6 Months In Office… Decentralization Director Excels

 

  • Devolves 28 functions
  • Activates Inter-Ministerial Committee
  • Capacity Building For Councils

 

Appointed on September 17th, 2018 by His Excellency President Bio as the Director General of the Decentralization Secretariat, Lawyer Alex Bonopha has within six months of his taking up office fulfilled on the President’s election campaign promise to deepen decentralization in the country in a bid to fast track development at the grassroots level.

Mr. Bonapha recalled that when he was offered the job by his ‘Talk and do’ boss, he was asked if he could deliver. Having gained hands-on experience in local government administration as the Chairman of the Kailahun District Council, Mr. Bonapha said, he replied on the affirmative.

Working hand in glove with the Office of the Vice President under whose purview decentralization falls and with the Inter-Ministerial Committee on devolution, Mr. Bonapha said he has succeeded in devolving 28 out of 36 functions that remained to be transferred to the local councils from ministries, departments and agencies. He pointed out that this feat defied the efforts of the past government for the eleven years that it was in power. He disclosed that because of this failure by the former government, donors including the World Bank lost interest in the project, with the last of them pulling out in 2016. However, with his rebranding of the image of the secretariat, some donors have rekindled interest in the process.

Some of the 28 functions that he has succeeded in decentralizing from the MDAs he said include survey, building permits, sensitization on environmental hazards, licensing of small canoes and fishing nets, sand dues, setting up of community radio boards, development of cultural villages and heritage sites, primary and junior secondary education, etc.

Importantly, he noted that with the Minister of Finance and other line ministries like Education and Health being part of the inter-ministerial committee, there is assurance that the necessary funds for carrying out the devolved services will be disbursed accordingly.

Crucially, the devolved services should go along with the appropriate staff. Mr. Bonapha said the secretariat is now at the stage of enhancing the capacity of devolved staffs through training, alongside the action plan to phase out the functions. He noted that since 2014, there has been no such training of local council staffs, coupled with a high attrition rate because of lack of motivation by way of appropriate salaries and conditions of service similar to those earned by central government employees. This he said is a big challenge to retention of trained council staffs.

Eight functions remain to be devolved but because of their technical nature, these will come along gradually, as for some of them, like energy and water, they have to go back and amend the statutory instrument setting up decentralization. Another like procurement of medicines cannot be devolved because the country has to keep up to international best standards. Government therefore will procure medicines, store them at the central medical store and transfer them to the councils as needed. Another area – that of setting up of fish ponds to increase fish supply in the country – will remain with the ministry of agriculture until the necessary staffs are recruited and trained.

Mr. Bonapha highlighted that decentralization equals development. On allegations of corruption in the councils, he said only 18% of government budget goes currently to the councils. To strengthen the hands of the secretariat in monitoring the councils, he said they now have a research pool and a trained and qualified programs manager. Success in social accountability he said has started showing in, for example, monitoring of the FQE with monthly score cards presented to the secretariat by the councils.

In his continued drive to sensitize stakeholders on the role of hi secretariat, Mr. Bonapha said he has toured the country giving radio interviews, holding town and ward meetings, and that many community radios feature council hour in a bid to raise awareness about the process of decentralizing and localizing governance to the people.

As such, he said councils should not be the hub of the devolved functions which he said should go down so that even people in the villages feel it.

He admitted that over the years training for councilors has been very low; as it is they the people depend on to reach them with the devolved services, noting that the last refresher course for local councils was held in 2014. Councilors, he said, need frequent refresher training courses.

The Local Council Act, 2004, he said is undergoing amendments and will be completed before the end of this year, noting that why decentralization got off to a bad start was because before now the IMC did not sit.

On the conflict between chiefs and councils over collection of tax revenue, he said a meeting of the two authorities is necessary to streamline their tax collection activities, adding that chiefs and the councils need to work together. The chiefdom councils, he said, should prepare and submit their budgets to the councils for approval, adding that public money should not go into private pockets but into government coffers for development, with punitive measures prescribed for expropriating public money by local authorities.