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Rebuilding local governments in post-conflict Sierra Leone

The reestablishment of local government in Sierra Leone has been a key step in securing the return to peace. The ‘Institutional Reform and Capacity Building project’ supported by the European Commission and other international donors, is helping Sierra Leone in the rebuilding process.

The abolition of elected local governments in Sierra Leone in 1972 resulted in the centralisation of power in Freetown and a corresponding marginalization and neglect of outlying rural areas. The brutal eleven year civil war from 1991 – 2002 further increased regional disparities, leaving Sierra Leone next to last in the Human Development Index (HDI).

Rebuilding local government and institutional capacity was therefore seen as a priority following the war and the 2002 elections. International donors, including the European Commission (EDF10), the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development (DFID), have been supporting the Government of Sierra Leone’s efforts to reestablish a functioning local government system through the ‘Institutional Reform and Capacity Building Project.’

Building capacity

The project supported the establishment of three new government departments to help build institutional capacity: a Decentralization Secretariat (Dec Sec), a Local Government Finance Department (LGFD) and a Public Financial Management Reform Unit (PFMRU). It also created a Project Coordinating Unit (PCU) which works in close cooperation with the Government of Sierra Leone. Significant progress has been made in the following areas:

  • All nineteen local councils have been established and are functioning;
  • A large number of government functions have now been devolved and are being performed by the local councils;
  • Core staff, including accountants and procurement specialists, have been provided to the local councils;
  • The basics for an equitable and transparent intergovernmental fiscal transfer system are in place;
  • The transfer of funds to local councils has improved;
  • There is evidence that healthy democratic practices are being established - although turnout was low, the second round of local council elections which took place in 2008 were, by all accounts, free and fair. This together with the peaceful handover of power at the national level in 2007 makes Sierra Leone quite unique as a post-conflict country.
  • There is evidence that the availability of basic services (primary schools, clinics, water) has improved dramatically since 2005. This evolution is attributed, at least in part, to the increasing power and resources of local councils.