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Cablegate: Sierra Leone Local Elections: History and Context

VZCZCXRO7905
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHFN #0314/01 1840840
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 020840Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2012
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FREETOWN 000314

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/W, INR/AA (BGRAVES)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV PREL SL
SUBJECT: SIERRA LEONE LOCAL ELECTIONS: HISTORY AND CONTEXT

REF: A. (A) FREETOWN 244
B. (B) FREETOWN 300
C. (C) FREETOWN 305

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The 2008 local government elections in
Sierra Leone, scheduled for July 5, represent the next step
forward in consolidating the peace process that began with
the Lome Peace Accord. Fair and balanced elections at the
local level will build on the process of devolution of power
from the central government. Local councils play an integral
role in providing social services and creating development
schemes that impact the daily lives of Sierra Leoneans. The
means and empowerment to fulfill this role, however, is beset
by challenges, particularly due to sometimes strained
relationships between traditional leaders and local
representatives of the federal government. Loosely defined
objectives for each party has resulted in struggles for
influence and resources, and the resultant tension is on
display in the final days of the campaigning period. Though
seen by many as less politically significant than the 2007
national elections, the results of the local elections will
nonetheless have huge impact on the citizens and overall
political landscape over the next four years. END SUMMARY.

------------------------------------------
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT
------------------------------------------

2. (U) In the early seventies, the Siaka Stevens' APC
government banned local government in Sierra Leone,
effectively centralizing power with the federal government in
Freetown. The reason cited was endemic corruption in the
councils. This centralization decision proved very costly.
The Lome Peace Accord credits the resulting ineffectiveness,
lack of social services and corruption among the underlying
causes of the 1991-2002 civil war. The Local Government Act
of 2004, an outcome of the Lome Peace Accord, restored the
local councils and began the devolution process in Sierra
Leone. The Act demarcates the boundary between the federal
government, chiefdom councils and local councils in terms of
tax revenue sharing and other core functions.

--------------------------------------------- -
LOCAL COUNCILS: RESPONSIBILITIES AND ELECTIONS
--------------------------------------------- -

3. (U) According to the Local Government Act, the local
council is the "highest political authority in the locality
and shall have legislative and executive powers..."
Nationwide, there are nineteen local councils, and each
consists of a mayor or chairperson who presides over at least
twelve councilors. Besides the elected officials, Paramount
Chiefs are also represented. The councils have the
responsibility of disbursing tied and untied grants from the
central government, as well as local revenue generation.
Moreover, the councils are the main body of government
concerned with the political, social, and economic
development and welfare in each respective locality.

4. (U) In accordance with the Act, two elections occur
simultaneously: one to elect the mayor or council chairperson
and the other to elect councilors. Representatives selected
by the registered parties can compete for votes and
independent candidates can register for participation.
Candidates for the Office of Councilor and Office of
Chairperson/Mayor of Council must achieve a simple majority
and adult citizens vote directly during each cycle. For the
mayor and chairperson election, officials tally votes across
all wards in the locality. For the council election,
officials tally the votes within each ward. The term of
office for all seats on the local council is four years.

--------------------------------------------- -----
CONFLICT AND COOPERATION WITH TRADITIONAL LEADERS
--------------------------------------------- -----

5. (U) In addition to the councils, traditional leaders have
considerable power at the local level. Paramount Chiefs, who
are elected by representatives in the chiefdom and hold the
seat of power for life, carry a great deal of credibility
with the people. The primary source of power for the
Paramount Chief is his or her control over the land in the
area, which they hold in trust for the people. However,
Paramount Chiefs generally have influence in all areas of
community life, and can have great sway over individuals,
decisions, be they personal or political.

6. (U) Paramount Chiefs oversee chiefdom councils, which
include Section Chiefs and the Chiefdom Speaker. The role of
the chiefdom councils is to prevent the commission of

FREETOWN 00000314 002 OF 002


offenses in the chiefdom, prohibit or restrict illegal
gambling, and making and enforcing bye-laws. One primary
point of contention between the local and chiefdom councils
is the revenue-sharing scheme, with both parties seeking
greater control over the collection and distribution of
funds. Another point of contention is that the Local
Government Act empowers local councils to create bye-laws.
This can create an environment in which contradictory
bye-laws are established by the different councils. Paramount
Chiefs also report that local councils are not always
inclusive, and make decisions without their input.

7. (SBU) The Paramount Chiefs do not have an official role in
the democratic process of electing local council officials,
are not eligible for candidacy themselves, and are meant to
be party-neutral in the proceedings. A source at the
Decentralization Secretariat, however, indicates that it is
common practice for Paramount Chiefs and chiefdom councils to
collaborate with politicians in favor of their interests in
the local election process. Reports from the field also
indicate that Paramount Chiefs are sometimes pressured by
political parties to ensure votes for particular candidates,
or that chiefs seek to collude with parties of their own
accord. Rumors related to both pressure and collusion have
circulated heavily in the run-up to these local elections,
resulting in concerns about their democratic integrity (see
ref C).

-------------------------------------
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AT THE LOCAL LEVEL
-------------------------------------

8. (SBU) The federal government is represented at the local
level by an appointed Resident Minister. The Resident
Minister is responsible for policy matters, technical
guidance, and performance monitoring of the local councils.
Given this role, regular interaction with local and chiefdom
councils is necessary, though not always welcome. Discussions
with Resident Ministers in various regions indicate
frustration that they have no means with which to force local
government to regularly and meaningfully communicate with
them, or provide information on how federal funds are being
dispersed. Enforcement is challenging because Resident
Ministers consider themselves without sufficient staff,
infrastructure, or resources to meaningfully oversee the
areas in their purview.

-------
COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) Though the local elections have received relatively
limited attention outside of Sierra Leone, their results will
have a significant impact on the daily life of citizens. The
intricate tapestry of local, traditional, and federal powers
woven by the decentralization process, while considered
necessary to maintain peace, is not without flaws. The
overlapping of roles and responsibilities creates unavoidable
tension, the magnitude of which is determined locally by
personalities and politicking. With power, money, and local
influence up for grabs, it is not surprising that these
elections have captured the nation's attention, and will
continue to do so. END COMMENT.
PERRY

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