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KM MAYOR SPEAKS ON GOV’T INQUIRY

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Dispels allegations of corruption, conflict of interest

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By Omar Bah

The mayor of Kanifing Municipal Council has responded to the recently commissioned government inquiry into councils and corruption allegations labelled against his council by ‘smear campaigners’.  

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In an interview with The Standard yesterday, Mayor Talib Bensouda said: “I am not against the commission of inquiry, contrary to what others are saying or think. All we are saying is that the timing is very bad because it is coming during the election cycle. So, you cannot have people answering to a commission and at the same time campaigning. There will be a lot of misconceptions. If there is evidence or suspicion, why would they not investigate and take all evidence to the AG Chambers and prosecute culprits accordingly?”.

The mayor argued that if done in good faith, a commission will even benefit the councils as policy makers. He said without the National Audit Office, GPPA, commissions of inquiry or inspections from their line ministry at the administrative level, “we would not know exactly what the administration is doing with our finances. So, we hope it is based on our councils’ decisions and resolutions. But how about if it is not? So, people must understand how the councils function because the mayors and councilors are not signatories to the accounts. They can as a body make executive decisions in the form of resolutions to instruct the administration to effect payments but without that council resolution, it is the administration that runs the council.”

Mayor Bensouda said people should also know that the constitution provides that mayors are immune to the decisions made in the body of the council just like parliamentarians are immune from any parliamentary action.

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“That immunity is given in the cause of mayors’ duty because it is not an individual mayor making a decision; every decision has to go through a voting process,” he added.

Gov’t should clean its house first

Bensouda said the government’s total disregard of its own corruption scandals and selective decision to set up an inquiry into councils is “ironical and comical”.

“Since 2019, we have heard corruption scandals on far greater magnitude than whatever money the councils are dealing with. You look at KMC, our direct taxes are D235 million and if you combine all the other councils’ revenue, the KMC is still larger. So, the gross income of all the councils in the Gambia is not more than D500M and this income goes to pay salaries, projects, waste management etcetera. So, even if there is corruption in the councils at all, it will be at a very small level looking at the small amount they are dealing with. True, councils should go through inquiries but with all these millions we are hearing to have been mismanaged by the government – we think the councils should not have been the starting point of any such inquiries. They should have started with the largest monies – I believe the president should enact a commission of inquiry for the entire Gambia Government, councils and projects and start with the biggest sums if they are serious about fighting corruption. But if you leave all those institutions and come to the councils that are led by your political opponents’ then of course we will consider it a political witch-hunt,” Bensouda said. 

D100M Bakoteh dumpsite   

Reacting to claims that the council spent D100 million to fence the Bakoteh dumpsite, Bensouda said: “That is not true. We spent D8 million to fence the dumpsite and there is nowhere that we have mentioned D100 million. So, whosoever said that is spreading misinformation. You know we are in the time of misinformation because they know when it comes to toe-to-toe they cannot stand me. Now the game is how to create an atmosphere of chaos or tarnish Talib’s image but I can assure all my supporters that they have nothing to worry about.” 

Family business

Commenting on allegations that his mother is still the council’s lawyer, Mayor Bensouda said his mother ceased to be the council’s lawyer since 2018 when he took office. “A council decision was passed championed by myself to avoid a conflict of interest,” Bensouda said.

Takaful Insurance

He admitted that his family is a shareholder in Takaful Insurance but he was quick to say that they don’t hold the majority of shares.

He said the KMC had obtained its insurance rights from Takaful Insurance since 2010, when he (Bensouda) was the marketing manager of the insurance company, eight years before he became mayor.

“At the time, I didn’t even know or dream of becoming a mayor. So, I found that insurance there,” he explained.

Reliance Financial

He said Reliance Financial Service has no business agreements with the KMC and challenged anyone who has proof to bring it forward.

Waste project

Bensouda said the waste management project is the most scrutinised project in the country’s history because when it was coming “we were in the opposition so State House was the first to scrutinise it because they never wanted it in the first place. So, the negotiation was led by the CEO and the council’s contract committee and approved by the GPPA”.

“I dare those who are claiming that they have evidence to go to the police fraud squad and report it. You see, the problem they have with me is that they know they cannot beat me in the polls – so they want to do everything humanly possible to tarnish my image,” Bensouda said.

The KM Mayor caled on all politicians and supporters of all parties to at all times play decent politics and avoid character assassination. “Let us all compete fairly and allow the electorate to decide on who to trust without hinderance or intervention,” he concluded.

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