By Tabora Bojang
At least five councilors of the Banjul City Council have refuted allegations by Mayor Lowe that they are delaying the passage of the council’s 2023 budget for financial gains.
The mayor alleged in an interview with Star FM that some BCC councilors are dragging their feet on the 2023 budget in order to benefit from the allowances being paid to them at D3,000 per sitting.
In their reaction, nominated councilor and chairman of the BCC finance committee, Basiru Ndow, charged that contrary to the mayor’s claims, the councilors are paid D1,500 per budget sitting.
Ndow explained that the delay in the passage of the 2023 budget was necessitated following the committee’s discovery of anomalies in last year’s budget which raised suspicions of ill financial dealings, saying it is their responsibility as finance committee to regulate, formulate, approve and execute the Council’s budget.
“The budget session should start in June but they waited until the later part of December and presented it to us to express it. That cannot be possible. It is our responsibility as a finance committee to make sure we look after the budget. We were given four different drafts [of the budget] and it came to a point that we took the budget to the General Council for their approval but we could not give our blessings because there were certain issues that we raised and so the general body decided that it should be given back to us [finance committee] to do a more thorough work and deliberations on it. That was why the budget was going back and forth. Its delay is not about allowances. We are paid D1,500 per sitting as a committee member. As councillors, we are only paid allowances and not salaries and I think it makes economic sense that if we are working on a budget of D168 million for the entire residents of Banjul, we follow the due process. We cannot just expedite it, the Local Government Act has given powers to scrutinise before passage,” Ndow stated.
The councillor of Box Bar Ward, Aziz Dabakh Gaye, alleged that the budget was supposed to be passed yesterday if not for the absence of the mayor and the deputy mayor to chair their scheduled general council meeting.
According to Councillor Gaye, who was among the parties that took the mayor to court for her issuance of attestation in the run-up to last year’s presidential election, the finance committee has discovered a number of anomalies that it requested clarification on from both the CEO and the director of finance.
He said they have also discovered in their budget interrogations, that the council spent millions of Dalasi under its development budget to cover religious and social engagements.
He said following this discovery, the committee requested from the director of finance a breakdown of these figures which led to the session being adjourned. He added following their resumption the breakdowns of these figures were presented by the Director of Finance but the actuals varied.
“We agreed to meet Thursday to pass the budget and yet the mayor boycotted the meeting and it was cancelled,” Gaye alleged.
Corruption allegations against mayor
The rival BCC councillors also made a litany of allegations against the mayor.
They alleged that the mayor travelled to the U.S. in June and spent over D200,000 in pier diem and another D200, 000 for imprests.
Councilor Gaye also accused the mayor of using BCC funds to pay staff working for RAFELA, which the mayor leads as the president.
BCC office building
Also touching on the recent BCC building controversy between President Barrow and Mayor Lowe, Councillor Basiru Ndow, who is a sympathiser of the president, said: “The building is a government building. It is the former government that lobbied with the World Bank to help and construct it for BCC because the World Bank is a multilateral agency that does not deal with local councils but the government. So the BCC only paid D6 million for their counterpart contribution. So it is the government that facilitated that building and all the money expended there was through the Gambia government not in the name of the BCC.”
Other councilors present at the presser were Modou A Bah, councilor of Half-Die Ward, Mamud Ceesay of Newtown West Ward, Abdoulie Boss Gaye of Portuguese Town Ward.
Meanwhile Mayor Lowe has responded to the allegations on her official Facebook page. She wrote: “I reject in absolute and categorical terms the allegations leveled against my administration by five councilors in a press conference held yesterday. Their claims are spurious and without any basis on facts. Being that we are busy attending to the hosting of NAYCONF slated to begin Friday here in the nation’s capital, I am appealing to the public especially the people of Banjul to bear with me to take care of our guests coming from all over the country and beyond. Immediately following the conclusion of this important national youth event, I will surely come out with a befitting response surrounding these grave allegations.
Be rest assured that your council is operating diligently, honestly and focused on your priorities.”