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National Decentralisation Policy
Apr 4, 2011, 12:00
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I am heartened to present the National Decentralisation Policy on behalf of the Government of Sierra Leone, which will ultimately serve as a guide to the Government and key actors in implementing, strengthening and deepening decentralisation in the country. The present decentralisation process is principled on the concept that semi autonomous entities are better placed to address the immediate needs in their various localities than the central Government. Decentralisation has moved a long way since its introduction in May 2004. The necessary structures, especially the local councils, have been established and are now functioning.

Policy makers, development experts and governance advisors have variously argued that it was necessary to have developed a decentralisation policy document before enacting legislation by Parliament on decentralisation. Proponents argue that the policy would have informed the contents of the Act and would have helped to minimise the many contradictions, contestations, ambiguities and lapses currently found in the Local Government Act, 2004. Whatever posture the argument takes, there was and there is still the need for a comprehensive, consolidated and standardised policy that meets international best practices on decentralisation, with the view to guiding and directing the decentralisation process in Sierra Leone and addressing lots of antiquated and obsolete legislation that are still in existence.

This policy document is based on extensive consultations with major stakeholders and the experiences gained from the implementation of the Local Government Act, 2004 over the last six years. Consultations were held at district, regional and national levels to engage key stakeholders including local councils, traditional authorities, civil society and ordinary citizens.

The formulation of this policy will serve a useful purpose of guiding Government, development partners and other stakeholders in the implementation of the decentralisation process. The policy shall serve as the key reference point for the Government and other stakeholders for consolidating and widening the decentralised system of government. It will further enhance coordination, improve service delivery, facilitate a well coordinated revenue generation between traditional authorities and local councils, and improve accountability and transparency which is the hallmark of Sierra Leones decentralisation. It will enable a more coherent implementation of the decentralisation policy within the Agenda for Change framework and the Local Government Act.

I would like to express Governments appreciation and recognition of the strategic roles played by the national Decentralisation Task Force and the Decentralisation Secretariat in spearheading the entire process, and of the enormous technical and financial support provided by our development partners especially the World Bank, DFID, EC and UNDP in the development of this important document. I am confident that this policy will effectively address the enormous challenges that we will have to contend with in the implementation of the decentralisation process.

Hon. Dauda S. Kamara

Minister of Internal Affairs, Local Government and Rural Development


1.1 National development context

Poverty is widespread and severe in Sierra Leone, and as a result, poverty reduction remains the key national objective of the Government. Several issues need to be addressed in order to reduce the levels of both income and non-income poverty. Sierra Leones current economic growth rate is 6.5 percent per annum. If that trend continues, by 2018 Sierra Leones GDP will be $350 per capita, meaning that most of the countrys population will still live on under $1 per day, which is not a good sign for poverty eradication.

There are large variations in income poverty and non-income poverty between the different regions. Access to medical services and educational facilities vary, while significant differences in basic infrastructure such as roads exist between the regions. On average, the Western Area, which contains the capital city, has better indicators of well-being than all other regions. Addressing regional disparities will assist in providing a more equitable distribution of resources, and in dealing with the growing problem of urbanisation.

The prime objective of the Government is to ensure that the exacerbating poverty situation in the country is eradicated and its people enjoy an affordable standard of living evidenced by effective and sustainable delivery of services at all levels. To this end, the Government has developed the second generation Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper 2008-2012 titled Agenda for Change (PRSP II). The PRSP II has four main priority areas as follows:

a) Energy

b) Agriculture

c) Infrastructure/transportation

d) Human development.

Both the first and second generation PRSPs identified decentralisation as a vehicle and core strategy for the achievement of the strategic outcomes of the PRSPs. The President of Sierra Leone states in his introduction to the PRSP

In order to maintain the progress we will make, we must ensure sustainable human development through the provision of improved social services. Effective delivery of basic social services is essential for ensuring economic growth and poverty reduction. We are committed to bringing the service delivery closer to the people, by pushing forward our policy of decentralisation and devolution of service delivery functions to local councils.

1.2 Background to decentralisation in Sierra Leone

Local government was a fundamental element of governance in Sierra Leone during the colonial era. The elective aspect of local councils was suspended nationwide in 1972. The district councils ceased to operate, while the Freetown City Council, Bonthe Municipal Council and the urban councils of Bo, Kenema, Makeni, and Koidu New Sembehun continued to operate as local councils under appointed committees of management. In the 1980s, the Government decided to resuscitate the district councils and appointed committees of management.

This arrangement had a negative impact on effective local participation and engagement in governance and administration. Responsibilities such as primary education, primary road construction, community health care and community development among many others were effectively subsumed to the central government. By implication, local authorities became appendages of the central government. The main aim of the reintroduction of decentralisation in 2004 was to promote good governance and democracy, accountability and transparency, improve service delivery and develop the local economy.

Soon after the national elections in May 2002, the Government decided to re-establish elected local councils, so as to actualise decentralisation. To this end, the ministry responsible for local government organized national consultations to gauge opinion on the system of decentralisation.

However, the decentralisation process has so far been implemented with no single laid down policy to guide it. It has been largely based on policy statements contained in several official documents: the Local Government Act, 2004 and sector policies that are often antiquated or non-existent. The 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone does not make provision for decentralisation. Thus the preparation of a national decentralisation policy that would harmonize all policy issues is a priority for both the Government and her development partners, as a sign of continued commitment to decentralised local governance in Sierra Leone.

1.3 Current legal basis

In March 2004, the Local Government Act, 2004 (LGA 2004) was approved and enacted into law by Parliament to usher in local councils and decentralisation. Specifically, the Act aims to consolidate and streamline the law on local government to give effect to decentralisation and devolution of powers, functions and resources. It provides for local elections, the political and administrative set-up of local councils, local council financing and decentralised decision making to ensure good governance, democratic participation and control of decision making by the people.

To give full effect to the provisions of the LGA 2004, statutory instruments were enacted, establishing 19 local councils in 19 localities, and, by the Local Government (Assumption of Functions) Regulations, 2004 (SI No 13 of 2004), providing for the devolution of functions. In 2006, city / municipal status were granted to five towns, in addition to Freetown which already had city status.

The passage of the LGA 2004 was successfully followed in the same year by the first local government elections after 32 years. The LGA 2004 specified the first four years as the transition period for implementing the new relationships between central and local governments. During this time, authority and corresponding resources for a defined set of functions were to be transferred to local councils.


2.1 Principles of the policy  

The Government is committed to a policy of decentralisation by devolution, characterised by the following principles:

a) the transfer of power, authority and resources from the centre to democratically elected local councils anchored within the national Constitution and articulated in law, promoting autonomy without prejudice to the sovereignty of the national Government;

b) bringing political, administrative and fiscal control and responsibility over services closer to the people where they are actually delivered, in line with the principle of subsidiarity;

c) engendering peoples ownership of their local development agenda;

d) ensuring that holders of public offices locally are held accountable for their actions to the public;

e) guaranteeing transparency  and openness in the conduct of local council affairs;

f) creating an environment for participatory democracy that will enable greater involvement of the people and their representatives in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluation of development projects and local economic development in their localities;

g) stimulating economic growth in local communities, including public-private partnerships; and

h) promoting inclusiveness and equality of all citizens within any locality regardless of gender, origin, religion  or political persuasion.

2.2 Goal, objectives and assumptions

2.2.1 Goal

The goal of Sierra Leones decentralisation is to ensure that the local people and their communities are empowered and fully involved in political and socio-economic development processes and actually formulate and implement development plans, while governments working in collaboration with the private sector and civil society provide the enabling environment, oversight and effective management of national and local development.

2.2.2 Policy objectives

To achieve the above goal, the following objectives will be pursued:

a) to firmly establish the legal and regulatory framework for embedding the policy of decentralisation by devolution while defining roles, responsibilities and functional relationships therein;

b) to improve local governance by shifting political, administrative and fiscal responsibilities closest to the areas where services are delivered;

c) to devolve service delivery functions to local councils systematically and in a coordinated  fashion together with  the MDAs;

d) to strengthen capacities of key stakeholders involved in the decentralisation process, especially the local councils, to be able to carry out their mandates effectively and efficiently;

e) to build local ownership  and operational efficiency of the decentralisation process through effective development planning and budgeting, financial management, monitoring and evaluation, and other managerial functions, and to provide an effective link between national development priorities and local level development initiatives;

f) to strengthen local councils to effectively harness local revenue potentials to complement other revenue sources, including inter-governmental  fiscal transfers, for the funding of their development  and  administrative programmes;

g) to mainstream gender perspectives in the entire decentralisation process especially in the operations of the local councils and to promote inclusiveness for all societal groups;

h) to effectively sensitise the citizenry about decentralisation, mobilising solid support for its growth and emphasising good stewardship;

i) to promote transparency and accountability in local governance by making local councils directly accountable for their actions to their citizens and nationally, while adhering to the best practices of open government;

j) to devolve local economic development promotion functions and their related resources to local councils in a systematic and coordinated manner with the MDAs;

k) to devolve the required functions and resources to enable local councils to explore all opportunities to promote equitable local economic growth and service delivery through the mobilisation of local resources in tandem with the private sector and civil society; and

l) to harmonise donor support towards strengthening the decentralisation process avoiding unnecessary duplications and overlaps.

2.2.3 Assumptions

In order for the Sierra Leone decentralisation policy to be successful, the following conditions should hold:

a) continued demonstration of strong political will in support of the decentralisation reform agenda;

b) clarity of, appreciation of, and adherence to the assignment of roles, responsibilities, functional relationships and resources amongst all statutory bodies and stakeholders involved in the decentralisation process;

c) local councils are able to attract and retain sufficient, competent and motivated staff for the execution of their functions;

d) own-source revenue generation capacities of local councils will progressively improve with a view to complementing central government transfers and donor funding;

e) objectively based, timely and predictable fiscal transfers to local councils;

f) regular and democratic elections are held for councillors and ward committees in line with the LGA 2004;

g) the chiefdom governance system is aligned with the local democratic governance system to promote cooperation and partnership in all aspects of local development;

h) local councils are sufficiently empowered and resourced to ensure that local economic development is promoted to improve peoples incomes and well-being;

i) there exists effective aid harmonisation and donor coordination in support of decentralisation; and

j) the 1991 Constitution is revised to reflect the policy of decentralisation by devolution.


3.1 Introduction

The strategic framework shall ensure that the policy goals and specific objectives can be implemented as effectively and efficiently as possible. Closely linked to the strategic framework is the institutional framework that shall ensure and guide implementation through adequate laws, guidelines and well defined organisational, institutional and functional relationships. The internationally agreed components of decentralisation include the political and governance, administrative and functional, and fiscal dimensions. The strategic framework shall ensure that the basis for operationalising each dimension is established. Meanwhile cross-cutting and support areas, including capacity building, gender, information, education and communication (IEC), and monitoring and evaluation, are critical in ensuring the smooth implementation of the decentralisation policy. The strategic framework shall therefore also focus on these cross-cutting and other support areas.

3.2 Institutional framework

The institutional framework identifies key stakeholders involved in the decentralisation process and defines their roles, responsibilities and functional relationships.  Stakeholders are identified at the central and local levels.

3.2.1 Central level stakeholders Ministry responsible for local government

The ministry responsible for local government will be charged with the responsibility for supervising and coordinating the implementation of the entire decentralisation process including fiscal decentralisation. This implies that the Ministry will monitor all local councils and other local authorities in the discharge of their functions and responsibilities. The Ministry shall continue to perform all functions as provided for in the LGA 2004 and other related legislation. The District Officer shall be the Ministrys principal representative in each locality of the three regions (excluding the Western Area) to enhance the undertaking of the above roles.

Specifically, the Ministry will be responsible for:

a) performing the secretariat function  for the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Decentralisation (IMC);

b) the technical implementation and monitoring of the decentralisation programme and emerging issues related to decentralisation and local governance, e.g. conflicts within and between local councils, and non-compliance with policies and statutes in general;

c) technical guidance in the conduct of local council and ward elections;

d) guidance and supervision on cross-cutting issues (non-sectoral) of local council operations, such as human rights and good governance practices; and

e) guidance to and supervision of local councils on administrative procedures and functions.

The ministry responsible for local government, in collaboration with the ministry responsible for finance, shall be responsible for fiscal decentralisation within the overall decentralisation process. The ministry responsible for local government shall take full responsibility for strategic direction in the implementation of Governments fiscal policies especially as they relate to local government. The Local Government Finance Department (LGFD), a department within the ministry responsible for local government, shall provide secretariat services to the Local Government Finance Committee (LGFC) and shall continue to oversee the grant design and distribution, budget preparation and execution processes, and revenue mobilisation of all the local councils. All finance related functions provided for in the LGA 2004 and other related legislation shall be performed by the ministry responsible for local government, which shall further apply sanctions and rewards through the use of performance incentive grants system. Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs)

MDAs refer specifically to those that are required by law to devolve functions to local councils. The MDAs shall continue to be responsible for sectoral policy matters, provide technical guidance and monitor the performance of relevant functions devolved to the local councils.

Specifically the MDAs will attend to the following responsibilities:

a) devolution of functions to local councils as specified in the LGA 2004 and other relevant statutes;

b) provide  unit costs  in the budgeting for all devolved functions, and  advice on where to procure inputs at the cheapest possible cost;

c) develop sector policies and review existing policies to ensure that they reflect the socio-economic, technical, and political realities in the country in order to guide the local councils as a policy framework within which  they can act appropriately to local circumstances;

d) ensure that LED related functions are defined clearly in the LGA and that the resources commensurate with these functions are devolved to the local councils;

e) set standards for service delivery, LED promotion and natural resource management based on the principles of equity of access and quality of service;

f) develop sectoral monitoring systems with robust indicators and clearly defined roles and responsibilities between sector ministries, the ministry responsible for local government and local councils;

g) undertake regular evaluation of the effect and impact of services provided to see if the service delivery strategies and methods are adequate; and

h) advise the local councils on building the capacity of their staff in order to deliver effective and relevant services. Parliament

Parliament shall play a key role in the successful implementation of the decentralisation process. Parliament shall continue to enact and amend legislation relating to decentralisation and also hold local councils accountable for their actions. For example, they may request a local council functionary to appear before Parliament to answer questions or make clarifications. Judiciary

The judiciary shall ensure compliance with the provisions within the enacted laws through the dispensation of justice to defaulters. It shall also act as arbiter in a situation where there is need for clarification or interpretation of laws relating to the decentralisation process. Auditor Generals Office

The Auditor Generals Office shall audit local councils as stipulated in the LGA 2004, and shall submit a report of the audit to the local council concerned and to the Minister responsible for local government. The report shall draw attention to any irregularity in the accounts. Commissions and committees

i. The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Decentralisation (IMC)

The IMC will continue to serve as the highest body within the decentralisation process. The IMC will oversee that decentralisation is progressing as scheduled, with the ministry responsible for local government providing technical backstopping to the process as well as monitoring progress. The C shall continue to perform the functions stated in the LGA 2004.

ii. The Provincial Coordinating Committee (PCC)

The PCCs will continue to exist as a deconcentrated entity of the ministry responsible for local government. The PCCs will continue to perform the functions stipulated in LGA 2004.

iii. The Local Government Finance Committee (LGFC)

The LGFC will continue to provide advice to the minister responsible for local government on the introduction of LED funds and grants allocations to local councils and the basis for such allocations. The LGFC will therefore continue to perform the functions stated in the LGA 2004.

iv. The Local Government Service Commission (LGSC)

The LGSC will be directly accountable to the ministry responsible for local government who shall report to the President on the performance of its mandate. The LGSC will continue to provide regulatory, performance management, and human resource management functions to the system of decentralised government in accordance with guidelines approved by the Ministry. The LGSC will facilitate local councils in taking ownership of their democratic and service delivery agenda through effective personnel management and capacity development. Specifically, the LGSC will perform the following functions:

a) lead the preparation and periodic review of human resources policy for local councils;

b) provide guidelines on organisational and management structures;

c) provide generic job descriptions for all staff within its purview;

d) determine, in consultation with the ministry responsible for local government and the ministry responsible for finance, salary structure for core staff (including minimum salary that may be topped up by local councils from own funds); and

e) provide guidelines on personnel recruitment and transfers, capacity development, training needs assessment, and training / upgrading.

3.2.2 Local level stakeholders Local councils

The local councils shall continue to exist as the highest development and service delivery authority in the locality. They shall be corporate bodies, with legislative and executive powers to be exercised in accordance with the LGA 2004 or any other enactment, and shall be responsible generally for promoting the development of the locality and the welfare of the people with the resources at their disposal. 

Local councils will continue to perform all the functions stated in Section 20 of the LGA 2004 and functions relating to LED promotion. Traditional authorities

The traditional authorities shall continue to play important development and governance roles in the local areas. There shall be extensive interaction between the traditional authorities and the local councils for the benefit of the socio-economic development of their localities, where each entity shall play its important role. Traditional authorities shall continue to perform functions stipulated in the LGA 2004 and other related legislation.

3.2.3  Other stakeholders The private sector

The private sector shall play an active role in economic development as producer of goods and services for export or local consumption. The local councils shall create the enabling environment that facilitates LED for the private sector and in appropriate cases outsource activities to the private sector. Civil society organizations (CSOs) / Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

a) shall cooperate with local councils to ensure integration of their activities within the councils development plan;

b) shall be encouraged to hold local leaders accountable with the view to build trust in the local councils;

c) may attend local council meetings and deliberations, and may be permitted to make statements on critical issues affecting their localities but shall have no voting rights. They can also report on Councils activities to the people to enhance greater participation; and

d) shall have access to and be allowed to monitor and track Councils activities such as bid openings, contract agreements, development plans, etc from the inception to the end.

3.2.4 Structure

The coordination of the decentralisation process shall reflect the following:

a) the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Decentralisation (IMC);

b) the ministry responsible for local government is responsible for the co-ordination of local government functions, and links the centre, regional, district and chiefdom levels. It monitors the decentralisation process and the effectiveness of local councils, and advises the Government on decentralisation and local governance issues;

c) the Provincial Coordinating Committees (PCCs) coordinate the local councils in the regions of Sierra Leone;

d) there shall be local councils designated as city councils, municipal councils and district councils;

e) the local councils shall have legislative, financial and administrative powers. The administrative units largely have administrative roles;

f) the total number of councillors in each local council shall not be less than 12 members and their terms shall be for four (4) years. The electoral areas in the localities are wards;

g) every ward has a ward committee of at least ten elected members whose main function shall be  to champion developmental activities within the ward;

h) every local council is obliged to appoint committees of Council. It is the responsibility of the committees to initiate and formulate policy on the various sectors for approval by the Council;

i) in addition, chiefdom administrations in the provinces and tribal headmen in the Western Area, constitute the traditional component of local government administration in Sierra Leone;


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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