EU, GoSL launch Le258B programme

His Excellency Brig. Rtd Dr. Julius Maada Bio, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, the Ambassador of the European Union to Sierra Leone, Tom Vens, and the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development have launched the “Support to Civil Society and Local Authorities for Local Development in Sierra Leone” programme at the University of Makeni (UNIMAK) Hall, in Makeni City.

In attendance were also the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Resident Ministers, the Chairpersons and Chief Administrators of the targeted councils of Bombali, Kambia, Kenema and Pujehun, traditional authorities and other dignitaries.

The ceremony marked the official launch of the European Union funded programme “Support to Civil Society and Local Authorities for Local Development in Sierra Leone,” valued at over 23.000.000 EUR (258 billion SLL) and aimed at supporting effective decentralization and efficient service delivery to the citizens of Sierra Leone, especially in remote areas.  On this occasion, 4 grants of a value of 2.500.000 EUR (27 billion SLL) each were signed with the District Councils of Bombali, Kambia, Kenema and Pujehun. These districts have been selected to pilot pioneering approaches to local participatory development across the four administrative regions of Sierra Leone.

The pilot actions foreseen under the grants seek to strengthen service delivery by local authorities notably in the agriculture, water and sanitation sectors, through infrastructural and rural development, financing of priority investments projects, strengthened resources mobilisation, social accountability and local government effectiveness.  Dedicated support is also provided to gender and youth sensitive solutions, improved access to sustainable energy sources and natural resources management. The actions will also complement the Government’s effort in containing the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigating its negative impact in the targeted areas.

In delivering their services, local authorities are encouraged to pilot innovative people-centred solutions in partnership with private sector and civil society organisations. The four grants supplement the EU programme component in support to local civil society initiatives, which started end 2019. Following a highly competitive procedure, seven projects valued overall at 7.000.000 EUR were awarded to civil society initiatives promoting local participatory development in the targeted districts. These projects stood out for their gender and environmental sensitivity and high impact prospects on local development.

Technical Assistance is provided by the European Union to accompany the implementation of the programme, foster partnership development and build human and technical capacity of local authorities, notably in the area of resources mobilisation, public finance management, participatory development and budgetary planning.

It is foreseen that the experiences of the 4 pilot councils will be shared with other neighbouring councils including the city councils of Makeni and Kenema. Engagements between the European Union and the Government of Sierra Leone are ongoing to extend the programme support to Falaba and Karene Districts. This contribution is the result of the strong and continuous partnership between the European Union and the Government of Sierra Leone and their firm commitment towards effective decentralization.

Key government functionaries expressed commitment to the development of local governance and strengthening decentralization.  In his statement, the Chairman of the Local Government Committee in Parliament underscored the need for greater devolution including capacity building of staff. He called on the pilot councils to use the grants to become a model for other councils. The chairman pledged the support of the leadership of Parliament and his Committee to ensure that the grants are effectively monitored and that the resources serve the needs of the people.

The Minister of Planning and Economic Development highlighted the critical need for development encapsulated in the National Development Plan and that “the signing ceremony of the grants represented a forward match to the country’s development goals”. He however acknowledged “the challenges of weak capacity, funding, overlapping roles between councils and chiefs, lack of transparency and accountability and weak engagement.” He assured the audience that his Ministry will ensure that these grants contribute to ameliorating these problems.

Mr Jacob Jusu Saffa, the Minister of Finance, drew attention to the need for legal and policy clarity in decentralization and in particular the need for policy guidance in the area of tax reform in local governance. He assured the audience of the urgency to come up with a policy direction on property tax in order to enable local councils to mobilize local revenue. He furthered that in demonstrating its commitment to decentralization, the government has been consistent in not only ensuring increase in transfers to local councils, but has started paying salaries and other benefits to chairpersons, mayors and chief administrations.

In his statement, EU Ambassador Tom Vens emphasized: “Only if we are close to the people, can we deliver the services that matter. That is what decentralization is about: to do locally what is best done locally. This is not just about relevance and efficiency, but it also allows for greater accountability. Resources should always be to the benefit of the people”.

The Minister for Local Government and Rural Development lauded the EU and the President for their immense support to his Ministry and outlined key programmes and achievements towards effective devolution. He particularly indicated that the Ministry, in collaboration with the National COVID-19 Response Committee, had successfully established functional District COVID-19 Response Committees to fight the pandemic at the local level. Other activities in support of effective devolution as elaborated by the Minister are the review of the national  decentralization policy which is nearing completion, the formulation of a strategic plan to guide the ministry’s strategic direction and efforts, a capacity building strategy development and the transfer of staff to man the various departments and units of the councils.

The ceremony was climaxed with the official launch of the project by His Excellency the President, Rtd. Brigadier Dr. Julius Maada Bio. In his keynote address, President Bio expressed his gratitude to the EU Ambassador for his support and for the continued partnership between the European Union Delegation and the Government and people of Sierra Leone. He committed to strengthening capacity and revenue mobilisation in the local councils. The President was particularly heartened by what he referred to as ‘the insistence that most of the project activities will be managed by women’. The President also called on civil society to ensure accountability and more “evidence-based advocacy in the implementation of the project”.

The Local Government Act 2004, the devolution of functions from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to local councils and the clarification of public institutions’ roles and empowerment of local actors in the implementation of the decentralization process, reflect the intention of the Government of Sierra Leone towards fulfilment of the tenets of decentralization.

Since 2019, the EU project has also been supporting the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development in the review of the decentralization policy and Local Government Act 2004. This support included the provision of assistance to the Local Council Association Sierra Leone and the Local Government Committee in Parliament in view of conducting extensive consultations and convening an expert group meeting in order to enhance the quality, depth and consistency of the decentralization and local governance reform proposals.

The EU funded programme represents a major contribution towards strengthening decentralized structures and ensuring that quality services are delivered to the people. As the President has noted, the combined effort of every citizen will be required to ensure that this project succeeds.