By Saihou S Njie
The Banjul City Council has not been making full optimal use of its regulations and bye- laws to fully take care of the current opportunities presented to expand its revenue base so as to attract more revenue that is commensurate with the property values within its purview. There are several reasons responsible for this anomaly. A few of these reasons are as enumerated below:
a. Several landed properties within Banjul area have GHOST OWNERSHIPS. Consequently collection of rates becomes nightmarish as rate collections cannot be effectively done because OWNERSHIP OF PROPERTY has not changed hands. In other words, DEMAND NOTES are forwarded to deceased Land lords; as a result, current occupants do not take responsibility and would not bother to settle rates while ARREARS are building up and the RATES TRIBUNAL could not effectively handle this matter to bring Land lords to book to recover whatever is due to Council. This is one of the several causes for loss of revenue. There is no effective mechanism put in place to recover these escalating arrears of revenue.
b. This former situation has now created a widening gap daily in revenue collection as legal ownership of properties through LETTERS OF ADMINISTRATION which should facilitate transfers of ownership have not been executed to reveal who the current owners are, so as to facilitate updated register information to assist Council to amend its records of PROPERTY OWNERSHIP to be able to make new Landlords as accountable.
c.It is in Council’s interest to pursue Landlords on whose property its revenue is based. To facilitate this objective, Council must address this matter more seriously. As Banjul (apart from TABACCO ROAD AREA) is held under FREEHOLD TENURE i.e. land is held FREELY and in PERPETUITY (forever) with no conditions attached to its use, this is what has given rise to the LOPSIDED DEVELOPMENT OF LAND in the Banjul area coupled with the fact ZONING LAWS, if applicable, are not enforced and Building codes are incompatible with land use development. As a result, these is hardly a distinguishable approach as to what VALUATION RATINGS are applicable to usher in fiscal attractions to raise Council revenues to make its economic profile rise up to higher heights.
d.As a result of the UNCONTROLABLE LAND USE in Banjul, rate-able values of landed properties are not par with the development on the ground which has given rise to undervaluation of properties across the board in the Banjul area. What valuation method is currently in force is seriously at variance with the current development of landed properties within the city. For example, rates applicable to properties in the commercial district of Banjul (Willington Street (Liberation Avenue) Ecowas Avenue (Buckle Street) Picton, Cameron and Leman streets should be based on the square meterage of the land or shops floor space occupied which ever is greater. This method appears to be more fair and equitable and more in tune with modern valuation of commercial properties. The current valuation approach of the Council is based, I assume, on either CAPITAL value or REPLACEMENT cost approval method. If the meter age approach were to be used, commercial land use could fetch in for example D500 – D1500 per square meter of space occupied by commercial buildings and stores (magazines) scattered all over the city.
e.Residential land use attracts different ratable approach. I do not have slightest clue as to how rates are calculated. However, it is my belief that the matter is worth re-visiting. There are a number of mixed land uses in the city. For example, it is easy to observe that there are properties housing both shops and residential development. It is important to apply different rates of rate able value to this kind of land use. Census of landed properties in Banjul should be carried out with the view:
I. To determing current land use.
ii. Weed out ghost land lords or absentee landlords.
iii. Map out land use as they appear in the city in different areas.
As soon as such data are compiled, the fiscal situation of the Council stands the good chance of taking off to a good start while the chance of increasing its revenue base is assured. The Council stands to gain from such an exercise as it would bring about:
i.The formulation of legislation regarding the status of ABSENTEE OR GHOST LAND LORDS and ascertain proper land ownership to aid update Council registers of properties in Banjul.
ii.New legislation should be in force to require inheritors to take letters of administration through the courts so as to facilitate the determination of current owners.
iii.Valuation methods should be in force to be in line in modern method currently applied to rate able properties as suggested in para(s) above. Modern methods of assessment rate are crucial to Council’s ability to expand its economic profile so as to meet its developmental goals. Council needs to make the RATE TRIBUNAL FUNCTIONAL to effectively pursue recalcitrant landlords. Equally, there is need to have highly caliber staff to assist with the collection of rates. What is most essential is to ensure that Council effectively puts in place measures that would facilitate the expansion of its revenue base and to ensure that there is compatibility and parity in the assessment of rates to reflect current land development. This is no easy task as it will require a special study in future.