BY FATOU DAHABA
Revenue for local councils’ is divided into two: 40 percent goes into paying salaries while 60 percent goes into funding development initiatives.
Of these funds, only 25 percent comes from the central government’s subvention, which the Councils’ said is not enough.
Twenty-five percent is really small compared to the work we have at the council, Mustapha Batchilly, the Chief Executive Officer of Banjul City Council (BCC), said.
The BCC received one million dalasi from the central government as their subvention for 2020.
Batchilly said his council spend its subvention on existing development and one of the conditions of subvention is that it have to be spend it on something visible. So, the BCC spends their subvention for this year on a storage facility.
He said government subvention consist of an insignificant amount to the council’s budget. For example, if the council were to implement a four million project, it means only one million will come from the government. “This is not significant,” he said.
Batchilly said central government subvention for the city, municipal and area councils would have been very important if it was 50 percent of their development fund.
He said the chunk of their budget comes from revenue which is supposed to go back to people for development.
Need to increase
Jainaba Matin Sonko, the Chief Executive Officer of the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC), agreed. She said the subvention is very minimal compared to the activities they have at their council.
KMC’s needed up to 33 million dalasi in subvention for 2020, it got only one million from the central government. Sonko said the one million is being used to clean the gutters along the high way and also to build a two-office complex for their staff at the Bakoteh dump site for the manager and the secretary and staff.
Local government establishments are responsible for a whole lot of services including constructing roads, fixing street lighting, the rehabilitation of markets, building new markets and garages among other things.
Madam Sonko said that the subvention is very important and that it would have been better the amount they receive was larger in order fast tract their development initiatives.
“If subvention was coming normally, it would have gone a long way in complementing these developments in the community,” she said, calling on the government to increase the percentage of local government subvention.
Meanwhile, the Brikama area council declined to comment on the topic of subventions and had referred this reporter to the P.S. ministry of lands and regional government.
With respect to the revenue earning methods of councils in The Gambia, they normally raise money from daily market fees collected from vendors, business trade licences and fees, land rates, car park fees and subvention from central government.
These funds are later invested into communities through the construction of public taps, community centers, roads and community markets.
Buba Sanyang, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Lands and Regional Government, said subventions are government’s support to the development budget of the local councils.
His ministry is mandated with helping coordinate an oversight functions of the councils. This year, the ministry of lands and regional government put up eight million dalasi for subvention to the councils.
Despite the councils complain about the insufficient subvention, they received only half a million dalasi from the central government in 2019. According to sanyang, D500 thousand from last year and D500 thousand this year was put together to make subventions one million in 2020.
In addition, he said his ministry also appointed a body called financial advice ad hoc committee and they have been meeting to see how the subvention can be realize in full. Part of the committee comprises of one mayor and one chairperson. “This body will follow government to pay councils the subvention that is supposed to be given to them,” Sanyang said.
Differences in budgets cycles
Due to a difference in budget cycles between the government and the councils, it is sometimes difficult to get required funds to the councils.
Sanyang explained: “One of the abnormalities is that government is preparing their budget now (from July) and councils are supposed to send their budgets in October for vetting. By the time their budget is prepared, the government’s budget is already concluded and now if they bring in certain amounts to fit in the budget, it becomes impossible.”
“This is why we are amending the [local government] act so that the councils’ budget can be prepared prior to the national budget, so that we can fit it in the national budget,” he said. A new law governing local councils is expected to address these abnormalities.
P.S. Sanyang disclosed that this year the government is stepping in to pay salaries for councils. He said the money for the payment of three months’ salary for the rural councils and one-month salary for BCC, KMC and Brikama Area Council (BAC) has already been given to the ministry of local government as intervention for the coronavirus pandemic.
While councils want subvention from the government to be increased because “it is not enough”, Sanyang said an increment in subvention can only be when the act is amended.
The law currently states that only 25 percent should come from the central government as subvention to the local councils. However, he said they should also put into consideration whether the increment be realistic, adding, before requesting you should consider if the request is available.
In the 2020 national budget, the Gambia government allocated 1.4 billion to the ministry of lands and regional government. Eight million out of 1.4 billion is allocated to local governments as subvention and the money has already been given.
Area councils are headed by a Chairman who is mandated with the task of running the day-to-day activities of the Area Council, while the Banjul City Council and the Kanifing Municipality are headed by mayors.
In the Gambia, there are seven local administrative areas run by councils. They include the Basse Area Council, Mansakonko Area Council, Kerewan Area Council, Jangjangbureh Area Council, the Kuntaur Area Council, Banjul City Council, and the Kanifing Municipal Council.