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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

DECENTRALISATION QUANDARY: MUSA TARAWALLI VS J.S.KEIFALA
By Andrew Keili
Jun 13, 2013, 17:04
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The recent demolition of structures along the main streets of Kenema brings to the fore the problems between Central Government Ministries and Local Councils. The Mayor of Kenema City Council, J.S.Keifala summed it all well when he challenged the demolition exercise engendered by the  Minister of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment, Musa Tarawalli ( Standard Times May 23, 2013- Kenema District Council challenges illegal land demolition): We are embarrassed............Councils are the highest political entities in the regions and as such there is every need for any Ministry intending to carry out any action whether legal or illegal to inform and involve the councils.

 

This is symptomatic of the quagmire created by a half hearted decentralisation process in which Ministries want to preserve their turf, totally oblivious of the responsibilities of  Local Councils and the spirit of the decentralisation process. This thread runs through other functions ostensibly devolved to Local Councils. It also does not help when you have Local Councils of one political stripe and a Central Government of another stripe in a heightened and poisoned political atmosphere.

 

The aim of decentralization was partly to improve public service delivery and partly to empower local communities to handle their own affairs. Out of 80 functions slated for devolution, fourteen still remain to be devolved. Even some of  those which have been devolved are in name only and to all intents and purposes controlled by Central Government. Areas for devolution  include key services such as primary education, basic health care, agricultural services and maintenance of feeder roads.

 

Local councils however have very limited scope for revenue generation and rely largely on transfers from the central government-such transfers are based on an allocation formula which restricts the spending autonomy of local councils, as grants are mainly earmarked. With the exception of a small number of core administrative staff, most of the service delivery staff are still on central government payroll, but report to local councils.

 

Whereas political decentralization is advanced and administrative decentralization may be improving, fiscal decentralization lags behind. Funds allocated to Local Government units are a very small percentage of the total national budget. Critics of our governance system also argue that until you make the Local Councils almost financially independent, they will be at the beck and call of Central Government. They add that the system of getting grants from Central Government  will always be subject to partisan manipulation. The moribund Local Government Service Commission (LGSC) with responsibilities for managing the Human Resources of Local councils would also need to be overhauled.

 

Some major functions of Ministries which were supposed to be handed over to the Local Councils are still being run by the Ministries. For the Lands Ministry these include land surveying, land registration and control of illegal sale of land, leasing of government land and preparation of land use plans. It is not abundantly clear under whose purview street stalls fall in local governance areas. Should it be under Lands or the Local Council or should it even be a law and order issue under the purview of the Police? In terms of consultation with market stall owners to get their buy-in, should not Trade and Industry be involved? It is clear that there may be many differences of opinion on how such issues should be handled in a governance system that is evolving and in which responsibilities may overlap.

 

Whatever the case, the lack of consultation between the Lands Ministry and the Local Council did not help the situation and may reek of disrespect. If reports are to be believed, the demolition exercise itself may have been executed lawlessly. According to one report, Youths hired by the Ministry held big hammers, wheel pullers, roof cutters, demolishing stalls, kiosks and other makeshift structures under the watchful eyes of OSD Police Officers. The whole issue begs several questions. Was the absence of consultation and the seeming brazen disregard for following normal procedures because the Council was an SLPP Council? Could more stakeholders have been consulted and the affected parties given enough notice to vacate these areas? This may be an isolated incident but what if this practice becomes the norm?

 

On the flip side, it could also happen that a Local Council refuses a legitimate request from a Ministry or fails to cooperate on an issue that is legitimately within the purview of a Ministry to undermine a Government of a different political stripe. All of these are genuine issues with which we should grapple if our governance system is to thrive. One keen observer has opined that perhaps we should be moving towards having a local governance system not based on parties. This is not far-fetched and is certainly an issue that should be brought to the table. As he noted, the Ministry would not have broken stalls in Makeni without consulting with the Council.

 

 

TEENAGE PREGNANCY: PREGNANT WITH EXPECTATION

 

There  has always been a quiet rivalry between my mothers village (Mobai) and my fathers (Baiima), three miles apart in the Kailahun District. In the days of the train and Post Offices (yes there used to be Post Offices!), letters addressed to Mobai were labelled Mobai via Baiima. Then the railway disappeared and in came the Vianini road which went as far as Pendembu, bypassing Baiima but going through Mobai. Letters to Baiima were now addressed Baiima via Mobai because Mobai now had the Post Office. So much for Kailahun development history! The rivalry has continued over the years and I and my siblings have tried hard not to take sides. A few years back there was an invitation from a benefactor for a girl in the primary school at Baiima to go to UK on a short bursary.  This was good news that was gleefully communicated to folks at Mobai. The day of travel was fast approaching but we had one small problem-the girl who was to be the recipient got pregnant. There were hurried attempts to draft in a substitute but the others were also pregnant. They finally settled on a student from the Mobai school. A case of to the rival goes the spoils.

 

Teenage pregnancy is however no joking matter and is a scourge. I was pleased that the President recently launched a campaign against the alarming rate of teenage pregnancy  by the unveiling of a National Strategy for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy (Standard Times- Thursday May 30-Sierra Leone making in-roads in the fight against teenage pregnancy.). Launched with the slogan; Let Girls Be Girls and Not Mothers, the President said teenage pregnancy denies girls the benefits of education, and compromises a countrys ability to secure gender equity, enhance growth and transform itself.

 

Girls must be book carriers, not baby carriers, he added.

 

The special guest of honour for the occasion was the First Lady of Nigeria, Dame Dr. Patience Good luck Jonathan.

 

Snippets from the various speeches delivered are particularly relevant. Dame Jonathan  referred to the complication of pregnancy and child-birth as a major cause of death among teenagers. She said that during pregnancy and delivery, girls of 14 years old and much younger, face problems of anemia, acute malaria, pregnancy induced hypertension, obstructed labor, among others. She urged traditional leaders to focus on values and traditions. ERSG, Jens Tourberg-Frandzen mentioned that in Sierra Leone every third child born has a  mother who is herself a child and 40 percent of maternal deaths are teenagers.


Regionally, more than 50 per cent of adolescent girls give birth by age 20 (WHO 2010)  In Sierra Leone, statistics of pregnant women aged 15-49 years, who were married or in consensual union indicates that 16 per cent were married before age 15, and 50 per cent before age 18. In addition, 24.5 per cent of women aged 15 to 19 years, started having sexual intercourse before age 15. The statistics in Mattru Jong is particularly disturbing. A total of 434 teenage pregnancies were recorded at the UBC hospital in Mattru Jong in the first half of 2011 of which 73% were school going girls.

 

There is a strong relationship between poverty and teenage pregnancy with teenage girls in the poorest quintile being three times more likely to have a child before age 18 years compared to girls in the wealthiest quintile. A UNICEF document (2010) identifies peer-pressure as a key determinant for adolescents, particularly young girls to indulge in unsafe behaviour, substance abuse and unprotected sex. Local experts speculate  pregnancies are caused by voluntary sexual relations among school-children, early marriage, transactional sex with adults and other forms of sexual abuse.

 

Challenges to be addressed include gender-based violence, barriers to womens economic empowerment,  inadequate sensitisation and education on gender and development issues. The establishment of a Sexual Offences court has also been mentioned.

 

Programmes should be devised to reduce the incidences of teenage pregnancy or help to reintegrate teenage mothers into productive life by continuing their education, skills training or accessing opportunities for employment or income generation.The setting up of the National  Secretariat for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy within the MOHS under the coordination of a multi sectoral committee comprising the MOHS and MSWGCA-with the collaboration of UN agencies is a step in the right direction.


Perhaps we can realise the dreams of Information Minister Alpha Kanu who waxed poetical at the launching when he said A daughter is the happy memories of the past, the joyful moments of the present and the hope and promise of the future. I am pregnant-pregnant with expectation that we will set about addressing this scourge in a holistic way.

 

Ponder my thoughts.

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

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