Thursday, October 29, 2020

NA Select Committee on Regional Government Engages Area Councils As Mayors, Chairpersons Highlight Their Challenges to Deputies

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By: Kebba AF Touray

The Parliamentary Committee on Regional Governments and Lands, Ombudsman and the IEC, on Wednesday March 11th, engaged City, Municipal and Regional Area Council Heads across the country

to set an agreed baseline for them to present their financial statements before the Deputies for scrutiny, consideration and adoption.

Mayors and Chairpersons of Regional Councils

The engagement which is in line with Section 109 of the 1997 Constitution empowers the National Assembly to look into the activities of the City, Municipal and Regional Area Councils.

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Hon Sunkary Badjie who is a Member of the said Committee informed City, Municipal and Regional Area Council Heads of their worries in their inability to perform their work as required.

‘‘Our function is to perform an oversight function over the Local Government which owes taxpayers some responsibility. So should we fail to do our job as a result of Councils inability to prepare a standard financial statement, is a big worry for this Committee,” he said.

Hon. Badjie noted that for nearly three years, the Committee is unable to lay standard financial statements and activity reports from Municipal and Regional Councils before the plenary of the National Assembly, noting that taxpayers deserve much more than this from Councils; that lack of standard financial statements and activity reports from Municipal and Regional Councils has greatly hampered the work of their Committee.

“The confidence of the taxpayer is diminishing and this is what we want to regain. As a result, we want Councils to be open to us regarding the circumstances surrounding their inability to prepare standard financial statements and activity reports,” he said.

Other Deputies who took part in the engagement include Foday N.M. Drammeh and Billay G. Tunkara. They all urged the Councils to work towards meeting this baseline and do their utmost to prepare and present their standard financial statements and activity reports.

They urged the Lands Ministry to build the capacity of Councils to ensure proper record keeping and provide Members with access to information in order to put an end to this delay.

Bakary Trawally, Director at the National Audit Office implored Municipal and Regional Councils to ensure their financial statements are credible based on information from their payment vouchers and records which he said will guarantee them credible standard financial statements and activity reports.

Abdoulie Tambedou, Director at the Gambia Public Procurement Authority said Municipal and Regional Councils are entrusted with positions of responsibility; that they should manage their functions based on trust given to them by the people in their various Councils.

‘‘It is regrettable that there are capacity issues, but delay in preparing standard financial statements and activity reports should not be made year in and out. We implore such and henceforth all records have to be up to date. You should also ensure and maintain a timely standard financial statements and activity report as required by Sections 16, 17, 18 of the Local Government Finance and Audit Act.

Hon. Musa Amul Nyassi, the Chairperson of the Select Committee told Municipal and Regional Area Council Heads that the convergence aims to be interactive in order to champion the development course of the country to effect positive impacts on the lives of the citizenry they are supposed to serve.

“We are not representing individual or group interests but the interest of the Gambian nation. We will have divergent views, but our common and collective interest is to better the lives of Gambians regardless of our differences,” Hon. Nyassi said; that the gathering was to put forward ideas for the way forward. He said the Select Committee, the National Audit Office and the GPPA, are not enemies to any Municipal or Regional Councils, but they are to ensure efficient and effective service delivery to Gambians; that this is the reason why they invited them as heads of their various Councils in collaboration with GPPA and the National Audit Office, to provide solutions and to end the delay in the preparation and submission of their standard financial statements and activity reports as required by Sections 16, 17, 18 of the Local Government Financial and Audit Act.

He asserted that the convergence was to reach common ground as per the key challenge regarding the preparation and submission of their standard financial statements and activity reports; that this information came from the audit that was conducted by the National Audit Office.

“This has impeded the work of this Committee and since Councils started appearing before us, we have not been able to lay a single report at the plenary of the National Assembly as per their standard financial statements and activity reports that were submitted. So let us come together as a family and identify the challenges and gaps and how to fix them so that as Municipal and Regional Councils, you can submit your financial statements and activity reports on time,” he concludes.

In response to the comments of Select Committee members, the Mayors and Chairpersons of Municipal and Area Councils highlighted the constraints and challenges that affect their operations.

Saihou Jawara, the Chairperson of Kuntaur Area Council said the baseline will enable them present befitting standard financial statements and activity reports to the Committee and urged that Government use Councils as entry points for any sustainable and meaningful development projects in the Regions.

Sheriffo Sonko, Chairperson Brikama Area Council hailed the committee’s initiative; that this will change the attitude of Councils in the preparations of their standard financial statements and activity reports. Foday Danjo, the Chairperson of Basse Area Council, described the engagement as a turning point for all Councils. He however appealed to the National Audit Office to come up with a format for use by Councils, to support them in reporting on their activities and in preparing standard financial statements and activity reports.

The Mayor of KMC, Talib Ahmed Bensouda, urged that they look forward for progress; that he had financial statements from 2017 to 2019 but did not have any problem from his administrative side; that the audit part of preparing the standard financial statements and activity reports is a bit slow.

He agreed that it is their work to ensure that the administration provide credible financial statements and reiterated that compliance is at the center of their procurement procedures; that the money used in procurement belongs to all taxpayers and not the Councils.

Fowa A.M. Ceesay, Chairperson of the Local Government Service Commission said the meeting with the Select Committee is to share ideas on how to prepare an acceptable financial statements that could be audited and submitted to the National Assembly; that a special forum be created wherein they can exhaustively discuss and adopt comprehensive and proactive strategies that could be helpful to all stakeholders particularly Municipal and Area Councils and the Local Government Ministry.

Fatou Gibba, Director of Governance at the Local Government Ministry, asserted that the Ministry cannot execute its functions without the Local Government authorities. She called for attitudinal change and extra-commitment in their work to ensure that all the monies in and out of Councils are well accounted for.

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