By Foday Moriba Conteh
In a letter dated 23rd April 2020 written by the Mayor of the Freetown City Council, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr and addressed to the Minister of Lands, Dr. Denis Sandy , she expressed utter disappointment over the demolition of an erected fence and preliminary construction work done for the Waste Transfer Station on Jomo Kenyatta Road/Pyke Street in New England.
The said incident took place on Friday 17th April 2020 and according to her the Minister deployed armed soldiers at the site who physically assaulted the staff of the contractor, carted away tools and personal items belonging to the contractor and staff.
The FCC Mayor stated how she subsequently saw the written Statement issued by the Ministry of Lands on Monday 20th April 2020 maintaining that there are legal and factual inaccuracies in the Statement.
According to her, it was entirely inappropriate for the Ministry to have proceeded directly to demolish the site without any prior communication with the Freetown City Council (“FCC”) or herself. “This is particularly so given the fact that representatives of the Ministry have attended meetings with the FCC relating to this specific site within the past 2 months. Further, the work that was demolished was public infrastructure supporting sanitation provision in the city, being built for the benefit of Freetonians, with funds donated by the UK Government,” she posited.
She said her assumption was that the Minister may not have been adequately informed by his team, as there is no way on the true facts, and given the Ministry’s presence at meetings, that the Ministry could have taken the approach that they did.
The Mayor said for that reason, as she is prepared to work with the Ministry to explore any legitimate dispute or concern she would like to correct certain facts.
“The land in question was until recently a very narrow strip of land along the waterway which was substantially widened through the process of backfilling during the recent construction of the Jomo Kenyatta and Hill Cot Roads,” she disclosed adding that the FCC began communications with relevant central Government Ministries and Departments about the site well over 6 months ago.
She underscored how these communications included a meeting in February with an official from the Lands Ministry, at which no suggestion was made that the Ministry of Lands had any objection either to the project or to the work at the New England site.
“On 11th October 2019, FCC wrote to the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development to update him on progress of the transfer station project, attaching a detailed Briefing Note. That letter informed the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development that FCC had identified 7 suitable sites, which included the New England site. FCC requested the Minister’s support on liaising with relevant entities on 4 of the sites,” she mentioned.
Mayor Aki-Sawyerr stated that on the same day there was a meeting (to present and discuss the Briefing Note) between the Deputy Mayor and the Deputy Minister for Local Government, which the Minister for Local Government himself was able to join for the last few minutes. The Deputy Minister and the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development expressed their support and willingness to assist.
She said she followed up the request for support with the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development later in October and in January 2020 relating to a specific issue that had arisen on one of the other sites.
“The Minister replied to me by email dated 18th January 2020, stating among other things that he had proposed a date to meet with you and the Minister for Environment to discuss the matters which had previously arisen,” she stated.
She said on the 16th January 2020, an issue arose on the New England site. According to her the Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA) expressed their intention to build a 12-15 vehicle car park on the proposed transfer station site but she raised this issue with the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development on 18th January 2020.
“As a result of the helpful support of the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development, and the Honourable Vice President, a meeting was convened on 6th February 2020 chaired by the Minister for Works and Public Assets and also attended by officials from the Ministry of Lands and Housing, the Ministry of Works, the Office of the Presidential Infrastructure Initiative (OPII), SLRA and FCC,” she disclosed.
From what was intimated at that meeting SLRA’s position was that the New England site was a Right of Way and that SLRA proposed to build a car park for 12-15 vehicles on that site but, however, no funding was available for the scheme.
She said it was determined that FCC should proceed with the transfer station project at the site as this would service approximately 240,000 households thus significantly improving sanitation in the city and because DFID project funding had already been secured.
The Mayor pointed out that accordingly, the Ministry of Lands was involved in discussions of this specific site since February 2020 and was party to the agreement that the site could be used for a transfer station.
“It is, to say the least, surprising that you took the action you did on 17 April without ever raising any issue with FCC,” Aki-Sawyerr expressed indignation. She said they are aware that the Ministry of Lands has in practice continued to issue building permits, outside its legal powers.
On the need for FCC to apply for a building permit for the works FCC’s response was that the building permit function has legally been devolved to local councils, including FCC, since 2004.
She said ,however, acknowledging the practical position, FCC’s Estate Department has been progressing a site survey plan submission to the Ministry of Lands which was due to be submitted shortly. She added that FCC’s Estate Department’s advice to her was that FCC has not previously been requested to seek building permits for the construction of public toilets, markets or other municipality structures.
The transfer station is part of a plan for 7 such stations at sites across the city. It is part of FCC’s sanitation plans, which will ensure that the city is clean, improve the health of Freetonians, and increase both the number of waste collectors operating in the city and their income.
She registered that FCC remains committed to working collaboratively with Government and all MDAs in order to deliver a safe and clean environment for the residents of Freetown.