In this edition of Bantaba, Alagie Manneh talks to Yankuba Darboe, about his work and vision for the Brikama Area Council five months since coming into office.
Your predecessor Sheriffo Sonko was accused of mismanaging the Council through sheer ineptitude and corruption. Can you give us an idea of how things looked like administratively and otherwise when you came in as the new chairman?
When we first came in, we were not given any information about how things were, so we had to make our own findings of how things were and asked for bank statements, the level of finances, the payroll, the staff roll, and a lot of other things. We did our own findings on everything, while at the same time trying to standardise things. But that wasn’t easy because one of the things we realised upon receipt of the statements was that we were running on a deficit of almost minus ten million dalasis. That is a lot of money. We realised that the Council had received millions, but all of that had been withdrawn from our accounts, unjustifiably. We then realised our hands were full of issues to deal with because we now not only are we supposed to start from where we are moving forward, but we need to also dig back to establish what had happened to all the funds withdrawn from the accounts and what they’ve been spent on because there was no capital development happening at the time.
So exactly what tangible changes or initiatives have you had to immediately embark on?
The first one would be the ‘Seneya’ project that we conceived immediately to deal with the issue of waste collection in the region. We found out that we had no vehicles, we had literally nothing to start with and that was a huge challenge because we had a region that is now grappling with this huge amount of waste being produced on a daily basis with no proper way of managing it. So we had to come up with Seneya, entered into partnership with private businesses to start at least some form of collection. Even though it is not sufficient to our desired aspirations, we are still working hard to make sure we are able to get to a level where we can say we are providing a much more regular collection to our residents.
The Council passed a resolution recently suspending the CEO Jonga for incompetence and lack of integrity, charges he denied. Is this the end of the road for the embattled CEO?
For us, we are going to insist that this be the end of the road for him as far as the BAC is concerned. But the ultimate decision has to be made by the Local Government Service Commission. The law said we are the ones that should make the recommendation for them to terminate or remove any such person, but it didn’t say that if we do so they have to reject that.
So, they cannot reject the resolution?
If they try to, it will be unprecedented. We know that they’ve started it and even did it in the Sainabou Martin Sonko case, but it didn’t stand. In the end, they themselves made the decision to move out.
CEO Jonga stands accused of stealing an incredible amount of money. What are you going to do, and how far do you intend to go to ensure he is brought to book?
One way would be to take legal action against him. We have Council lawyers that we are engaging, so once we get those Council lawyers, we will ask them to take legal action against both Jonga and the Service Commission including the relevant ministry. If we make a recommendation for a person to go, there’s nowhere in the law where you should say no to that decision and enforce your own choice on the Council. We are the ones here, and representing the people of the West Coast, and we have found these people wanting for pilfering of public funds. That should be a concern to everyone. I don’t think they will reject our resolution, but if they do, this is one way to fight it. The second way would be to engage the National Assembly members from this region to try and do whatever they can at the National Assembly level and hold those ministers and whoever is responsible accountable.
Let’s talk about the Jeng family. Their alleged nepotism and shady activities at the Council have been well documented. What has been the latest regarding them?
They are not coming. They have been asked not to come to the Council. They’ve also been asked to return all the assets of the Council that they are in custody of which they have complied. They returned a Council vehicle. They are not occupying their offices. So, their fate is left to be determined by the Service Commission. As far as we are concerned, we’ve provided them with the evidence we have, we’ve provided them with the facts that we have been able to establish. And we are telling them that these people are just nepotic and corrupt and shouldn’t be working here.
What has been your biggest challenge since you assumed office?
The biggest challenge has been the CEO, and the Jeng clan. They have been our biggest challenge. You have to understand, they had a total grasp of this Council, and the way they used to treat councilors and elected chairpersons, is how they wanted to treat everyone else. So, they controlled everything, and we have little say in what happens and what shouldn’t happen. And we say no, no, that is not going to be the order of the day. So, the friction had been between the chairman and the CEO, from the beginning, back and forth. ‘Give me the statements, no we won’t give you the statements.’ ‘We want this, no you won’t have this.’ You tell them simple things, even if it is to boost our budget line, they say ‘no it is not in our budget line, it is not in this’. Yet, they go on to do so many things that are against the budget line and you wonder what the hell. So, it’s one rule for them, and another for everyone else. So, what they have done all along since we came in is to do everything they can to make sure that we do not succeed. You think you had an opposition in the elections, you come to Council and you find the bigger opposition with you there. That’s how the system is, but that has to change.
It’s been five months now since you assumed office. What are your aspirations for the BAC?
So, next year, I want us to be able to complete at least six kilometers of road works that we said we want to do. I want us to be able to procure at least five new garbage trucks to be able to provide regular collection to our residents. I want us to be able to have two septic tanks; I want us to be able to work on some of the drainage systems around the Brikama market. Next year, I want us to maximise our revenue potentials from just 300 to almost 750 million to a billion dalasi. And then we would be able to invest so much money in our region. We are starting with 500,000 for ward development next year. I want that to reach five million so that each councilor will be going with 5 million dalasis every year as ward development fund to provide that development. I want everywhere in the West Coast, every ward to be able to say that was done for us by our Council.
While many of your supporters admire your fighting spirit, your critics said you fight too much and it is unbecoming of a chairman. Do you think that’s a fair observation?
[Laughs]. I wish I had an easier way. I don’t also enjoy fighting, but I happen to inherit a system that only gave me two choices; fight or you conform. Conforming means I have to be corrupt like everyone else, and that would be the biggest betrayal of the trust and confidence of our people. And fighting means you get criticised for being too stubborn and all that. But seriously I want an easy, quiet life for everyone else. I wish everybody would make that easy for me, but maybe because of who I am, everyone wants to make things as difficult as possible. Simple things that people get away with easily, for me it’s a struggle. People have appointed their nominees here for Council, and it was easy-peasy for them. Mine, it’s taken how many months – ministry, the permanent secretary, the minister, overseeing ministers come and go and keep saying no, we are not going to give him his nomination as he wishes. That’s how it is. So, you see, I don’t pick the fight, they pick it on me for some reason. In fact, in NBR, one of them nominated a defeated candidate, and they approved it. Mine, qualified, disabled and a youth, they said no. That is what is happening. So, it’s not that I like the fight, but I always have to have the fight because they always give me the fight.
We know that relations between the ruling NPP and local government authorities like for example the BCC and KM haven’t always been rosy. Is it any different from your case?
Well, the few interactions we’ve had with them have been frictional. You asked them for a nomination, they refused, so, we are doing what we can. We are trying to do within what we have to do what we can. We are not trying to seek any help from the central government because even if we do it’s not forthcoming.
And how do you think that is affecting your work?
It doesn’t affect our work. What is going to happen is that we will keep pushing and until they start coming in and physically stop us from working, we will seize every minute that we have here to try and transform things and make things better for the people of the West Coast and putting their interests first. Central government, they can always complement. They have to act as the bigger person in the room, that this is their country as much as it is ours. In this region, people voted for them, in huge numbers, too, so they cannot collectively punish those people because you hate the chairman. At least have some bit of respect for them, their wishes, and aspirations and desires. If they said we voted for you and made you president, but despite you giving us another candidate, that’s the person we’ve chosen to be our chairman. At least have respect for that, and let’s work together and make sure whatever they need to get through that chairman, you make sure that goes through. We are not stopping anything that should go to them, I see no reason why they shouldn’t reciprocate that. But that’s not what they want to do, and if they want to be difficult they are not gonna make it easy for just the chairman but for everyone else in this region and this region has suffered enough. I think if anything, the cry is out for the central government to help this region as much as they can. They don’t need to look at who gets the credit, but what is in the best interest of the people of this region. That should be the foremost thought for them, and nothing else.