Njundu Drammeh

(JollofNews) -Protest-demonstrations, sit-downs, picketing, etc.- is a legitimate action which citizens engage in to show their frustration, anger, dissatisfaction with Government, a service provider, a duty bearer, an employer. How a protest is done or the fall out from the original intent is another kettle of fish. These don’t take away the right to protest, however unpalatable their outcome.

There must be a thorough review of the Local Government Act 2002. Apart from the 1997 Constitution, the aforementioned Act has been one of the most amended, mutilated, bastardised and watered down piece of legislation we have. From the original intent to ensuring a true decentralisation or transfer of both administrative and financial powers to the Local Governments and to the people, we ended up having a copycat, a mockery or apology of decentralisation.

Financial decentralisation never took place. Ministries like Health and Basic Education devolved but the Centre controlled both the purse and the final decision. Instead, the center took away nearly all the sources of revenue of the Local Government Authorities. Taxes and revenues and what have you from hotels and betting houses are given to the Gambia Tourism Board; from roads to the Gambia Roads Authority; from livestock to the livestock authority and the central government or its statutory bodies took the rest. The grapevine has it that KMC pays for the street lights Yaya put everywhere, even in the bushes, and these expenses runs into millions of dalasis every month. The Centre milked the periphery dry.

The new Government must review the Local Government Act and make it fulfil the original intent. If power is to go back to the people, if we really mean to empower the people, then real power, financial and administrative, must be given to the people and their authorities. Real decentralisation must take place. Anything less will be an apology, if not a mockery. When this is done, then the people will take charge of their own development and lives. Real power will then be with the people.

The systems must also work in sync, must hold each other accountable. If the Councils fail in their duties and obligations to the people, and they woefully are doing, nothing prevents the other organs of the Executive from acting or demanding action. Carbage collection is the responsibility of the Councils but nothing prevents the Ministry of Health or of the Environment or of the Interior from demanding action. Cholera outbreak due to poor sanitation, for instance, will drain the resources of these Ministries for they will be forced to act. So for me we have a serious systems failure and ineffective accountability mechanisms. There is interdependence and indivisibility of rights.

Apart from review of the Local Government Act and the strengthening of systems for rights delivery and fulfilment, the Government must institute systems to fight corruption and leakage at both the Centre and regions. I bet if the Local Government Authorities are audited now serious malpractices and leakages will be discovered and certainly at the Centre too. Corruption is the number enemy of progress and development.

Citizenship also requires that we pay our rates and taxes and desist from corrupting our officials or condoning their corrupt practices. I would rather face the law for a dereliction of citizen and pay the fine to the State than encourage underhand dealing. This should be citizenship. When citizenship is fulfilled we would be stand on a higher pedestal and demand. That is called RESPONSIBILITY. Its nonfulfilment does not absolve the State from its obligations but it makes delivery of services difficult.

First Things First though……There is the need to make the Local Government Act right.