Brikama Area Council (BAC) vehemently condemns the arbitrary and deliberate interference of the central government, through our line Ministry of the Ministry of Local Governments and Lands, into the affairs of what is supposed to be a democratically elected council with a high degree of autonomy, as enshrined under Section 193 of the constitution of the Gambia 1997. The council protests that such a direct interference by the central government is a blatant disregard for the principles of good governance and democracy and condemns the central government’s use of excessive police force to arrest and detain elected council members on 5 December 2023 with the sole objective of demeaning and humiliating them for simply doing what they were elected to do.
BAC maintains that the central government through its line Ministry had no business in the running of an autonomous local authority. The line Ministry further had no business in the running of the financial affairs of the local authority, which is confirmed by Section 12 of the Local Government Finance and Audit Act 2004, which dictates that councils shall have autonomy over their financial matters.
BAC had passed a resolution 30 October 2023 recommending for the removal of their CEO and Director of Finance over not just mere allegations of corruption, but supported the same with sufficient evidence. Their recommendation was in pursuant to Section 45 of the Local Government Act 2002, which requires it to recommend to the Local Government Service Commission for appropriate action against the CEO and the Director of Finance.
It is worth noting that the Local Government Service Commission is an independent body that is not represented by the Ministry of Local Government, as confirmed by Section 118 of the Local Government Act 2002. Unfortunately, whilst that independent body is carrying out its mandate, the line Ministry, which had no business in the running of Council’s financial affairs had arrogated powers to dictate, who should sign the council’s accounts, and who should remain active in their jobs, without any such confirmation being supported by the Local Government Service Commission.
In fact, it was based on the advice of the Local Government Service Commission, that the council through CEO Jonga suspended Finance Director, Alhagie Jeng, from work on 26 October 2023 and had not been coming to work since, until he was recently instructed by the line Ministry to resume work on 4 December 2023 and then imposed him back on the council as a signatory. This is a clear abuse of power by the line Ministry, through its Permanent Secretary, Saffie Sankareh Farage. This is further done against the council’s resolution, barring Mr Jeng from being a signatory to its accounts, which had been communicated to the banks since 26 October 2023.
As a result, of this arbitrary intervention by the Ministry, the banks are uncertain as to the right signatories to our council’s accounts. In that the council had passed a resolution barring Mr Jeng and Jonga from withdrawing funds from their accounts. Whilst the Ministry is claiming the opposite. It is worth noting that by virtue of Section 13(2) of the Local Government Finance and Audit Act 2004, no moneys can be withdrawn from Council’s accounts without its approval and under section 11(1) of the local government act 2002, council means the elected chairman and his councillors. Thus the bank accounts are in the name of the council, BAC, and not in the name of the line Ministry. It thus suffices to state that the line Ministry has no business in dictating what should happen to an account, that is not their account or in their name. The line Ministry further ought to note that the council is not accountable to it, but instead accountable to the people of West Coast Region and the National Assembly.
With regards to CEO Jonga, it is further obvious from Section 43(2) of the Local Government Act 2002 that the CEO is under the direction and control of the council and not the line Ministry. The council has directed the CEO to refrain from work until the Service Commission determines his fate. It is unfortunate that the Ministry without any regards and respect for that decision of the council, as the elected representatives of the people of West Coast Region, instructed Mr Jonga to return to work and to further remain the signatory to the council’s accounts.
This is an affront to the council, which as the elected and nominated members of the BAC vehemently rejects! We wish to admonish the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government and Lands, Mrs Saffie Sankareh Farage to have respect for the democratic wishes of the people of West Coast Region, who elected our council
to make decisions for and on their behalf.
Mrs Sankareh Farage and the line Ministry should have waited for the Service Commission first before directly interfering with the decisions of our council. The line Ministry should have further admonished CEO Jonga to adhere to the dictates of the law and obey the directions of the council of the people of West Coast Region. The line Ministry should have also admonished CEO Jonga to adhere to the wishes of the elected representatives of the people of West Coast Region and refrain from any use of their assets including the vehicles of BAC until his fate is determined by the Service Commission.
However what is unexpected and deplorable is the partiality of the line Ministry in coming to the total defence of the CEO Jonga against the elected representatives of the people of West Coast Region. It is further deplorable that the line Ministry would conspire with others to use the Gambia Police Force to demean, humiliate and intimidate the people’s representatives of the West Coast Region, under the pretext of effecting lawful arrest and detention. In addition to level such bogus charges of “conspiracy to commit felony and causing malicious injury to property” against our council members regarding a property belonging to our council, which our honourable representatives swore to protect, is a new low in police criminal prosecution of our country.
We ask that all such frivolous charges be dropped against our council members and that our line Ministry ceases forthwith from interfering with the affairs of our council and leave our council to deal with its staff matters with the Local Government Service Commission. We further ask that the line Ministry maintains an impartial position on issues relating to council and its staff matters. The line Ministry should refrain from taking sides in such matters and treat both sides fairly and justly as expected of them.