By Millicent Mannah
In a correspondence authored by the Mayor of the Freetown City Council (FCC), Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr addressed to Professor Osman Sankoh, the Statistician General of Statistics Sierra Leone with a title “Concerns Re Accuracy Of Mid-Term Census Results For Western Area Urban (Freetown)” she mentioned seeing on social media the provisional results of the mid-term population and housing census which according to her indicates that the population of the capital city, Freetown (Western Area Urban), has decreased by 42.5% from 1,055,964 in 2015 to 606,701 in 2021.
She continued that as the Mayor of Freetown, she is extremely concerned about the accuracy of that data and the significant additional development challenges that would result from the adoption of inaccurate data in respect of Freetown’s population.
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr stated how she wishes to bring to his attention published and/or independently verifiable data points which strongly suggest that there has been a substantial undercount of Freetown’s population in the mid-term population and housing census.
“I set these data points out below with brief explanations of how they relate to the provisional results of the Freetown mid-term census population,” she informed that the total number of voters in Western Area Urban registered by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for the March 2018 general elections was 606,939.
She went on to point out that the NEC registered voters are 18 years old and over and are thus a subset of the entire population maintaining how that number is greater than the mid-term census provisional Freetown population of 606,701 which is meant to reflect the entire population.
The FCC Mayor revealed that the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) 2020 school census1 confirmed that there are 413,407 pupils enrolled in Western Area Urban (pre-primary to senior secondary).
According to her, the number of school pupils in the MBSSE school census gives an indication of those in the Western Area Urban between the ages of 6 years and 18 years, but said it must be noted that it does not include those under the age of 6 years arguing how there are many children in Western Area Urban who are not enrolled in school and so the total number of those between 0 and 18 in Freetown is in fact greater than the 413,407 recorded in the MBSSE 2020 school census.
The Mayor added that the combination of the school pupils recorded in the MBSSE 2020 school census (413,407) and the number of NEC registered Western Area Urban voters (606,939) effectively covers those between 6 to 18 years and those 18 years and over who chose to be registered giving a total of 1,020,346.
She disclosed how the Freetown City Council introduced a digital property rate system in 2020 which used satellite images of the city to capture all properties in the city for inclusion in the Council’s property database.
“A distinction is made in the property database between formal structures (properties with foundations, walls, roofs etc) which are assessed for property rates and informal structures (those without foundations) which are not assessable for property rates,” she pointed out.
She said as at 8th June 2022, Freetown City Council has 107,526 assessable domestic properties (formal structures) in its property database maintaining that based on the 2015 National Census data, Western Area Urban has 9.2 population per house and so it could be assumed that there are approximately 989,239 people (107,526 x 9.2) living in the domestic properties in Freetown City Council database.
The Mayor said Slum Dwellers Association’s partner organization, the Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA), conducted population profiling of 58 slum communities in Western Area Urban between November 2020 and May 2021 and recorded 344,147 people saying the vast majority of those people live in informal structures which are not assessable for property rates.
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr said combining the estimated 989,239 people that live in the Freetown City Council assessed domestic properties with the 344,147 people profiled as living in 58 slum communities, gives a total of 1,333,386 people.
She argued that with rapid rural-urban migration and in the absence of development controls (land-use planning and an effective building permit regime) Freetown has in recent years experienced an exponential growth in the number and size of informal settlements (slum communities) with many of these, unfortunately expanding into the coastal mangroves and up onto the hills around the city.
Based on what she said, the MBSSE 2020 school census was funded by the World Bank and the European Union and the population profiling was funded by the World Bank and Slum Dwellers International.
She said the Migration and Urbanization Report published by Statistics Sierra Leone in October 2017 states, “The percentage of lifetime in-migrants shows that the most migrant-attractive region in Sierra Leone is the Western Area, where a little more than half of the enumerated population were born outside the region….. The influence of the capital Freetown certainly plays a major role in making the Western Region attractive to migrants.
This city is the economic, financial and cultural centre of Sierra Leone. Most of the country’s largest companies and international companies locate their headquarters in Freetown. Furthermore, Freetown has the most functional harbour, around which its economy revolves, is home to the Government, and has the best social and economic infrastructure”.
The Mayor pointed out that Statistics Sierra Leone findings resonate with the findings of their work on rural-urban migration at the Freetown City Council.
She said related to membership of the Mayors Migration Council, Freetown City Council conducted a survey of members of sanitation tricycle groups in 2020 and confirmed that over 40% of the existing members were rural-urban migrants.
Similarly, she furthered, through their work on informal settlement upgrades and related surveys conducted in 2020, they noted that 37% of people living in Cockle Bay and 35% of people living in Kolleh Town are rural-urban migrants.
“Furthermore aerial images taken between 2015 and 2022 show the physical expansion of four informal settlements (slum communities) from year to year as more and more people have moved into Freetown,” she reiterated adding that the physical expansion of slum communities is replicated across all 74 slum communities in Western Area Urban.
The FCC Mayor claimed that the delivery of services and much needed infrastructure for the residents of Freetown is already a significant challenge due to serious financial resource constraints including but not limited to fiscal transfers from the Government of Sierra Leone.
She said approximately 55% of Government fiscal transfers are allocated to cover the operations of Freetown’s secondary hospitals (Macauley Street Hospital and Lumley Hospital) and the District Health Medical Team (DHMT).
“Government fiscal transfers to Freetown City Council have already been subject to substantial reductions in recent years, including a 90% reduction in the administrative grant allocated to the Freetown City Council from 2018 to 2022,” she stated.
She told the Statistician General that if the mid-term provisional Freetown population result is adopted, it would trigger a commensurate reduction in the Government of Sierra Leone fiscal allocations to Freetown as well as a potential reduction in other financial inflows (overseas development aid, foreign direct investments, private sector funds etc).
According to her such would be a great injustice to the well over 1 million Freetonians living in a very overcrowded city with a high demand for and right to improved services.
She said the purported 42.5% reduction in the population of Freetown suggested by the provisional results of the mid-term census is not consistent with independent verifiable data points as highlighted above, nor with the visible physical experience of informal settlement growth within the city.
Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr concluded by saying that in the light of all the above, she would be most grateful if Statistics Sierra Leone could urgently review the provisional results for the mid- term census for Freetown as the current results clearly significantly undercount the city’s population.
Copies of her correspondence were sent to the Minister of Development and Economic Planning, the Minister of Western Region, the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, the Chairperson, Budget and Finance Committee, Freetown City Council and the Chief Administrator, Freetown City Council.