By Mohamed Massaquoi….
As councillors, civil society condemn his ‘suspension’, report from Koidu, in Kono, indicates that a mammoth welcome awaits ‘suspended’ Mayor Saa Emerson Lamina by councillors and grassroots Kono people.
Mayor Lamina, who emerged as the youngest mayor in Sierra Leone following a resounding victory in Koidu in 2012, is currently battling to uphold the peoples mandate after Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Finda Diana Konomanyi ‘suspended’ him from office, pending “an independent Investigation Committee.”
But the budding politician, who is currently in Freetown, insists he is still mayor as he was popularly elected by residents of Koidu city, who apparently are standing by him, despite the minister’s claim that she had sought and got “executive clearance” from the presidency.
Our sources in Koidu intimated us yesterday that armed police officers visited the premises of the Koidu Sembehu City Council, apparently to ensure the mayor does not get access to his office.
However, majority of the 15 councillors are still loyal to the elected mayor, while a cross-section of residents of Koidu city are preparing to give the mayor a hero’s welcome, to demonstrate their unflinching support to him as they insist on due process and constitutionality.
Councillor Alhaji Fofanah of Ward 64 said he and other councillors had in a petition letter noted that the mayor was duly elected to serve his people and must be given the chance to do so, adding that it was unconstitutional for the Local Government Minister to suspend him from office, ostensibly for “serious violations of the Local Government Act of 2004 and standard financial management practices…”
Councilor Fofanah said the Local Government Act of 2004 clearly stipulates how a seating mayor could be removed from office.
The Act does not indicate whether a chairman or mayor can be suspended by the minister or even the president, although section 12 states that a chairman or mayor may be removed by a resolution of two-thirds of councillors on grounds of abuse of office, corruption, gross incompetence, gross misconduct and misbehaviour, among others.
Also, section 100 of the Act states that: “The President may, with the approval of two-thirds of all the Members of Parliament, assume the powers of any Local Council”, albeit based on a number of conditions precedent, such as during a state of emergency.
A civil society activist in Kono, Berns Komba, said their position was clear on the issue as the mayor was constitutionally elected overwhelmingly by the people and thus cannot be impeached by the minister, albeit by way of “suspension”.
He added that the entire Kono district was in shock over the “suspension” of their mayor. “We are ready to welcome him, the preparation is ongoing and nothing will stop that,” he said.
A letter from the Secretary to the President, dated 26 February, 2016 stated that the president had “Graciously approved recommendation of the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Koidu New Sembehum City Council should be suspended from office pending the outcome of investigation into the internal Audit Report of the Koidu New Sembehun City Council conducted by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development”.
Acting by the said presidential fiat, which is unprecedented since the former government restored local governance in the polity, more than three decades after it was abolished by the All Peoples Congress, Minister Konomanyi wrote a letter of suspension to the mayor, dated 26 February, 2016.
The letter read: “Taking into considering the seriousness of the issues raised in the correspondences [between the mayor and Finance Officer], I requested the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to undertake a special audit of the Council’s fiduciary matters and proffer recommendations to my ministry for appropriate action.”
According to the letter, the audit unearthed “serious violations of the Local Government Act of 2004 and standard financial management practices have been highlighted.”
She added that the suspension of the mayor was to ensure the Investigation Committee’s work was “unhindered and not influenced”, although she failed to state how long the Committee would take to complete its work.
But a legal analyst has opined that the action of the minister, albeit purported to have received “executive clearance” could be ultra vires.
Meanwhile, the saga may not be unconnected to a seeming political divide among ruling party members in Kono, following the controversial sacking of former Vice President Chief Sam Sumana.
Mayor Lamina is regarded as a staunch ally of the sacked Vice President, while Minister Konomanyi is known to be a key antagonist of Chief Sumana.
On 16 February, Mayor Lamina was reportedly attacked by some youths while giving a live interview on the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation radio in Koidu.
He blamed “hooligans and hoodlums” for the attack, with accusing fingers being pointed at the minster and her supporters in the volatile district, although she vehemently denied any hands in it.
To date, the police have not arrested anyone for the attack, despite the fact that the mayor had written a letter to them and identified the alleged perpetrators – Kai Moiba, Tamba Gborie and Mohamed Sawaneh.