By Omar Bah
Kanifing Mayor Talib Bensouda has confirmed reaching out to President Adama Barrow for him to negotiate in the row between the council and the Ministry of Lands.
Last week, the ministry instituted a commission of inquiry to probe into ‘allegations of fraud and malpractice’ at the council.
In August last year, KMC was gripped by a reputational crisis after the mayor, Talib Bensouda alleged the chief executive officer Mrs Sainabou Martin Sonko illegally conducted financial transactions totaling about D12 million.
Mrs Martin Sonko was barred from entering the KMC compound even after the local government ministry asked her to return to work following a decision to suspend her by a council resolution.
The council has since described the commission as a witch-hunt.
But commenting on the matter for the first time in a Star FM exclusive to be aired today, Mayor Bensouda said: “We have notified the president about the issue going on between us and the ministry and we asked to mediate between the two sides to address the matter amicably.”
He said the decision to reach out to the president was reached at a council meeting last Wednesday.
“I was tasked by the council general assembly with two options, which is to go to court and challenge the legitimacy of the Ministry of Local Government’s commission of inquiry because we feel there are procedures. The other thing was to reach out to the president to inform him that we are not an enemy to the government,” he said.
Mayor Bensouda said he didn’t go to State House to beg him to stop the commission of inquiry as being rumored in some quarters.
“I cannot tell you all about what we discussed there but the president told us that he wants the work to continue because the development of this country is what interests him, so the conversation was positive,” he said.
Commenting on the commission of inquiry, Mayor Bensouda added: “The KMC is not running away from public scrutiny because since I was voted into office, every year we are audited by the National Audit Office and in every three months, the ministry sends inspection team as part of a routine exercise to monitor the council.
However, seven months ago when the problem started we reported the matter to the police and the Ministry of Lands who were supposed to look into the matter through the Local Government Service Commission but when we sent the report and the investigation commenced at the Police Fraud Squad, the Ministry of Lands decided to stop the investigations and that really surprised us because every citizen has the right to report a matter to the police and if that happens, the police must investigate. Nobody should stop an investigation.”
Bensouda said the ministry didn’t also allow the service commission to investigate the matter but instead “they said they have a report from the other side which they never showed us.
“Even the inspection team they sent to KMC based on the report I sent them was asked to look at things I never complained about. But despite that, we allowed them to do the inspection with full council backing but two months after the inspection, we have not received the report from the inspection team. Now they said they set up a commission based on a report we have not seen. This is why we think they have an ulterior motive: they want something beyond the truth,” he alleged.
He added: “This is why we want to question the legitimacy of the commission because the Local Government Act clearly states that if the minister sends an inspection team they should take that report and direct the council to call a general council to share the report with them and instruct the council on what to do. So if the council refuses their instructions then they will set up a commission of inquiry. That’s what the law says.”
“So we want to see the report of the inspection team because I received credible evidence that the report cleared the council from all wrongdoings and found the other side culpable,” he said.
He alleged that one of the people accused by his office has been appointed as a diplomat to Russia.
On allegations that he illegally benefitted from the waste management trucks, Mayor Bensouda said the truck contract was taken through due diligence and that it was investigated well before it was commissioned.
He said reporting “corruption in this country is now becoming a crime”. “This is very worrying because it will scare people from reporting issues of corruption,” he said.
He urged Gambians to put their differences aside for the interest of national unity. “Gambia is a small country, elections will of course happen and ideas will be different but what is important is that we are all one family.”