Central govt. says forget good governance. Embattled Freetown mayor says no to harassment
Almost three years ago, Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr announced on Facebook that she was back on her feet, buoyed by the support and good wishes from Freetonians, family, and friends.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with her in the photo were Umaru Koroma, national secretary-general of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) (left) and then Minister of Political and Public Affairs Foday Yumkella, brother of the 2018 National Grand Coalition presidential nominee, Kandeh Yumkella.
The same week, Aki-Sawyerr had been assaulted outside SLPP's headquarters.
Responding to the outrage after the attack, the national secretariat of the SLPP issued a statement condemning the assault and denied its party members were involved.
"We shall never be a party to any ploy to derail the effective operations of the office of the Mayor of Freetown, or any other person of authority," the statement said.
Almost three years to the day, the mayor was reportedly shaken after a mugging by knife-wielding men she encountered on her morning jog along the city's famous Lumley Beach.
Hours later, she was composed enough to lead recovery efforts for the residents of Susan's Bay, a coastal slum community that had been devastated by fire after a series of floods and mudslides.
Now, some SLPP members are in an uproar over Aki-Sawyerr's words that were leaked in a "doctored" audio posted on WhatsApp.
Things are never simple in politically polarized Sierra Leone, where the Maada Bio administration paints everything in an "us vs them" mode.
The dispute revolves around what the mayor calls the "continuous insubordination of recently posted staff and their defiance of a resolution by the Freetown City Council" and the powers of the Local Government Service Commission or LGSC.
The LGSC was established in 2004 with the responsibility to providing regulatory, performance management, and management functions to the ongoing decentralization program pursued by the government of Sierra Leone.
The Local Councils Association of Sierra Leone (LoCASL) is also a party in the dispute.
LoCASL maintains the partnership of the 19 member councils and links the members with local government authorities globally.
Complicated? Read the mayor's letter below, which was sent to the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Ministry of Local Government, and Rural Development on March 29, 2021.
Dear Honourable Minister
RE: CONTINUED CONCERNS ABOUT STAFF RECENTLY POSTED TO FREETOWN CITY COUNCIL
In light of the continuous insubordination of recently posted staff (Mr. Mustapha Kemokai and Mr. Peter Koroma), and particularly against the backdrop of their defiance of a resolution by the Council of 10th February 2021, I informed LGSC that Freetown City Council would not accept the posted staff.
During the impasse between LoCASL and LGSC, staff posted to other local councils in February 2021 respected requests of their Mayors and Chairpersons for them to not come to the councils to work until the dispute was resolved. Colleague Mayors and Chairpersons confirmed that their posted staff respected their requests and stayed home.
However, in a very public and open disregard for the instructions of the Mayor and the resolution of Councilors at Freetown City Council, Mr. Kemokai and Mr. Koroma kept coming to the council during the impasse and contrary to my specific instructions at that time, they were allocated offices in the New City Hall by the Chief Administrator.
When engaged by various councilors about their behaviour the staff stated that they would not listen to the Mayor nor to the Councilors, they would only take instructions from the Chief Administrator. Throughout that period Mr. Kemokai and Mr. Koroma did not at any time attempt to report to or meet with me as the Mayor.
Therefore, following the general resolution of the impasse, I wrote to LSGC on 9th March and again on 24th March and asked that the postings of Mr. Kemokai and Mr. Koroma be withdrawn and that LGSC provide Freetown City Council with any other staff they identify as suitable.
If FCC accepted the postings of Mr. Kemokai and Mr. Koroma this would send the message that you can work at Freetown City Council with total disregard for its leadership and this will make effective service delivery difficult. In respect of my flagship sanitation interventions, it is unacceptable that I would ask Mr. Kemokai (posted as Environment and Sanitation Officer) to implement activity and continuing in his previous trend, he would say no.
Indeed, in addition to everything that has happened and amidst the ongoing engagement with LGSC, Mr. Kemokai and Mr. Koroma still continue to come to council. I recently learnt that they have now been delegated specific responsibilities without my knowledge. This is unacceptable and I look forward to receiving the staffing replacements from LGSC.
Out of deep respect for those who elected me as well as for your good office, I last week responded to the selectively edited audio which referred to the above matter.
Assuring you of my highest regards Yours sincerely
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr OBE
Mayor of Freetown