FOROYAA Newspaper (Serrekunda)

Gambia: Halifa Writes to Minister of Regional Administration On the Impasse Affecting Sutukonding Ward

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Re: On The Impasse Affecting Sutukonding Ward After The Dissolution of the Councils

As conveyed to the President of the Republic and copied to you, Mr Saibe Juwara who has been occupying the seat of Chairman of the Sutukonding Ward Development Committee by virtue of the statutory requirement of Section 101 of the Local Government Act was approached by a delegation comprising the National Assembly member,

Wuli West, the APRC Constituency Chairman, APRC Constituency Youth leader and was asked to hand over all that was put under his charge to a young girl who did not submit any credentials to him to show that she is legitimately empowered to perform the role she was requesting to assume. His refusal to bow down to their demand unless he receives a memorandum from a constituted authority, legally established by statute, asking him to hand over matters put under his charge,did lead to an impasse which is yet to be addressed.

As the Minister responsible for the administration of the Local Government Act it is important to inform you that, since he made his pronouncement, Mr Saibe Juwara has not received any official correspondence from any authority indicating what he should do after the dissolution of the councils followed by the establishment of a management team.

This is precisely the reason why it was deemed prudent to draw your attention to the impasse so that a mechanism could be put in place to facilitate a smooth transfer of authority after dissolution of the councils, in the absence of what is prescribed by an Act, By-law or other subsidiary legislations.

You would agree with us that the issue of smooth transfer of authority is a key objective in all democratic transitional arrangements. To effect it requires constitutional, statutory, institutional, procedural and administrative responses. Those of you who are constitutionally empowered to exercise direction and control over the Ministries have the responsibility to oversee the administration of the Acts designed to guide the operation of institutions put under your charge. Any ambiguity, superfluity or inconsistency detected in law or practice in the process of the administration of your duties should be identified and addressed through legal, procedural or institutional reform or modification of normative practices in terms of consensus building management and implementation mechanisms.

To make matters short, it is important to note that the current impasse is brought about by the amendment of the local Government Act without filling the vacuum it creates at the lower rung of local government administration. The local government reform was designed to be a bottom up process engendering autonomous village development committees, ward development committees and councils that would ensure grassroots participation in the administration of their affairs at each level.This approach to local Government administration is engendered by Section 193 subsection 1 of the Constitution which states: "that Local government administration in The Gambia shall be based on a system of democratically elected councils with a high degree of local autonomy".

If these provisions were to guide any amendment to the Local Government Act Section 9a of the Local Government Amendment Act 2007 would not have facilitated the replacement of democratically elected councils with unelected Management Teams appointed by the Executive.

The amendmemt reads:

"1) A Local Government Council shall stand dissolved ninety days before a Local Government election.

(2) On the dissolution of a Council, The president shall appoint, for each Local Government Area, an Interim Management Team, consisting of such persons as he/she may determine, to perform the functions and exercise the powers of a Council until the day preceding the first meeting of a Council after a Local Government election."

In a normal democratic transition the elected representatives would continue in office until the day before the first session of a representative institution is convened, after an election.

A clear example of such a transitional mechanism is embodied in section 99 of the Constitution which states: "Subject to the provision of this section the National Assembly shall stand dissolved on the date immediately preceding the day appointed for the first session of the next following National Assembly". In this way one avoids a vacuum in representation by allowing the incumbent to fill the gap.

Now that the Councils are dissolved, De Jure, there should be no Councilors. Interestingly enough, the Members of the Management Teams are not provided with specific roles, that enable them to satisfy the requirements of section 101 (1 a) of the local government Act as far as the Ward Development Committees are concerned.

Section 101 of the Local Government Act simply states that "(1) A Ward Development Committee shall consist of

a. The Councillor for the Ward as Chairperson;

b. One male and one female representative from each Village Development Committee elected by the Village Development Committee;

c. Representatives of organisations involved in development activities at ward level; and

d. Such other persons as the Council shall from time to time determine. "

Section 104. adds that " (1) Meetings of a Ward Development Committee shall be convened by the Chairperson of the committee at such times and places as the Committee shall deem expedient for the conduct of its business.

(2) Special meetings may be summoned by the Chairperson at the request of any ex-officio member or at least five members on a matter of urgency."

It is absolutely clear that the Chairman of the Ward Development Committee must be the Councilor and the amendment to the Act does not state who should replace the councillor as Chairperson of a Ward Development Committee after the dissolution of the Council.It does not outline how the transfer of functions and responsibilities should be legitimately effected. In this respect, Councillors after the dissolution of councils cannot divorce themselves from the responsibilities they have held by virtue of office. Hence they are, De Facto ,incumbent Councillors until you take the steps required to ameliorate the impasse

It is therefore important for your Ministry to initiate a consultative process with the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and all stakeholders so that you could come up with a mechanism for the management of the transition process between the dissolution of Councils and the holding of the first session of councils after elections, that is reasonable and justifiable in a democratic society.

It is not an ordinary matter to change signatories to bank accounts without legal processes authorized by statutes, by laws and procedures consonant with the principles of transparency and accountability.

While anticipating your expert intervention to address the impasse

I remain

Yours in the Service of the People

Halifa Sallah

Secretary General

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