Budget vs. Development: Taxpayers Fault Brikama Area Council
Brikama, the administrative capital of the West Coast Region is increasingly becoming one of the fastest growing business hubs in The Gambia. The country’s second largest town also houses the Brikama Area Council (BAC) which is mandated to cover the entire region in terms of tax revenue collections for its more than 699,704 population.
As per the Local Government Act, councils are obliged to plough back 60 percent of revenues collected as tax through the initiation of development projects. But taxpayers of the Council have argued that they have realized a far lesser improvement on their lives and livelihoods due to ‘blatant corruption’ and ‘non-inclusivity’ that marred the Council’s operation.
“No development has been brought to us here. I can’t see any meaningful development created that I expected from the [Brikama Area] Council where I deserve more from. I deserve more because I am a taxpayer,” Bambo Sillah told The Chronicle.
He complained about the lack of proper sanitation and poor road conditions as key issues that continue to haunt their business progression at all times.
Nyima Sanneh, a resident of Brikama said the worst time is the rainy season. “We are completely disconnected from important places like the market anytime it rained. You don’t even know what to do because water is flooding everywhere,” she said.
The Chronicle understands that Brikama Area Council has submitted its 2020 Budget to the Ministry of Local Government awaiting approval.
The President of Brikama Market Committee, Foday Manjang, ackn
“The fact is that people in the market are not happy with the way things are run by the [Brikama] Area Council this year 2019. What they expected on the level of development in the market, things did not go that way. We thought what would have made things easier for us did not happen. That’s why I said people in the market are not happy,” he said.
“We’ve been paying tax, duties and land rate. In fact, us at the committee level we do not compromise with vendors on that because we know a country is developed by tax. That’s why anyone who is not paying tax, it is necessary for us to take steps to ensure that the person pays.”
As the president of the committee, Manjang indicates that their stance is to serve as a link between the Area Council and the vendors as well as others businesses in the market. Last week, he recalled that a section of the market – about 30 canteen owners – approached him to say that they are not paying tax because of filthy water that streamed under their areas and was not addressed by the Council. According to him, the affected vendors continued their protest despite his advice that they should continue paying tax.
“We know that 60 percent should be given back to the community. But what is clear is that this is not happening,” he said.
He also accused some Council officials of collecting money from market vendors without receipts. According to him, he personally brought this to the attention of the Council, but no step has been taken. He believes that this is denying the progress of the Council’s efforts in bringing development.
He acknowledges the significance of stakeholder involvement in Council’s budget preparation. But according to him, this is not the case.
“…it will be important if they should be inviting us to be part of doing the budget. But we were never invited. Looking at the level of Brikama market, it should be like that, we should be aware of it.”
“But whether they invite us or not, two things are very important for them to consider – these include building good roads now as well as creating proper waterways. These are in a very bad condition. When it rains all the roads become unusable,” he explains.
He strongly suggested the need to have this work done now rather than waiting to hurriedly react on it in the summer.
The Secretary to the Market Committee, Bolong Jabang, said Brikama market vendors have been fully complying with their tax payment commitment to the Area Council. He clarified that the notion that people of the West Coast Region do not pay their taxes does not include his market.
“We always make sure that we pay and if there should be any problem let it come from them [Area Council]. We disagreed with the recent protesters [referring to some market vendors last week] who refused to pay taxes because of poor sanitation. We saw that as they have taken law into their own hands. We make sure everyone complies so that sixty percent of revenues collected is ploughed backed with us,” he said.
Abubacarr Darboe, a concerned youth in Brikama argues that the council has partially, if not totally, failed in all their development agendas including partnership with youth groups in 2019.
“When we assess the revenue base of this region, it alone should represent 1/3 of the total amount of revenue collected by all other council’s within the country,” he said.
He accused the Council of “blatant corruption and violation of the rights of the poor market and society vendors they are representing”.
“They also collect money from market vendors without receipts and collecting money from stall owners in the name of ‘salibo’,” he alleged. “In view of this, the Council becomes a liability rather than an asset to her people because they are unable to effect changes in the lives of our people in all aspects of development,” he told The Chronicle.
He states that the youths of the region have been disregarded, neglected and abandoned in terms of their development and decision making in spite of having a Youth Counselor as a representative in the Council.
“This negligence to youth was what emerged the ground for the people demonstrating against the Council,” said Darboe.
Darboe was the coordinator of #OccupyBrikamaAreaCouncil, a pressure group that staged a protest in July asking for a better service delivery by the Council. He said the protest paid dividends to the people. He acknowledges that the Council has later sponsored their environmental cleansing initiative to promote sanitation and health in the region following their protest.
Jasong Sanyang, a civic education officer at the National Council for Civic Education (NCCE) said the Local Government Act is what makes it an obligation on the Councils to plough back a certain percentage of the revenue collection to bring developments to the communities.
“This prescribed 60 percent is there, it’s legally binding. So whether or not our local government councils are doing this, is a whole different thing. And I think it’s the job of the people to hold their elected representatives to account to ensure that this 60 percent is actually spent,” he said.
However, Jasong asks taxpayers to develop an interest in the affairs of the Councils by trying to find more information on matters that determine their development.
“Many people talk about this 60 percent or revenues, but many people also cannot tell what the 60 percent is ought to be or should be because our people are not concerned with what Area/Municipal councils are collecting.”
“Unless you know the amount of revenue collected by the councils, which is when you are going to know the 60 percent. If you don’t know the amount of money I have collected how would you know this is 60 percent of that money? The first thing the people demanding for the Councils to plough back is to ascertain how much money they have collected,” he told The Chronicle.
He challenges people to make efforts in accessing the information regarding the financial gains. “If you feel that a particular council is not doing what is expected, the first thing you should do as a union or a community is to first go to the area council and request for information on taxes. The law has empowered you to go there and seek such information. If they want to cover this information, they are violating the law,” he stated.
Contrary to the claims, the spokesperson of Brikama Area Council, Lamin Singhateh
“The council has been responsive to many community driven projects, ranging from road rehabilitation, provision of labor saving machines (milling and grinding machines), extension of safe and clean drinking water, market shades and toilets rehabilitation, coupled with support to youth groups etc. These we believed have created an impact by virtue of the fact that, taxpayers themselves designed and prioritized the benefited projects and supports,” he said.
On corruption allegations, BAC spokesperson admits the conduct but said it is happening on both sides. “Our duty fee is D5 but some vendors will instead give D3 to the Council collectors and they will accept it without giving receipts. Both are culprits,” he told The Chronicle.
He said by 2020, the Council will introduce digital revenue collecting device that will compare the receipts given and the monies collected to address the corruption.
As claimed by the President of Market Committee, the filthy environment within the Brikama market which he said have led to denial of tax payment by some vendors in protest, Singhateh said the menace and hazardous sanitary conditions had emanated from the fish market, an entity which is not under their mandate and supervision.
“Despite that, as an institution mandated to keep our region clean and free from such sanitary menace, often a time the management of the fish market will be supported to curb the menace their entity is causing in the market. And we are in an extensive engagement with them to set out strategies and means as to, if not to eradicate but to mitigate the recurrence of such in the future,” he told The Chronicle.
He denies the claim that BAC has not been ploughing back its 60 percent financial obligation to communities through the responsive developments.
“This is realized through the responsiveness to projects and initiative being raised from taxpayers and aligned to the scriptures of our strategy plan. It is worth knowing that, the designed annual budget represents an estimate and not what is embedded in the design is realized at the end of the year.
“So many factors impede the actualization and significant among these is the seizure of potential revenue sources by the central government such as sand and gravel mining, road, billboard, car park tax etc, are blows that broke the backbone of council,” he justified.
Concerning the involvement of key stakeholders in building an inclusive council budget, Singhateh acknowledges the importance. However, he did not explain whether they have been inviting them or not when designing their annual budgets.