With Fatou Dahaba
Welcome to the first edition of this column which is devoted to monitor and report on issues that relate to our local governments raging from challenges, achievements as well as their success stories. In our maiden edition, will take look at the activities of the Kanifing Municipal Council under the leadership of Lord Mayor Talib Ahmed Bensouda.
In this exclusive interview, the Lord Mayor took us through the unfolding plan, projects and challenges of the council.
Kanifing Municipal Council is one of the biggest municipalities in the Gambia with many stakeholders, it has a population of about five hundred thousand people, the numbers of households. The KMC, large number of staff which is approaching to one thousand one hundred (1100) from different directorate. There are about eight directorates and within this they have units and all the staff belong to various units who report to individual directorates. These heads of directorates who also report to the council which is headed by Lord Mayor. The KMC has as part of their plan is to introduce IT infrastructure to help better manage data and data sharing to ensure that their people have one vision which is ultimately his vision (Lord Mayor).
Mayor Bensouda said managing such a big municipality goes without challenges. He admits that there are many challenges in the municipality, such as a flood plain zone surrounded by the Atlantic ocean and the other side surrounded by the river and places such as Ebo town, Tallinding coloban, Fajikunda and Abuko suffer lot of flooding during the raining season. He said they are home to about twelve thousand major businesses and also home to about nineteen markets and within those markets about fifty thousand vendors. He added that the challenge is ongoing because of many stakeholders and to balance as a council they have to make sure they deliver service to all the stakeholders and about that one have to be very creative and solution oriented.
Another big challenge he mention is Seeing Eye to eye with the central government. He said the understanding that councils ultimately are answerable to their people and should have autonomy is a challenge between balancing the central government activities and local government activities as well as balancing central government’s authority and local governments authority adding is difficult to bridge that gap.
He said resource mobilization is another challenge as councils have lot of plans and ambitions but limited resources are available and given that the Gambia a poor country is always difficult to gather the necessary finance to implement projects.
He further highlighted the issue of human resource, Mayor Bensouda told the Daily News that capacity gaps is big; as large numbers of his staff did not have the luxury to go to school and don’t have the quality education to carry out their function and this is a challenge to bridge that capacity gap.
Asked how he manages presiding over council matters the Lord Mayor said they introduce policy of development politics to discuss issues, rather than partisan politics because every issue has its merit and they try to look at the augments and not who is stating the augment. He said they look at the content of the augment and because of this guiding principles from the start they are lucky for the most part to have a functioning council were councilors have a very cordial relationship regardless of party affiliation. He agrees that it is never easy to manage people from different political orientation.
The youngest Mayor expressed that he believes in sustainability. “Always using your own resources to get the optimal outcome and the will to make a difference is my driving force” KMC’s number one citizen, said financial resources are limited but KMC has the unlimited will powers.
He said he found KMC in a difficult financial position, there was nothing in the bank account and morally the staff were demoralize and the corruption was very high and very little supervision of oversight and there was no sense of direction, staff were coming everyday not knowing what they are working towards.
Bensouda expressed that they have make tremendous achievement in terms of development, staff morale is higher today than ever and the finance base has grown. The Mayor said the revenue of the Council has improved tremendously, most importantly structures are in place. Bensouda said they have lot of private sector involvement and lot of community involvement now than before.
He decried that there was limited community outreach went he took over but now they have nineteen ward offices with Ward Development Councils (WDCs). He and his team have inherited a politicize Council with political activities all the time and all around the year but today they have eliminated that 100 percent. “What we have at KMC now is purely administrative office” Mayor Bensouda
The 33 years old Mayor said they have already started fencing the Bakoteh dump side because they want to create a barrier between the community and the activities in the dump side. He said that way Council can elongate or reduce the hazardous effects of the site and other related problems the community faces. He is optimistic that before end of his term people will see a solution. The Mayor said Council is working on to introduce a waste processing system soon which they are very close to and before the end of the year there will be some development in that area he asserted.
He highlighted that since they came into office they have cleared about 42 illegal dump sides and these are dump sites that continuously regenerate waste. He told the Daily News that people can’t live with waste and if waste is not collected, then the people will find a way to disposed of it; and those methods is not what they want to see in the community.
Mayor Bensouda said he can proudly said they have now wide spread of waste collection from residential and commercial level and they are able to generate as much as five hundred tons of waste from communities a day. This is he has tremendously improved the quality of life of people in the municipality. This he said has improved the health condition of people in is municipality because waste attracts bacteria and disease.
According to the Mayor he found the revenue of the council at a hundred and twenty million dalasi (D120Million) and by the end of 2019 it was raised to about two hundred million (200Million) . The Council have projected that this year, the revenue shall be close to three hundred million (300Millin). The presumption is that before end of the term of this current team, the revenue will grow by three hundred percent.
He said they are not where they wanted to be because the challenges are real and the obstacles have to be removed. The removal of these obstacles in front of them is enormous and will take time. It is the believe that by the end of his term they would have triple the revenue and hopefully if the work continues, whether he is there or not the revenue will grow by incredible amount to one billion dalasi target as predicted during his campaign.
The Lord Mayor elaborated that government is not giving subvention regularly. Last year he said their calculated subvention was twenty-seven million dalasi (D27Million) but government only gives them five hundred thousand dalasi (D500,000) This year they promise to give them one million dalasi (1Million) when they actually calculated thirty-three million dalasi (D33Million) which they are yet to receive.
He said their monthly salary is about four to five million dalasi. He noted one million means nothing saying he is not sure why they are giving those small amount and they have complain and protested enough. “I think the general public is aware because is a law and I don’t think it should be negotiated, because these are things we deserve like any department” Bensouda said these are tax payers money, but he hope in the future we will have another government that will make sure councils are well sub vented.
He lamented that it is difficult to manage the affairs of the council in this condition and KMC is now boosting about two hundred million dalasi in revenue. He said if you compare this with other councils in the rural areas, who only generate five million dalasi revenue to pay staff and manage the affaires of all the people. He said when they advocate for subvention is not only for KMC but for the entire people of the Gambia.
He said the most important thing for him is that he is able to bring all staff and councilors unified on one vision which is to serve the community, that unity has created lots of projects and benefits and has inspired many including youths. Bensouda he proud of his ability to lead the municipality and also the staff of KMC.
The KMC Mayor said under his leadership they have employ almost two hundred people or more youth directly since he took office and they will create as much opportunities as possible. He said they create a twenty million dalasi (D25Million) Youth Empowerment Fund to give loan to youth businesses. The project shall also support many youth businesses in their projects including the five hundred build initiative and many other small projects. Part of their projects he said is the municipal library project as the municipality doesn’t have a single library as well to upgrade their parks.
He said earlier this week they have partnered with the EU to issued one million dalasi in small grants to three youth businesses who are bringing solution for Covid-19. He noted that youth are their priority given that he himself is a youth and as a young council they want the youth to feel that they have made a positive difference in their lives.
The father of two and husband of one said he want to see a local government that is very important and has impact on people’s lives. Local governments are created because they are close to the people and they are in a better position to serve the immediate needs of the people he said. He added that he want a local government that is well resource both in human capacity and financial capacity that is well structured and has the ability to directly impact people’s lives, because their role is to improved quality of life, while central government is to uplift standard of living which are macro things such as to improve people’s income , create job opportunities and to improve the general welfare of the population.
He ague that quality of life is more personal such as collecting waste so they don’t have health issues, creating neighborhood roads and social amenities, create parks where people can have good leisure activities and sport so both are important. In this vein he urges central government to view local government as partners.
He acknowledged that he cannot ever regret serving the Gambian people and if he did not run for office many of the plans he set would not have been realize. He said as far as he know if he did not come to office the residential waste collection will still be a problem and he can never regret making peoples life better. As a Politian he said his selfish interest is to leave a legacy that people will always remember that during his time there were developments that occurred. The improvement that he had in people’s life , it’s a fulfilling job and he think to be remembered for good you have done for your country is valuable, that one can never regret about it.
He said his municipality responded in time and they were the first Local government institution to release a statement about Covid-19 pandemic and create sensitization as soon as the first case was reported in Senegal. He said his council have been in the forefront to give food aid program and they are the first and only local government institution to implement the fifty thousand mask initiative. They made sure all vendors in their markets are protecting themselves with mask as markets are risky zone for Covid-19. He said they are early actors and reacted quickly in time and their respond have been excellent which led to a Covid-19 taskforce led by the Deputy Mayor where the ministry of health acted partners to ensure that they react on time.
Talib Ahmed Bensouda the youngest mayor in the Gambia just 33 years old. He oversees the operation of the largest municipality far as revenue and commerce is concern and builds the borders of the Gambia. KMC is largest populated council with half a million people roughly about 25% of the Gambian population.
A father of two beautiful children male and a female with a beautiful wife Sally Jallow Bensouda, the son of Amie Bensouda a lawyer by profession and a brother to Azziz also a lawyer and seedy Bensouda a software developer and Baks a real estate developer. He studied at the university of Toronto were he has a BA in Economics and Communication Technology and worked in many institutions both internationally and locally. He has his own business called safaro which he still own and operate; this is a trading company within the Gambia that employs about 40 people.
His great grand farther is originally from Morocco who came to the Gambia in 1913 during world war one and was doing his cattle rearing in Wuli then to Basse as a butcher and later settle in Kuntaur in 1920s were he befriended Almameh Jawara and then marry Almameh’s daughter who is Namanding Jawara who is a blood sister to former president sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara.
He comes from the United Democratic Party, at primary he contested with 6 other people. He said he won because he had a vision that Gambians and KM residence believe in. He said his campaign was organize with good message that they a KMC that delivers basic services for its people and make sure tax payers money is well spent on the quality of life within the municipality.