By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
With just over a month to the upcoming Local Government Elections, Gambian President Adama Barrow has sworn in a “Commission of Inquiry into the Conduct of Local Councils” much to the dismay of the seven opposition-led Councils. Our findings reveal that at least two of the Commissioners sworn in on Friday 24th February 2023 are members of President Barrow’s National People’s Party (NPP) which has been at loggerheads with his former United Democratic Party (UDP).
Seven out of the eight Councils are under the leadership of the UDP with only one belonging to the NPP after Chairperson Sheriffo Sonko (former UDP) of Brikama Area Council defected to the incumbent party. Two months back in late December 2022, President Barrow told Gambians at his Meet the People’s Tour in Talinding’s Buffer Zone that his Government would appoint Governors for Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) and Banjul City Council (BCC) which traditionally had Mayors instead.
This is not the first time the President has tried to enact a Commission to look into Council’s activities. In January 2022 the government failed to progress with plans to constitute a Commission of Inquiry after KMC announced a fraudulent D12 million loan taken in the name of the Council. Although the Commission failed to proceed the Ministry of Lands and Regional Government commissioned an Inspector’s Report into the veracity of the allegations which has been obtained by Gainako Reporters.
Given the previous Commission’s failed start many were wondering if the government would face similar challenges to constitute another Commission on Councils activities. Nonetheless, President Barrow has prevailed to swear in five commissioners.
Commissioners Sworn In; GALGA Condemns Timing
The Commissioners sworn in are led by Chairperson Jainaba Bah Sambou and include Commissioners; Samba Faal, Oreme E. Joiner, Sukai Secka Sanyang and Alhagi Sillah. From the initial list of Commissioners circulated the National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) Imam Baba Leigh was named in the five-member Commission. However, this all changed when he rescinded his appointment to the Commission citing “section 5 (3) of the NHRC Act 2017” which compels him to “relinquish any other office, post or appointment” and not to serve any other “organisation or interest group”.
After Imam Baba Leigh rescinded his appointment, the Gambia Association of Local Government Authorities (GALGA) welcomed his decision at a press conference held on Thursday 23rd February 2023 at the KMC. GALGA Chairperson Landing B. Sanneh who serves as the Chairperson for Mansakonko Area Council told journalists: “I want to say thank you to Baba Leigh for recusing himself at a time when it was very critical”. GALGA is composed of all Councils and held a press conference condemning the timing of the Commission of Inquiry as Interfering with the upcoming local government elections.
During President Barrow’s speech at the swearing-in ceremony, he highlighted that “the Commission is to investigate and present its report within three months to guide Government on the adoption of relevant policy and administrative options”. This means that the Commission is expected to present its report to the President in late May 2023. However, Local Government Elections are scheduled to take place on 15th April for the Councillorship and 20th May 2023 for Mayoral and Chairpersons’ elections.
KMC Mayor Talib Bensouda believes that “the government wanted an interim [management to takeover from KMC] to happen for Political reasons. They had a failure and they had to resort to a Commission of Inquiry”. Although he claims to welcome the Commission of Inquiry he also questions “why three months when we should be campaigning we’re disrupted. When we are campaigning our activities are curtailed to go and answer to a commission?”
Mayor Bensouda called the process “a farce, a TV show to summon elected officials and [accuse them] to confuse the population. It is a war of misinformation. It’s not a legal battle”.
President Appoints Two Prominent NPP Banjulians
After Imam Baba Leigh’s decision to rescind his appointment, his replacement appears to be the former member of Banjul North, Hon Alhagi Sillah who served two terms under the former incumbent, Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) from 2007 to 2017. Hon A. Sillah was succeeded by Hon Ousman Sillah of the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) in 2017 who in turn was succeeded by Hon Momodou L.B. Bah of the UDP in 2022.
Speaking to Hon Bah he revealed that he started seeing Hon A. Sillah openly supporting President Adama Barrow in the run-up to the December 2021 Presidential elections. Hon Bah added that “a clear manifestation is during the Presidential election in 2021 we saw him openly all the time with NPP vehicle campaigning for the President and during the Parliamentary election in 2022”.
Hon Bah who defeated NPP’s Samba Njie revealed that he personally saw Hon A. Sillah “openly going round from house to house with the NPP Candidate for Banjul North to campaign for him”.
Another prominent NPP Banjulian is Mr Oreme Joiner who was once earmarked for the Vice Chairperson role for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). After a press release from the UDP condemning the appointment of Mr Oreme Joiner, the government revoked his appointment and eventually appointed the IEC’s former Communications Chief instead. Around the same time as Mr Joiner’s appointment and revocation, a list of NPP’s Banjul Executive Committee was being circulated which included the name of Mr Joiner as a co-opted member.