Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

HELLO MR PRESIDENT : OUR NATIONAL DOCUMENTS

August 8, 2017

Author: Tha Scribbler Bah

It’s been months since your government through the minister for the Interior, Mr Mai Ahmad Fatty, announced the discontinuation of the issuance of the national documents, ID Cards and Passports. This has had some serious consequences on many folks in this country. For instance, one goes to a bank and is unable to withdraw any money because the ID card is expired. Or, one goes to a hospital and cannot enjoy the privilege of being a Gambian so one has to pay the fee foreigners are supposed to pay. There are many others to this effect.

Mr President, the public does not really know the reason[s] behind the discontinuation of the issuance of the national documents. The saying that many non Gambians were given these documents, or that some people have the ability to produce fake ID cards is not reason enough to stop issuing them to genuine Gambians. Why can’t the government find a way to produce ID cards which cannot be forged? Why can’t there be a mark which will differentiate between the fake and genuine one? There has to be way of doing it which doesn’t include denying genuine Gambians their right to obtain the national documents.

It is also said that the previous government signed an agreement with a foreign company for the issuing of biometric ID cards and biometric passports. It is said that in this contract, the government of the Gambia gains only D500 out of the D3000+ that passport applicants pay. I do not know whether this is true or not, but if it is, then it is ridiculous and that the government should terminate it forthwith. Certainly, there are Gambians who have the expertise to produce such documents. There is no reason why we should allow a foreign company to take away our hard earned money when our people can do it and the money remain in our country.

While we are talking about the national identity card, I want to suggest that we combine the ID card, the voter’s card and social security number in one. Let us find a way of making all these into one card. This has a lot of benefits for the country and will solve many problems for us.

Besides, the issue if the ID card expiring after five years should be revisited. Why don’t we have an ID which does not expire, or, at least let it last for a period if ten years. This will reduce the burden on ordinary citizens to be running around looking for ID cards every now and then.

The national documents are too important to be discontinued for this long. Find a way of surmounting this problem as soon as possible.

Tha Scribbler Bah

A Concerned Citizen

CLIMATE CHANGE & WATER RESOURCE OF THE GAMBIA RIVER BASIN – A CRITICAL REVIEW OF SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPLICATION

August 8, 2017

Author: Abdoukarim Sanneh, London

By Abdoukarim Sanneh, London U.K

The United Kingdom Government Commissioned Stern Review on the Economic of Climate Change and Development in 2006 stated that people will feel the impact of climate most strongly through changes of water around the world and its seasonal and annual variability. Stern review recognised that water is essential resource for life and a requirement for good health and sanitation, and it’s a critical input for almost all production and essential for sustainable growth and poverty reduction.

The Gambia is situated in the Sahel Region of West Africa and its rainfall is generated by West African Monsoon system with spatial variability while the countries vegetative cover is Savannah type with shrubs and grass under storeys and, mangrove cover on the western half of the riverine flood plains. The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in Africa and the River Gambia which is a transboundary River Basin is a dominate feature of the country’s political geography. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Information System on Water and Agriculture Irrigation in Africa Survey 2005, the Gambia lies in the sahelian agro-climate and its landscape geomorphological unit may be distinguished as upland and lowland and its climate is characterised by rainy season from June to October and dry season from November to May and the dry season is characterised by hot dry wind blowing southwards from Sahara desert which bring sandstorms.

Water Resources of the Gambia can be defined as the country’s naturally occurring surface and ground water, the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of which does not deter its exploitation for human use. For many years, with international development agendas rallying around sustainable management of water resources, these visions shape Government of The Gambia policy in pursuing the development of the nation’s water resources to secure greater access to safe drinking water for its growing urban and rural population. Painfully, Gambia’s surface and groundwater resources are directly or indirectly affected by climate viability and climate change which continues to constraint or national vision for water and food security. These constraints have also impacted on the socio-economic status of mostly women farmers.

The gender division of agricultural farmlands is such that women farmers dominate lowland areas for small scale vegetable production and rice crop production along the river valley while, cash crop farming in the upland areas is dominantly carried by men-folks. The level of risks associated with climate variability and climate change on water resources is likely to have negative consequences such as household food security, economic and losses of productive assets on this socio economic groups. The Gambia River for many years has been the focus of Government of The Gambia to utilise significant portions of the country’s land resources in tidal and mechanical irrigation. Societies can divert water from the rivers and underground aquifers to meet their urban, industrial or food needs but the process can happen only to a limit which river basin cannot perform its important functions and can be refereed to as a closed basin (Falkenmark and Molden, 2008).

No studies been carried out examining the driving forces (some of which are avoidable while others are unavoidable such as population growth, poor management, climate and vagaries of weather) to determine whether the Gambia River Basin is still an open, whether it can be considered as a close river basin. Currently the basin is a target for proposed Organisation of Gambia River Basin Countries (OMVG) hydropower and irrigation development to meet the region’s chronic energy poverty and food self sufficiency. Studies have identified Sambangalou in Senegal and Keleta in Guinea as potential dam sites and an interconnection transmission circuit linking the two dam to the electric grid of four countries of the organisation (AfDB, 2008). Many of the driving forces towards river basin closure are difficult to avoid because there is a strong justification for water development to generate income and employment, food production to increase food security. Climate change to a certain degree is also unavoidable and will continue to influence future stream flows (Falkenmark and Molden, 2008).

The main source of Gambia’s drinking water for its growing urban and rural population is extracted from its ground water resources. Water resources are inextricably linked with climate and the current dynamics of anthropogenic climate change is reported to have serious implications for water resources and management and development (Riebsame et al, 1995). With efforts to provide adequate water supply, the country is confronted with current challenges such as demographic pressure and rapid urbanisation, and changes in land use patterns which are all impacting on the underground hydrology. In densely populated Greater Banjul, Kombo and its coastal areas, the supply of water is already straining to meet demand and economic growth and, in addition, water supply is also sensitive to seasonal rainfall distribution, global warming and heat waves (JarJu, 2008). Groundwater recharge is corrected with rainfall, which with other factors also resulted an increase or decrease in the level of underground water table.

The drilling of private boreholes in all over the country need some form of regulation. The Department of Water Resources and National Environment Agency should come some form of Water Industry Act to regulate maelstroms of private boreholes in very part of the country especially within the Greater Banjul and Kombo areas. Increasing demand for extraction for public and private supply in recent years has led to consequential changes in ground water level and quality. In some areas along the coast and the river estuary further salt water intrusion has changed the taste of drinking water. The demand for water resources along the coastal areas in the Gambia will continue to increase with abstraction while the rate of recharge will decrease due to climate related factors.

Reference:-

Falkenmark, M & Molden, D (2008). Wake up Realities of River Basin Clouse. Water Resources Development, Vol. 24, No. 2, 211-215 June 2008

 

FAO (2005). FAO’s Information on water and Agriculture: Irrigation in Africa in Figures-AQUASTAT Survey Available:- http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/countries regionnd/gambia/gambia.cp.pdf

 

Jarju, P.O. (2009). National Report on Adaptation of Water Resources in the Gambia, Department of Water Resources: The Gambia. Available:-

http://www.undpcc.org/docs/National%20issues%20papers/water%20(adaptation)/gambia national issues water.pdf

Riebsame, W.E etal, (1995). Complex River Basins. In K.M, Strzepelc and J.B.Smiths (Eds), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: United Kingdom pp57-91.

GAMBIA: MAELSTROM OF MOBILE PHONE MASTS AND THE NEED FOR ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT & REGULATION

August 2, 2017

Author: Abdoukarim Sanneh, London

By Abdoukarim Sanneh, London

We love our mobile phones and according to GSMA Intelligence report 2015 mobile industry in Sub Saharan Africa continues to scale rapidly, reaching 367 million subscribers. Accounting firm Deloitte and the GSM Associations in econometric modelling studies on the availability and use of mobile phone service indicated that Mobile Phone in Africa have improved communication, social inclusion, economic activity and productivity in sectors such as agriculture, health and education. Given that the use of mobile phone comes with growth in the economic advancement, there are also latent effects on the environment that need putting in place regulatory procedures for the instillations of mobile phone masks in densely populated neighbours to reduce or mitigate the impact on the people and environment.

During my recent visit to the Gambia and Senegal I observed that there are telecommunication masts everywhere. In United Kingdom and Many European Union Countries there have been lot of debate and protest about instillation of Mobile/ telecommunication infrastructure because United Kingdom Town and Country Planning laws and regulations is decentralised at Local Government level and it is subjected to  development permit order, public rights to information and democratic decision making through public participation. Under the European Union Directives because of Public protest about the environmental and health impact of erecting telecommunication masts and base stations especially in densely populated areas are erecting mobile telecommunication mast can be subjected Environmental Impact Assessment.

Under EU Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA Directive 85/337/EEC and amended Directive 97/11/EC) telecommunication masts falls under Annex I or Annex II project. According to this directive, the developer before the instillation of the telecommunication masts should conduct Environmental Impact Study and part of which public consultation. Environmental Impact Assessment is not science and it is does not involved scientific experimentation design. It is a project management tool and a process of information gathering in order to determine or forecast what the likelihood of the project will have on the people and their environment. It involves standard procedures such as scoping, baseline study, public consultation etc.

I don’t know what regulatory regimes are in place to control the instillation of this equipment in both the two countries. For example in the Gambia, do the National Environment Agency been the advisory body of the Gambia Government on environmental matters knows the effect of telecommunication masts on the people’s and their health? Do they have put in place any environmental standard procedures as an environmental management tool which telecommunications providers such as Africell, Comium, QCell and Gamcell should follow especially in the area of environmental impact assessment before the establishment of more telecommunication mast infrastructures in all part of the country? From Banjul, Serekunda, Brufut, Sukuta, Bijilo, Brikama, Bakau and other part of the country, tall masts it becomes part of the visual scenery. In my conversation in a telecommunication engineer (name withheld) it comes clear to that mobile telephone operators/providers do not need to obtain the necessary environmental impact assessment before erecting these telecommunication masts.

Mobile phone transmission masts are characteristics of waves of electromagnetic fields associated with high voltage flow that can cause electromagnetic radiation due to high exposure electromagnetic frequency. Exposure to electromagnetic radiation has lot of health implications. A survey study conducted in France using questionnaire conducted by Santini. R et al (2002) on investigation on the health of people living near mobile telephone mast relay station found a variety of self-reported symptoms for people that are living near a these telecommunication masts in both rural and urban areas. Different epidemiological research indicated that people living in places where telecommunication masts are erected are vulnerable to disorder like cancer, lung diseases, sleep disturbance and even physical disabilities but according to World Health Organisation there is no current scientific proofs of health hazards associated with telecommunication masts.

In the event of scientific uncertainty about the health impact of telecommunication mast, the Gambia National Environment Agency should put in place the precautionary principles and cautionary policies that regulate maelstrom of Telecommunication masts especially in densely urban areas. Conditioning Mobile Telephone Companies/Operators before erecting telecommunication mast to conducted environmental impact assessment are one method of strict application of precautionary principles. Tall mast has becomes part of the environment and seemingly every mobile telephone operators had put its own masts without no planning regulation or public consultation. There should be effective dialogue between National Environment Agency, Communities and Mobile Telephone Companies in decision on where masts should be located. Similarly, policies of co-locating antennas owned by all the operators on a single mast and where possible, locating the masts away from schools is used in United Kingdom as a prudent approach that the industry mainly take in response to public concern. We love our mobile phone but I hope the government put in place some form of regulation to mitigate and reduce human exposure electromagnetic radiation generate from these telecommunication mast. There are telecommunication masts everywhere and needs some form of regulation.

 

EXAMINING BARROW’S PLANS FOR GAMBIA’S HEALTH SECTOR

August 2, 2017

 

Author: Dr Muhammed Teks Tekanyi, USA

Dr Muhammed Teks Tekanyi, USA

 

“Alongside providing people with safe drinking water and sanitation, my government, through the Ministry of Health, is scaling up its efforts to improve our health delivery systems, especially for women and children.

As a first step, we have obtained additional assets to support primary health care provision in the country. This includes 800 pedal bicycles and 29 motorbikes for Village Health Workers and Community Health Nurses across the country’s seven health regions.

I am pleased to report that the World Bank has approved US$7 million in additional funding for the Maternal and Child Health as well as the Nutrition Result Project. My government has also submitted a proposal to the EU to enhance food security.  We would welcome their support to help us treat acute malnutrition and prevent all forms of under-nutrition.

With more than 95 percent coverage, we are also getting support from the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative (GAVI) to help us consolidate our strong track record on child immunizations. This project, estimated at US$4.6 million will help strengthen and enhance our immunization systems.” President Barrow, July 24, 2017.

A review of the president’s deliberation on health would conclude that it was entirely based on primary healthcare which fortunately has been the most active component of the Gambian health delivery systems since the first republic with both the secondary and tertiary remaining as strugglers.

How do we then as a nation improve the functions of the two other important components of the health system?

At a personal level and in consideration of the small size of our population, I will suggest an emulation of the National health Service (NHS) UK and in this, primary health care should be made free or next to free in order to make it readily available as a measure of preventing disease burden while maintaining it completely at Health Centre level.

Furthermore, all the regional hospitals including Bundung Maternal and child (formerly Jammeh Foundation) hospital be upgraded into proper general hospitals to provide affordable secondary care for each administrative region with Polyclinic serving as a secondary care service centre for Banjul.

And the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital and Serrekunda General Hospital can then be given full autonomy to be managed by their own independent administrations and as well upgraded as proper and well equipped tertiary hospitals for Medical & Surgical and Maternal & Child Care respectively.

However, the care at the tertiary level should be purely advanced specialist paid for services in order to meet their maintenance cost and most be made adequate and readily available by the respective hospitals.

This will help decongest both hospitals in terms of capacity needs and as well reduce the burden related to demand overriding supply which has always been the cause of deficit in services rendered at the tertiary level.

Moreover, to prevent the stagnation of the health personal (doctors and nurses) particularly doctors, the Medical and Dental council can restructure the internship program for graduates of the medical school into two phases; a one year 3 monthly rotation at the teaching hospitals and a year rotation at the regional hospitals.

This can come with three benefiting results;

1 – it will reduce the expenditure relating to increased staff capacity of the teaching hospitals thus creating funds for the improvement of other areas of the hospitals.

2 – it will improve performance by creating competition for those doctors/nurses that may want to return to the tertiary hospitals at the end of their regional hospital rotations.

3 – it will broaden and enrich the experience of those posted doctors and nurses.

How can we improve the human resource  capacity to maintain the functionality of these systems?

It is commendable to say that the country has trained many doctors, nurses, public health officers and other cadres. However, in health, training without specialisation is synonymous to building a multipurpose house without furniture.

Hence the need to graduate the government’s concentration from undergraduate to postgraduate training with diversification of specialty for both doctors and nurses while creating attractive incentives for those abroad to return and contribute in the strengthening of the existing systems.

And to avoid brain drain, flexible bonds with as well incentives should be attached to postgraduate training grants which can be gained through bilateral and multilateral cooperations with countries like Nigeria, Turkey, India, Senegal, China etc thus instead of building a $50M conference centre or a $48M forensic lab for example, these funds can be used to train 10 -15 specialists whom in 5years upon their return can save the government more than the amount spent on their training.

It is therefore paramount for the government to work on redirecting its foreign aid policy from monetary to human resource development which will thus prevent the drainage of funds into unknown wells and as well reduce corruption.

Dr Muhammed Teks Tekanyi, USA

GAMBIA: ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY AND REGULATIONS – “A WAY FORWARD FOR OUR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PARADIGMS”

July 30, 2017

Author: Abdoukarim Sanneh, London

By Abdoukarim Sanneh, London

Mehmet Murat Ildan Turkish playwright, novelist and thinker stated that Environmental pollution is not only humanity’s treason to humanity but also treason to all other living creatures on Earth. The coming of World Commission on Environment and Development and the publication of its report our common future was a turning point in the global advocacy of national environmental policy  development to environmental problems in both developed and developing countries. The World Commission on Environment and Development, commonly known as Brundtland Commission, which was headed by Former Prime Minister of Norway and one time Director General of World Health Organisation is reference in academic circles as the most important document of the decade on the future of our planet-earth.
The Genesis of the report our common future had opened not only academic/ intellectual debate of the future of our planet but also political ecological thought for development that should meet the need of the current generation without compromising that of the future generation which become know as sustainable development. In The United Kingdom, since after the publication of Brundtland Commission report, the Department of Environment, now known as Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to commission an independent study called the Blue print for green economy which endorsed the report of World Commission for Sustainable Development, providing the most influential account for UK economic policies to achieve sustainable development.
The Brundtland Commission report led to a shift in policy directions in many other countries and the birth of green party politics. It was the recommendations of the Brundtland Commission report our common future which shape the debate of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, known as the Earth Summit in Brazil in June 1992. In the views of many environmental activists, the Earth Summit was a failure; but for many academics and development commentators,  it was the beginning of the most important legal binding agreements between developed and developing countries such as convention on biological diversity, convention on sustainable development(Agenda 21), convention on desertification and convention on climate change. These conventions have shift international diplomacy and shape relationships between nation states in developed and developing countries in this millennium and beyond.
In the Gambia, the issues of environmental protection and erosion of biological resources have been a concern since the first Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel meeting in Banjul following the 1970s Sahelian drought. The Government of the Gambia was aware of degradation of our national fauna and flora and in 1977 came up with what is known as the Banjul Declaration for the conservation and protection of our national flora and fauna. In policy dimension, because of the fact that Agriculture and environmental goods is major contributor the economy there was strong political will and commitment to natural resource management.

 

After Gambia’s participation at the World Summit on Environment and Development, commonly known as Earth Summit, the PPP Government with international funding in the age of what World Bank critic such as Professor Michael Goldman of Yale University called imperial nature- the world Bank and the struggles for social justice in the age of globalisation, was able to secure funding and consultancy that transformed the Environmental Unit at the Department of Water Resources into what is today known as the National Environment Agency. The Gambia National Environment Agency (NEA) came through an Act of parliament called Environment Management Act, 1994. The legal mandate of the agency was to formulate environmental policies. The deficit of the Act was that the agency was not mandated further to develop and replicate its own environmental and development projects at national stage. The Agency was reduced to coordination, advice and consultation; overseeing compliance and providing technical advice on environmental issues and related development. The National Environment Agency is an institution with highly trained multidisciplinary team of professionals but cannot function within the scope and mandate like UK Environmental Agency-Independent, autonomous, and development oriented, decentralised to all the regions.
The Former APRC Government even with my critical observation of the progress of the National Environmental policy-“Gambia Environmental Action Plan”, have been positive and shows commitment in maintaining the semi-autonomous status of the agency before and after transition from military to quasi democracy. But the reality is that putting Gambia’s environmental crisis into perspectives, there is a need to shift policy direction towards environmental action beyond officialdom. The activities of National Environment Agency need funding and should be decentralised from central stage level to divisional/regional level and district level, through not only technical but also development arms. For example, every local government administration need environmental unit and environmental management plan to deal local environmental management issues at local government level such as land management, fly tipping, housing and environmental planning, flood, rivers and coastal risk management, waste management, pollution, environmental permit and information etc.
There are lot of good work/ efforts that the Environment Agency is doing. A lot of work has been done in the environmental information dissemination, communication and sensitisation to increase citizens’ awareness on the state of Gambia’s environment.  The agency need resources to strengthen and should be given more regulatory and enforcement powers. This can only be done if we use and new democracy to developed effective environmental laws and regulation from the protection of all our environmental media. For example Golden Leaf Factory Pollution incidence in Gunjur, if it was in United Kingdom both Environment Act 1995, Water Resources 1991 and Water Industry Act 1991, all stated that in the legal status/code that knowingly and willingly discharge of untreated waste into any body is a criminal offence.

 

With rapid urbanisation in urban and semi-urban areas, the agency need to collaborate and support local government authorities in designing a strategic waste management action plan including public sensitisation issues on environmental health matters. Local Government authorities in return should complement the efforts of the Environment Agency with the provision of dustbins and lavatories in all public areas and spaces. Environmental health is an important requirement of our national development. Poor hygiene and sanitation in Africa is primary cause of the prevalence of both air and water borne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid etc.
Coming up with National Waste Management strategy will practically find solution at current problem of municipal waste disposal facing many of the urban local government administration. Mountains of both biodegradable and non biodegradable solid wastes from Greater Banjul area which is openly dumped in Bakoteh Land fill site, contains a lot of methane that can be used as a source of energy. This can be incinerated to generate energy which can be transformed into electricity. Gambia needs an incineration plant to address thousands of tonnes of solid waste that end up in open space dumping sites affecting not only the visual scenery but also the natural beauty of our landscape. Gambia needs waste management policy which is directed towards re-use, recycle and regeneration. Our country needs sustainable municipal waste management strategies and frameworks. A healthy environment improves the living conditions of people and increases life expectancy.
The Gambia Environment National Agency could be institutionally functional beyond its legal mandate through addressing crucial issues of sustainability within the framework of Local Government decentralisation. The recent amendment of Local Government Act, have shifted all exclusive powers to the president and has grossly undermined any meaningful reform strategies put in place by United Nation Development Fund, commission on decentralisation projects of local government, which the Gambia benefited during military transition from first to second republic.
Gambia is a signatory to Sustainable development agenda known as agenda 21, which gives emphasis to local democracy, popular participation, social justice, environmental protection etc. New Gambia need to revisit its Local Government Act in order to strengthen inclusive transparent and accountable democratic Local Government system that focuses on fight against social injustice. The goals of sustainable development aims at addressing social inequality, environmental protection and local democracy is within the platform of local agenda 21, which draws on development through participatory approach and empowerment. The autocratic control of local government is a way forward to undermine the local agenda 21 through popular participation for decision making and environmental justice.
On legal dimension, there is a need for further development of Gambia’s environmental legislation in line with the current economic and global environmental realities. Environmental laws in the Gambia should cover all environmental medium such as land, water and atmosphere. A resource poor economy like our country with more dependency on imported goods,  environmental legislation, regulation and enforcement should be strengthen to combat illegal dumping of either hazardous waste containing heavy metal into our environmental media. Africa’s marine ecosystem is a target for illegal dumping of hazardous chemical waste. For example the toxic dumping in Abidjan in 2006, resulting to the death of 6 people and 9000 people has sought for hospital treatment is an indication that we have to be vigilant. Environmental inspectorate of the Agency should be further developed to monitor and regulate pollution matters to any environmental medium such as land, water and air. The Gambia Navy also need training on monitoring, inspection and legal awareness of issues of marine pollution. Both the Gambia Revenue Authority/ Customs and Excise need further training in what is called Environmental management and Life Cycle Analysis. With massive importation of second hand goods into the country requires some form of Cradle-to grave-analysis to reduce environmental risk and dumping. The impact of such goods in terms of their durability and impact on the physical environment should be put in national policy domain or debate for both stakeholders to avoid indiscriminate dumping.
In the areas of built environment and infrastructural development, National Environment Agency should develop a policy framework or regulation to mitigate environmental impact on any developmental industry, government or private. With rapid increasing population and massive urbanisation, Gambia needs a well defined sustainable land-use system. Centralisation of power as in the local government Act will only get matters worse in the immediate and long term effects. It is about time to act if we can dictate development policies that meet the needs of the present generation without compromising that of the future generation in line with the principles of sustainability.

GAMBIA: POLITICAL PLURALISM

July 30, 2017

Author: Tha Scribbler Bah

By Tha Scribbler Ba

It has become common for people to ask, ‘Where were you when Jammeh was here , and why were you not criticizing?’ I think this type of position is ill-informed. Jammeh had a repressive regime and a very sinister way of silencing dissent. So, as ordinary citizens, it would have been foolhardy to take the regime head on.

Those of us who have no influence or voice [I am an ordinary classroom teacher] remained in the background doing whatever we could to survive. Well, December 2016 approached and all genuine Gambians were seized by a ‘political frenzy’. We campaigned, wrote articles and spoke to our people. The opposition did not disappoint. They came together and presented one candidate. We all went to the polls and voted for change. We were victorious and everyone was happy.

Now, there is a saying that ‘once beaten twice shy’. We all vowed never to allow one man to abrogate our rights again while we stand aside and watch. So, we therefore keep constant watch. Speak out when the need arises and criticise [constructively, I might add] anything we deem undemocratic. We all thought that there is hope for Gambia.

President Barrow has repeatedly said that there will be total freedom of the press and of expression. I told him about my activism and he said that that is good. ‘That is how we build a nation, together’.

Unfortunately, there has arisen those who would do anything to silence whoever says anything against Barrow and his regime. This is scary. I mean can’t they see the irony here? This is the same thing we accused Yahya Jammeh of, now it’s our turn. Have these people ever heard of being magnanimous in victory?

If anyone finds time to take a pen and write about the current issues, or talk about it openly, it is because he or she loves the country. We may differ with such a person in opinion but at least let us accord him/her the respect he/she deserves. We are all Gambians and no one is more Gambian than the other. We have to have a common goal. Pluralism is indispensable if we are serious about our democratisation process.

Whatever the case, asking someone why he didn’t speak out when Jammeh was here is unfair. Let us try to be objective in our criticisms. If we see an opinion, let us study it carefully before we start lambasting its author. And when we debate, let us talk about the issues rather than the personalities.

Together as one! We have a nation to build!

#TenacityForBetterGambia#

GAMBIA: THE DEVELOPMENT PARADIGMS AND THE WAY FORWARD FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORMS, DECENTRALISATION AND LOCAL DEMOCRACY

July 22, 2017

Author: Abdoukarim Sanneh, London

By Abdoukarim Sanneh, London

Strengthening local government authorities through decentralisation is important in building and nurturing functional and participatory democracy. Gambia is a centralised state since after independence and not much is done to decentralise power through local government reforms to strengthen local democracy, in order to effectively and efficiently response to our community development challenges confronting our country. Coming from 22 years of neo-patrimonial state with unimaginable brutality and narrow space of democratic participation, new Gambia should set of a democratic system base on address issues of equity and social justice and one fundamental pathway towards that reality is through decentralisation and local government reforms agenda.

In many part of developing countries functional and inclusive participatory democracy comes with decentralisation. Decentralisation can be described as the transfer of power from central government to lower levels of government and these took the form of administrative and political decentralisation to enhance effective planning and management of resources, resource allocation and mobilisation, citizen participation and accountability etc.  The aim of this article is to discuss the shortcomings in the implementation of local reforms, the mistakes and setback and the way forward to build a local government system with a development vision that is inclusive, transparent and accountable.

There is constitutional provision for local government administration in the Gambia. Both the 1997 constitution and before that the 1970 constitution in the second and first republic, all maintain  three spheres of government and that is Central Government, Local Government and Traditional Rulers commonly known as chieftaincy and Village Alkalos. The legal framework of the Local government was Local Government Act, 2002 which was passed in the National Assembly on 9th April 2002. This act superseded early Local Government Act (Amended 1984), Local Government (City of Banjul Act (Amended 1988) The Kanifing Municipal Council Act 1991 and the Provinces Act.

There are 7 Local government areas and each of these councils is headed by Chief Executive Officers who role involves managing the affairs of the council and is also the accounting officer. It is also stipulated in the Local Government Act that Central Government provided 25% of the council’s development budgets but no specification is given when that amount of money is due and remit to the council.

During the political transition from Military to Civilian rule in 1996 to early 2000, The Government of the Gambia through UNDP and European Union Technical Assistance came with Decentralisation project that aims to strengthen local democracy with a local government reform agenda, but unfortunately totalitarian and neo-patrimonial regime of Yaya Jammeh and its lukewarm approach was unwilling to widen the space for local democracy through Local Government Reform agenda. Shortly after enacting Local Government Act in April 2002 by the rubberstamp Parliament, the following month May 2002 was the local government election through the quasi democratic process. In the past local government elections all the 7 local government areas are controlled by Former APRC Party except Banjul that elected Independent Mayors such as Pa Sallah Jeng. Mr Jeng even whilst was democratically elected as Independent Mayor of Banjul went through all forms of intimidation and harassment. The judiciary was used as a repressive arm of the government to prosecute him on flimsy and bogus charges obstructing and sabotaging his tenure in office with the aim of making it untenable. This was the beginning of efficiency and mechanisation of Local Government authorities all over the country.

In many part of developed and developing countries, Local Government Administration have gone through democratic reforms. Local Administration in many democracies is not control only by the regime in power but also opposition parties. Many opposition parties use their control local government assemblies as an experimental ground for their development programmes and policies. The Local Government Act 2002 has lot of deficiency that need to be amended. Beyond citizens electing their Local Councillors, there is no section in the Act that enforced systems for community involvement through consultation or reviews in local development action plan. Community involvement in local government decision making should and will always be the focal point for discussion of local problems and for making recommendations to the councils, or find solutions to the problems. It can also be use for mobilising residents of wards in local government areas on self help and development projects and also for educating citizens on their rights and obligations in relation to local government.

There is a serious problem of accountability and transparency in Local Government administration in the Gambia. This can be noticed by ineffectiveness of local government administration in all parts of the country. Today no local government authorities in both urban and rural areas have put in place a schedule weekly or fortnightly or even monthly refuse collection in communities and local markets where taxes are daily collected from people. Local councils apart from 25% subvention that is stipulated in Local Government Act 2002 that should have come from Central Government as budget support, raise revenue from sources compound rate tax, property rates, licences, duty fees and charges, interest, local taxes and fees from local markets etc. But given that there is no mechanism of citizens’ involvement, there is cloud around issues of transparency and accountability in local government finance. What the Government should do is to enforce transparency and accountability and makes it a requirement for all the 7 local government administrations to periodically publish council documents, budgets and accounts, development plans and council meetings to be open to public access. The civil society groups should also be given the capacity to monitor local government service delivery both to strengthen accountability of service providers to the poor and to provide feed back for policy makers .For example in every Local Government in authority is given star rating in rate to service delivery and this system enable to name and shame local government authorities based on the quality of service it provided to tax payers. Apart form that there is Local Government Ombudsman to investigate complaints from the public about the councils.

Local Government reforms in our new emerging democracy will foster not only  decentralisation of power and local democracy but will also enhance effective delivery of service that is either the sole the responsibility of local government authorities,  joint responsibility service with central government or discretionary responsibility. It is about time to move away from the era which Local government is seen only as Tax and revenue collection agency into partners of sustainable development. Ineffectiveness of local government administration in our country had created at a vacuum in addressing social justice in wider areas of social service such as housing, health and social care for the weak and the vulnerable in our society, roads, schools, leisure or community centres etc.

Gambia local government administration needs not only political decentralisation but administrative decentralisation. For example Departments like Community Development and Physical Planning should be transfer to Local Government Areas. Central Government should not have to take community development initiatives that should be delegated as a sole function and responsibility of local government authorities. Spatial land use planning and also development control should be a local government decision. For years, the function of the Department of Physical Planning is enforcement and demolition civil land disputes between individual community and the state. There should be proper administrative and development function of Department of Physical Planning within the local government system. Local Government authorities has no spatial land use master plan in related in housing and land use development which can be subjected to community participation and democratic decision making. Gambia is the only Former British Colony with Land Laws and administration is based on 1948 Town and Country Planning Act of 1948 of England and Wales. Thanks to Sir Philips Bridge (1922-2007) the former Chief Justice of the Gambia who started his assignment in colonial Land Office. He implanted 1948 Land and Country Planning Act of UK into our domestic legislation.  This legislation in England and Wales was purposefully for development control and its enforcement to address the impact of Second World War and its impact land use planning. Most of 1948 Town and Country Planning Act are repealed. England and Wales has democratised it land use decision policy. Spatial land use planning and regulations goes through public consultation and decision making. Gambia Government through administrative decentralisation should disband Department of Physical Planning and place planning laws in local government for democratic decision making of Land Administration.

 

Today Local government authorities in our country for example should have gone into social housing development. This can be like a joint investment with Social Security and Housing to build affordable schemes in all the 7 Local Government Areas which would have increase their revenue/income. Now service sectors where our local government authorities had failed to invest are led to new players such as TAF and Global Property. These actors in our national housing markets are motives and driven with corporate interest of making profit and show no regard about the social impact of their investment, community cohesion, environment and corporate social responsibility.

The Ministry of Local Government and Regions has the responsibility for implementing decentralisation and local government reforms from now towards the next local government election and beyond. Gambia’s local government authorities will not be able to responsive to need of our citizens without proper accountable democratic reforms. In our national pathway to widen the space of democratic governance it is fundamental important for Gambia to reformed its local government administration for the interest of social justice to meet environmental and community development challenges.