By Assan Bah
In an exclusive interview with this Medium, the Mayor of Kanifing Municipality (KMC), on Tuesday, February 6, 2024 revealed that his council has designed up to seven markets but could not start developing them due to the central government’s reluctance to provide them with the land documents of the various places intended for the markets.
When asked about some of the council’s main responsibilities, which include the provision of markets and car parks, Mayor Bensouda said his led council is unable to build markets within Kanifing Municipality because of the inability to access their land documents from the central government.
“One of the biggest problems we have with the central government since we came into office is the unavailability of our land documents and we have been requesting for the leases of our lands for the past six years to no avail, we don’t know whether it has been blocked or not. Without the land documents for our markets, it is almost impossible to construct any market because we need leases to be able to have permits,” Bensouda said, noting that they have still not gotten the land documents of their current chambers.
“We don’t even have land documents for our current chambers. We currently have seven planned markets, which we have already designed. The plans are fully designed, and the markets are fully costed. The only thing holding the project is the access to the land documents,” he revealed.
Mayor Bensouda further said, “We are making follow-ups every week and the latest we heard was it was half-way because it has already been processed but we also heard that it is block at political level we hope that, that is not true because if so, it is not only going to affect me or the council but it will even affect that average person.”
He further asserted that due to the road clearing exercise, the economy has already slowed down as according to him, some people do not have enough money to take care of their families and said “the only way to ensure that the situation is solved in the soonest possible time is to ensure that councils have access to their land documents, and finance to be able to develop these areas. Access to finance is not our problem; our main problem is access to our land documents”.
“If councils don’t have land we would not be able to build any infrastructure, if the government does not want councils to develop car parks, they should do so and construct them through the Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure,” he added.
Bensouda, who is in his second term in office was speaking on the ongoing road clearing exercise spearheaded by the National Roads Authority (NRA) and partners which has left many street vendors jobless as a result of lack of market space to trade their products, said he is not opposed to the road clearing exercise but disagreed with the manner it was done.
He said most people depend on petty trade for their survival; hence government should have approached the project with a human centric way that did not ruin the livelihood of the people.
“The Gambia is a poor country therefore, there is need for the creation of enough jobs, as the unemployment rate is very high, and underemployment because we have people who are working but their salaries cannot take care of their families. The Gambia also largely depends on remittances because if you look at our gross-domestic product half of it is due to remittances. The Gambia is a very needy country and most individuals are depending on petty trade for their survival,” the mayor said.
“If you are approaching a problem like illegal structures in the streets or illegally settled vendors, you must approach it with a human centric fashion because it should not affect the livelihood of the people because that will end up affecting the entire economy of the country.”
He recognised the importance of an organised society where people will not settle on the road sides but said alternatives should be provided for the affected people. He called for the need for collaborations between central government and local councils to develop more public markets that can provide affordable rent.
“Even though there was a taskforce established in the State House which our Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was in attendance, we did not expect it to be as swift as it is because a lot of things were not taken into consideration. The process should have been a long-term strategy, you cannot just kick-out someone without giving the individual an alternate area to go,” he added.
Asked how far he has been with his council’s strategic plan as indicated in his manifesto, the UDP mayor said he will start implementing one of his top agendas which is the development of the road network project and that is inclusive of 16 kilometres of roads and 6 kilometres of drainage which will reach every area in the municipality to ease access to our communities.
“The strategic plan is in five points; that is on transportation, the introduction of municipal bus service; development of the road network which is our number one priority; the construction of municipal markets; introduce a waste processing facility; and institute an affordable housing,” he said.