By Yusupha FJ Dibba
Brikama Area Council made an unprecedented increase of rate by five folds from four hundred dalasis (D400.00) to two thousand dalasis (D2,000.00) for BRUSUBI Housing Estate since 2019 to date. This was done without any prior notification or consultation with Brusubi community. The residents are still wondering what might have triggered this exorbitant increase, which has raised a lot of critical questions to be answered: 1) Is it a proclamation by the Act of Parliament within the context of Decentralization Act of 2002 reviewed? 2) Does it apply to all the estates within Greater Banjul Area (GBA) since Brusubi is one of the estates. 3) Have the Council conducted any kind of evaluation for the increase of rates?
In any of the above questions to be answered, the dwellers should be given clear explanation or justification why the increase. So far what is being speculated around the increase by the residents is that BRUSUBI is in a strategic location and as such an empty plot of land in the area may cost nothing less than three million dalasis (D3,000,000.00) which is not an enough justification for the increase. All the estates in Greater Banjul Area are in strategic Locations therefore it could not apply to BRUSUBI alone. The increase should be within the confinement of the law which should be communicated to the community members. In the absence of any of the above, the decision should be revisited or rescinded.
As enshrined in the 2002 Local Government Act; any revenue collected from the tax payers in any local government area irrespective of being an estate or non-estate, sixty per cent (60%) of that revenue should be ploughed back in terms of development to that community.
Interestingly, since the establishment of BRUSUBI, Brikama Area Council has never provided any development services not even cleansing service that other councils in particular KMC is providing in its area. In BRUSUBI, landlords are paying private companies to be collecting their trash or garbage for disposal out of their area. Furthermore, the Council has never conducted any service delivery survey in BRUSUBI to understand what are the priority service needs of the community in which, the council can collaborate with the community and prioritize based on their revenue base to provide the services within their means. In other countries, townhall meetings are conducted to present council budgets to tax payers as part of transparency and accountability. At that meeting council plans are presented and prioritized for subsequent development cycle. This is only done with devolution type of decentralization where the councils are autonomous.
We want Brikama Area Council to understand that councils are now corporate bodies that can sue and be sued and in addition they are also required to engage in business ventures to increase their revenue base to serve their people better by identifying potential business opportunities for investment to create employment.
In light of the above BRUSUBI community want Brikama Area Council to provide them with justification for a five-fold increase in rate without providing any investment in BRUSUBI’s development. More interestingly the council did not provide notification or make any consultation with the estate, I stand corrected as a resident. I know if it had happened, I would have been informed as a bona fide residence in the area.
Decentralization of local government is a very important process for the democratic development of any country, which therefore cannot be overemphasized. Decentralization is defined as the process of political devolution, fiscal and decision-making from central government to local level through participatory approach.
It is within this context that the Government of The Gambia laid a strong emphasis on the development of decentralization with devolution of authority to the local governments. Hence, develope institutional framework and establish structures that are further supported by the enactment of Local Government Act 2002 as an appropriate step in the right direction in order to develop the country in the new dispensation of democratic process. This fits within the umbrella of the government wider development framework of the macro-economy. Decentralization with participatory processes will also promote good governance, democracy and more importantly create employment and curb rural-urban migration and by extension illegal international migration of the nation’s youth folk.
Therefore, the local governments should not see decentralization business as usual; where Local government is seen only as tax and revenue collection agency into partners of sustainable development. Rather the councils have a responsibility for implementing decentralization and local government reforms as articulated in the Act which responds to service needs of the citizens with vertical and horizontal transparency and accountability to all stakeholders.
In the new national pathway to widen the space of democratic governance it is therefore important for Gambia to reform its local government administration for the interest of social justice to meet environmental and community development challenges. This can only be done if the area councils appreciate themselves as entrepreneurs focusing more on development by providing the prerequisites services needed.Local Government reforms in our new emerging democracy will foster not only decentralisation of power and local democracy but will also enhance effective delivery of service that is either the sole responsibility of local government authorities, joint responsibility service with central government or discretionary responsibility. It is about time to move away from the era when local government only collect tax and revenue without investing into sustainable development. Ineffectiveness of local government administration in our country had created a vacuum in addressing social justice in wider areas of social service such as housing, carriages, markets, health and social care for the weak and the vulnerable in our society, roads, schools, leisure or community centres etc.
We all know decentralisation is a challenge but the councils have to be innovative to live to expectation of the tax payers. In spite of all the efforts made by the government towards decentralization, strong skepticism grew around it by those at the center either the whole concept is misconstrued or they are unwilling and hence deconcentration still applied. The biggest challenge now is the implementation of decentralization with devolution of authority to the councils since all the structures are in place which can be complemented with finance and audit bill to hold the councils accountable for the fiscal resources they collect or the equalization grants provided to them by the central government.
The author is current a lecturer at the University of The Gambia in the School of Business and Public Administration, Department of Economics and Management Sciences.