By Lamin Cham
Local government expert and member of the ruling NPP executive, Kemo Conteh, has reacted to criticisms by Gambian activists who asked President Barrow never to carry out his vow to appoint governors for KM and Banjul. The president made this announcement last month during a tour of the country.
Critics said he is losing his cool as a tolerant leader and now pursuing a vindictive agenda since both councils are run by opposition mayors. The latest to add their voices are activists Pa Samba Jow, Jeggan Grey-Johnson and Lamin Keita.
In his response, Kemo Conteh said Lamin Keita should have stopped at advising the president to withdraw his plans for the appointments since issuing advice to the president in public media is within his rights as a citizen.
“But to have gone ahead saying that the president’s announcement should be seen as clear manifestation of self-perpetuation and other dry and baseless concerns is a betrayal of his lack of knowledge of the constitutional and local government legal and policy framework. The same, or similar sentiments expressed by Jeggan Grey-Johnson centering on the concept of ‘high degree of autonomy’ also misrepresents the intentions of the founding fathers of the constitution in this respect,” Mr Conteh said.
He argued that from a foundation of simple logic, how can anyone entrust a ‘high degree of autonomy’ to a fresh new public institution that has not yet built the needed capacities or acquired the necessary resources to stand on its own, and deliver services to citizens satisfactorily as a mature institution. “Where is the measurement to allay fears that the councils at this stage are strong and capable enough to stand the test of a high degree of autonomy? And for Pa Samba Jow, I think it is unfair to accuse the president of ‘vindictiveness in the creation of another office for political reasons’ or that ‘these governorships are meant to create positions for his political allies’, unless your intention is to confuse the environment and derail the President’s focus on his mission for an effective maintenance of public security and delivery of government services,” Conteh said.
He further argued that the 1997 constitution gives the President a prerogative to make executive appointments where and how he seems it fit as well as to create any office to which he can delegate any part of that responsibility. “So, if he decides to do it and he can raise the funds to support it legally, there is nowhere in the constitution that forbids him from doing so,” Conteh argued.
He further disclosed that for the purpose of public administration, every region of the country is governed by a governor on behalf of the central government, administering a line of authority under his purview at district level through the district chief (seyfo), and down to the village head (alkalo). Parallelly, he went on, every region is also an entity for planning and development in the councils at regional, Ward Development Committees (WDCs) and Village Development Committees (VDCs) levels.
Mr Conteh also argued that is the ultimate role of the President as Head of State to ensure the effectiveness of both central and local governments at all levels of governance in the country, and therefore his responsibility to ensure the provision and maintenance of a responsive local government policy framework that regulates the proper functioning of local and central government units in the regions, districts and villages of the country. “No one must hide behind the robes of a lawyer to confuse citizens by mixing the roles of central and local governments in the to the public media. The question you should be seeking answers for instead is; what is the difference between Banjul city and Kanifing Municipality as local government regions on one hand, and the other provincial regions where they each have a well-established office of regional governor, supervising, and regulating local government policy? If the President can, and has the authority to appoint governors in those regions why can he not have the power and authority to appoint a governor in Kanifing Municipality and Banjul City?,” Kemo Conteh concluded.