As soon as Sierra Leone confirmed its first positive case of COVID-19, the ministry of Local Government and Rural Development met with UNDP’s Local Governance team to investigate ways of decentralizing the national COVID-19 response to the districts and chiefdoms. UNDP stepped-up with technical and financial support to help the ministry to strengthen the skills and capacities of local government structures to better respond to the outbreak.
While UNDP has long-standing work in and with Local Government and Economic Development in Sierra Leone, this request was triggered by UNDP’s role and support during the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014. UNDP’s training and deployment of crisis managers for Kenema and Bo districts to quickly address challenges of coordination and implement quick-impact projects to support the Ebola response were the case studies used.
Responding to the call, UNDP quickly remodeled its local government project to align with current needs of the line ministry. Technical and financial support we quickly assembled catered for by UNDP’s core resources. Within a week of the request, UNDP’s technical advisors were in the field mobilizing, training and working with 22 Local Councils, Chiefdoms and Provincial Administrations in all the 16 districts.
The UNDP team helped the grassroots governance structures to revive and validate health emergency by-laws developed during EVD. The by-laws were approved and adapted for the COVID-19 response. This was important since the country had a change in Government leadership in 2018 and most of the authorities being new in their positions were not aware of the existence of such guidelines which among other issues speak to:
- Matters of case surveillance and case management – if a stranger comes into a community or if a suspected case is detected in the community, the chief will be alerted. Then, he (the Chief) will in turn report to the center command on COVID-19 response.
- Stigma against and discrimination of anyone affected or infected is prohibited – offenders will be fined in monetary terms or serve a jail sentence of not more than five months.
- The by-laws also hold local authorities responsible if they go overboard and abuse their authority by for example abusing the rights of citizens under the disguise of upholding the by-laws. Monetary fines or suspension from office are their forms of punishment.
“The by-laws help to reduce the spread of the virus by getting community people to adhere to best practices in terms of managing the response. They also help to keep human rights in check especially in these desperate times brought about by COVID-19.” Edward Gbemeh, UNDP Local Governance Specialist, Sierra Leone.
Furthermore, the local governance structures in all the districts were supported to develop a COVID-response strategic plans. It is worth noting that, for those districts that have development plans, emergency and disaster are not factored in. Moreover, the pandemic stroke at a time when UNDP was helping to review Local Councils’ development plans to incorporate disaster response and management.
The UNDP team helped the grassroot governance structures to reenact and validate by-laws developed during EVD and approved to be adapted for COVID-response. This was important since the country had a change in Government leadership in 2018 and most of the authorities being new in their positions were not aware of the existence of such guidelines.
Case surveillance and contact tracing – if a stranger comes into a community, the stranger is announced to the chief who in turn reports to center command on COVID-19 response. Any suspected cases or suspicious circumstances including deaths are to be reported to the authorities as well.
Stigma and discrimination – if you stigmatize somebody affected by corona you will be fined in either financial or jail term of not more than five months. By laws helped to reduce the spread of the virus by getting comm people to adhere to best practices in terms of managing the response.
Local governance structures in all the districts were supported to develop a COVID-response strategic plans which in turn helped the reopening of the district emergency operation centers which had been inactive since the fight against Ebola was declared won. Furthermore, existing district development plans do not factor in emergency and disaster. UNDP was in the process of helping to review Local Councils’ development plans to incorporate disaster response and management when COVID-19 stroke.
Checks and balances?
With the bylaws and action plan in place, possible drivers leading to the spread of the virus are easily monitored and curtailed by the local authorities. Local security forces and chiefdom administration police, council police and community volunteers are now working together to ensure adherence to the guidelines.
The chiefs who are traditionally highly revered in all communities of Sierra Leone have authority over their chiefdoms while councils provide oversight to ensure guidelines are followed. Working with this leadership structure will ensure easy community adherence to the by-laws thus helping combat the spread of COVID-19.
The by-laws also hold local authorizes responsible in case they misuse their authority to abuse the rights of citizens. They will be charged either in monetary terms or face suspension from office.
The by-laws are now activated, and the action plan developed with the help of UNDP technical team is ongoing alongside the dissemination of the by-laws across the country. Monitoring and supervision of the plan’s implementation is happening simultaneously at chiefdom level.
“This corona virus here is different from the Ebola in the sense that it spreads faster and for it [COVID-19], a person can even spread it without showing symptoms. That is why we need strict measures of surveillance and these by-laws are important to lay out how we can address the situation.” says Madam Melrose Kargbo, Deputy Minister for Local Governance.
A holistic fight…
With only three districts out of Sierra Leone’s 16 yet to confirm its spread, additional support towards the COVID-19 fight in this intervention also includes funding to contact tracing and case surveillance. UNDP is providing mobile phone credit for contact tracers and fueling their motorcycles. It is also paying for the surveillance of quarantine facilities as media reports indicate that people in quarantine have been escaping due to various reasons which the activity is also addressing through the provision of safe drinking water, food items, basic beddings, and self-care hygiene kits.
This activity resonates with UNDP’s Country Programme Document for Sierra Leone (2020 -2023) that seeks to adopt area-based programming to enhance decentralization their (based on the 2004 Local Government Act) of development support. Investing in the capabilities of local leadership structures is essential for better service delivery and building resilience of their communities to shocks and disasters thus building on the ‘Leave No One Behind’ principle of the Sustainable Development Goal Agenda.
This intervention is made possible with funding support comes from UNDP's core resources.