Government of Sierra Leone Steps up Witch-Hunting of Freetown Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr

Investigation conducted by the Sierra Leone Telegraph reveals mounting evidence of witch-hunting against the mayor of Freetown by the ministry of local government. But what is even more troubling is the allegation of corruption now being fabricated against the mayor.

Two days ago, Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr was unexpectedly and surprisingly invited by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to its office to answer questions about alleged mismanagement of public funds at the Freetown City Council (FCC), a move seen by many in Freetown as ‘cooked-up retaliation’ after a formal letter was written by elected councillors calling on the minister of local government to remove the council’s chief administrator who is accused of sabotaging the work of the mayor – putting millions of lives at risk.

Responding to the elected councillors’ demand, minister of local government Mr Tamba Lamina said he will be investigating the running of the Freetown City Council. This is his letter to the councillors and the terms of reference of his proposed investigation:

But minister Lamina is himself today being accused of dereliction of duty, after failing to either suspend or remove the council’s chief administrator in line with HR policy standards, in light of the seriousness and gravity of the allegations, pending conclusion of the investigation into the elected councillors’ claims of sabotage by the chief administrator.

According to an audio recording making the rounds on social media, the FCC chief administrator is believed to have said that he has refused to sign two documents because he is not aware of the council’s projects in question.

But according to records seen by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, this is not true. On Monday 12th July, a meeting was held with FCDO (formerly DFID), MOPED, FCC and the project implementing partners IGC, CRS and GOAL, where specific reference is made in the minutes to the need for the online subscription payment for the “iCloud” hosting of MOPTAX, the new property rate system and to the requirement to purchase tractors and trailers for the operation of the Waste Transfer Stations – all of which the chief administrator has failed to sign cheques to ensure the implementation of these projects.

The Sierra Leone Telegraph has also seen evidence of several documents that have not been signed by the chief administrator, including June’s payments to the tricycle groups that wake up very early each morning to sweep the streets of Freetown – they are the true heroes and partners in the mayor’s journey to Transform Freetown, who do not deserve to be victimized by the appalling behaviour of the chief administrator.

What is even more shocking is that the meeting set up by the ministry of local government to discuss the waste management situation in Freetown, will now take place on 23rd July 2021 – in the absence of the mayor who is on holiday. This, points to further evidence of the government’s determination to usurp and diminish the role of the mayor of Freetown. See letter below:

Notwithstanding the fact that the chief administrator has refused to pay the tricycle workers and failed also to sign cheque for the purchase of the equipment for the waste transfer stations operations, from all evidence it is obvious the council is trying its best to ensure that the streets of Freetown are swept daily.

The council’s successful integrated waste management approach has received local and international recognition. The Mayor of Kanifing in The Gambia recently visited Freetown to study the Freetown city council’s waste management system. The Mayor of Monrovia, Liberia invited Mayor Aki-Sawyerr and delegation to Monrovia to share knowledge about her council’s waste management system and experiences with the authorities in Monrovia.

The Sierra Leone Telegraph has seen evidence of the serious challenges being experienced by the Freetown City Council sanitation system that are stifling its ongoing effectiveness:

The tricycle groups that sweep 105 streets daily have not been paid for June because the chief administrator has refused to sign their payments, despite the payments have been approved by a resolution of council members and are included in council’s budget.

With FCDO (formerly DFID) funding, the council has constructed six Waste Transfer Stations across Freetown that will be used by the tricycle groups to deposit waste. This will allow the tricycles to collect more waste in a shorter time because they would not have to travel long distances to empty their carts. It will also prevent the frequent damage and breakdowns currently experienced by the tricycles when they empty their carts at the Kissy and Kingtom dumpsites which have very muddy, uneven and hazardous surfaces.

The Transfer Stations were officially handed over to the council about two months ago, but the stations remain closed because the chief administrator has blocked the process of procuring the six tractors and trailers required to operate the Transfer Stations. He reportedly claims that he knows nothing about the Transfer Stations – a claim the Sierra Leone Telegraph refutes, based on evidence.

According to records seen by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, he has been involved since the inception of the project, including leading meetings with Ministry of Works and Ministry of Lands to secure project sites in 2019, sending the City Engineer to represent the council in the CRS procurement panel that selected the contractor for the works, participating in internal meetings with other core staff, Sanitation Committee Councillors and MDU members in which the operating model for the Transfer Stations was agreed.

The Sierra Leone Telegraph understands that the Freetown Waste Transfer Stations are now being vandalized because the chief administrator has also prevented the hiring of security as was previously agreed. The deliberate obstruction of the Transfer Stations’ operation is preventing the tricycle groups from collecting waste from many households, which increases the risk of illegal dumping by households across the city.

Evidence obtained by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, shows that the ministry of local government itself is guilty of sabotaging the work of the council by refusing to grant a duty waiver for three sanitation vehicles (a compactor, bull dozer and front end loader) donated to the council by the Japanese government which are urgently required for the council’s waste management programme.

Records seen by the Sierra Leone Telegraph shows that the council had applied for the duty waiver as far back as February, and it was not granted until June after the diplomatic intervention of the Minister of Planning. Despite this undue delay, the chief administrator has been very slow in the execution of relevant documents, so the vehicles are still at the ports incurring demurrage costs.

World Bank funding was secured for a televised “Sanitation Hour” program to sensitize residents in Freetown about the need to change their behaviour and attitude towards public sanitation in line with the council’s Bylaws. Sadly, the program has been jeopardized because the chief administrator has again refused to sign the cheques for the programme panellists since April, despite the cheques having been signed by the mayor and the council’s finance officer in accordance with the terms of the World Bank funding.

The appalling practice of various utility agencies such as EDSA, SALCAB and SLRA digging the roads and pavements for utility works and then leaving the debris and dirt on the roads (Photo above), is a huge problem for pedestrians and road users across the city. The Sierra Leone Telegraph understands that the mayor had requested the chief administrator to engage with the utility agencies as far back as January, but he has failed to act. The mayor herself wrote to the utility agencies in March (EDSA) and again in June (all of them), asking for the removal of the debris from the pavements and for their future cooperation and collaboration. None of her letters have been responded to.

Cheques signed in April in favour of media houses to provide media time for promoting the council’s messages are still with the Finance Officer.

One of the successes of the mayor’s Transform Freetown vision is the council’s flood mitigation programme which has been delivered in the past three years with funding received from donors in 2018 and 2020, and with funding from RMFA in 2019. RMFA funding was included in the council’s 2021 budget. However, there is a big problem.

The council wrote to RMFA in May with the detailed Flood Mitigation Implementation Plans, requesting that the FCC funding be urgently released to avoid flooding. There was also a constructive meeting with RMFA at which they agreed to write to the ministry of finance for the funds to be released. Although the council and the Mayor herself (Photo) have made many follow up calls, the funds have still not been released.

The smooth operation of the council’s waste collection and sanitation vehicle fleet is key to ensuring that the garbage is collected in markets daily. Because of the age of some of the fleet and their heavy use, there are frequent breakdowns. As the fleet is growing, a month ago the council identified an electronic fleet management system that will ensure better management of repairs, fuel consumption and driver performance. Sadly, the chief administrator did not participate in the meetings with the fleet management system providers (The Sierra Leone Telegraph learnt that he has not joined any meetings with the mayor for over two months) and has therefore frustrated the process of securing the fleet management system which other relevant core staff believe is key to improving the efficiency of the council’s sanitation service delivery.

The Sierra Leone Telegraph has also learnt that the council’s Cleanest Zone Competition – a key intervention designed by the council to positively promote ‘active good citizenship’ is in serious jeopardy, as the suspension of the council’s property rates collection in 2020 drastically reduced its income, thus making it impossible for the prizes for the 2019 competition to be awarded. This was a major disappointment to the winning communities, eroding the value of the council’s much advocated behaviour change process.

Additionally, the winning prize for the 2018 Cleanest Zone Competition has still not been awarded. The contractor was paid over Le450 million and when he didn’t deliver, the Sierra Leone Telegraph understands that the mayor reported the matter to the police and the contractor was arrested.

But the next day, the seemingly all-too-powerful chief administrator, went to Central Police and secured the release of the contractor – claiming that the materials would be given to the council. As we go to press, the contractor is yet to deliver, and worse – the chief administrator has made no attempts to follow up, despite numerous requests by the mayor.

It is clear from all the overwhelming evidence gained from investigation carried out by the Sierra Leone Telegraph into the alleged disruptive behaviour of the chief administrator of the Freetown City Council and its impact on vital service delivery, that such gross misconduct must be a matter of grave concern to international donors, partners, and the tax payers of Freetown.

By allowing the chief administrator to continue in office instead of removing or suspending him in line with HR policy standards, pending the conclusion of the ministry’s investigation, suggests that there is a much bigger political campaign to sabotage the work of the mayor of Freetown. And this, is most worrying for the democratic credentials of Sierra Leone.

Source: The Sierra Leone Telegraph

MORE ABOUT: Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr

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