Work at Brikama Area Council came to a standstill yesterday as police arrested over 20 elected councilors over alleged illegal seizure of the vehicle keys of the CEO Modou Jonga. 

The CEO and finance director were suspended by a council resolution for alleged corruption even though the Ministry of Local Government had said those resolutions are not binding until an investigation into the allegations is complete.

In what appears to be another episode of the poor relations between the opposition-run council and the government, yesterday’s event left the council deserted as chairman Yankuba Darboe spent the whole day at the police anti-crime offices in Banjulinding in solidarity with his councilors being held there. 

A large crowd of supporters of the chairman, mainly women vendors, turned up at the Brikama police station where the councilors were first taken, chanting solidarity songs in condemnation of the arrest.

Speaking to The Standard about the incident, Chairman Darboe said: “It must be clear that all the assets in BAC belong to the Council, and the Council under the Local Government Act is the elected chairman, elected councillors and nominated councillors. If they make a decision that the CEO Ebrima Jonga shouldn’t be driving their vehicle, that is their decision. It’s as simple as that. So, you cannot bring charges on people against their very own property. Councillors at the BAC are the ones representing Brikama, and the ones in charge of managing the resources and everything that comes to Council. The CEO and staff are experts that are there to only help the Council in implementing its decisions. He is not there to make decisions. If he thinks he can make decisions he’s fooling himself. And as far as the Council is concerned, a decision has been made that he will not be driving their vehicle and that they are going to take their vehicle from him. It’s not a private vehicle that belongs to him. The Councilors are saying they are the Council and they have every right to seize whatever car that belongs to BAC. A car that has BAC 1 on it. The CEO is saying that the car was allocated to him, but who allocated it to him? It has to be Council. The Councillors said they are getting reports that he is now abusing the car to the extent that he might destroy it before he eventually returns it and that is why they want to stop him from using it so that they can protect the car for the next few years. Now the police are punishing not only the Council, but the whole West Coast. We will be here until they are released.” 

Chairman Darboe said the action of the police has prevented them from their daily works at the Council. “They held us here all day, and we could not do any work in the Council today and it looks like tomorrow also might be the same. We are all here at Anti-Crime in Banjulinding,” he said.

Lands ministry clarifies

The Ministry of Lands, Regional Government and Religious Affairs issued a statement yesterday to state that it is deeply concerned with the recent events as well as the change of signatories to the accounts of Council in a manner grossly inconsistent with relevant legislative instruments. The release went on to state the genesis of the problem:

“The Local Government Service Commission had received a resolution from the Council recommending the removal of the Chief Executive Officer and the Director of Finance on grounds of alleged corrupt practices and abuse of office. These allegations are currently under review by the Local Government Service Commission as the competent body with statutory mandate for staff appointment, promotion and discipline as provided for by Section 118 of the Local Government Act, 2002, as amended.

In the interim, the Council proceeded to delegate the signatory powers of the Chief Executive Officer and Director of Finance to subordinate staff while both individuals remained in active service, a move inconsistent with the provisions of the Finance and Audit Act, 2004.

As the parent Ministry of all Area Councils and Municipalities throughout The Gambia, we maintain that until the Local Government Service Commission reviews the complaints and Council’s resolutions, and subsequently makes a determination about the duo, both individuals should continue to hold their respective positions. Equally, they should maintain their status as authorized signatories to the Council’s accounts, in accordance with the provisions of the Finance and Audit Act, 2004.

Significantly, it is essential to emphasize that the BAC cannot act unilaterally as the judge, jury, and advocate in this matter. Doing so would represent a grave denial of justice, as it is imperative to allow for an independent and impartial examination of any allegations of corruption and abuse of office levied against the person of the CEO and Director of Finance. It is trite law, that every accused party must have the fundamental right to be heard and their case objectively considered.

Crucially, the Lands Ministry as an oversight authority under Section 150 of the Local Government Act, 2002 had clearly communicated its concerns and standpoint on these circumstances to the Brikama Area Council and other stakeholders in its 30th November, 2023 missive.

Regrettably, the BAC Vice Chairman and some Councillors took matters into their own hands by tampering with the official vehicle of the CEO and forcibly taking the keys from the drivers of both the CEO and the Director of Finance. In addition, some Councilors resorted to using abusive language and caused disruptions within the Council, actions that are entirely unacceptable. The Ministry is deeply disappointed that the Vice Chairman, as the second-highest-ranking member of the Council, conducted himself discourteously and inappropriately. Subsequently, law enforcement authorities intervened to restore order.

Fundamentally, the Ministry reiterates that Council has no authority to remove the CEO or the Director of Finance from their positions. That responsibility lies solely with the Local Government Service Commission as adequately outlined in Section 45 of the Local Government Act, 2002. Therefore, any attempt to link this situation to other motives is a calculated political maneuver and a misrepresentation of facts by the Council, with the clear intent to mislead the public and exert undue influence on the Service Commission’s decision.

Finally, the Ministry hereby craves the indulgence of the Chairman and Councilors of Brikama Area Council to maintain decorum and civility and ensure that members of Council comport themselves in a manner consistent with the law.”

Source: The Standard

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