31 January 2013

Gambia: The Councils and Decentrallisation


The intent of the 1997 Constitution is very clear. Power should be devolved to councils in the regions to enable them to collect revenue and implement development in the regions.

Hence section 193(1) of the Constitution states:

"Local government administration in The Gambia shall be based on a system of democratically elected councils with a high degree of local autonomy."

This constitutional provision is at variance with the tremendous power wielded by the executive in the appointment and removal of mayors and chairpersons of councils as in the case of Mayor Pa Sallah Jeng of Banjul City Council, Mayors Abdoulie Conteh and Alieu Momar Njie of Kanifing Municipality, Dr Ahmed Jassey, ex- chairperson of Brikama Area Council and Mr Omar Sompor Ceesay, Chairperson of Basse Area Council.

In short, whereas the Local Government Act 2002 ensured that removal of a mayor or chairperson required due process to be executed, the 2004 amendment relegated this by empowering the executive to remove mayors and chairpersons from office. The question arises: What due process was required before?

First, a mayor or chairperson can be removed by the council only on the following grounds as required by section 20(1) of the Local Government Act:

(a) abuse of office;

(b) corruption;

(c) misconduct; and

(d) such physical or mental incapacity as would render him or her incapable of discharging the duties of the office.

But the process requires the Chief Justice to set up a tribunal of some judges to investigate the matter and report its findings to the council, stating whether or not there is a case for removal of the mayor or chairperson. It is only when there is a prima facie case for the removal that the mayor or chairperson that he/she can be removed. In the case of mental or physical incapacity, a medical board formed in consultation with the Director of Medical Services will investigate the matter and only an adverse finding will lead to removal.

In this way there is security of tenure and the possibility of councils operating with some degree of autonomy. As it stands, the councils look like an arm of the executive taking orders from the Governor representing the president in the region.

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