarks in democratic governance and sustainable national development. The seeds of development cannot easily germinate and grow to produce edible fruits if state institutions largely become decorative vessels.