An Interview with Samba Faal, former mayor of Banjul

Friday, May 11, 2018

Samba Faal has been mayor of Banjul City Council on two occasions spanning a period over a decade and tipped as the most popular mayor of Banjul to date. He was born in Banjul and attended Muhammadan Primary School, Crab Island Secondary and then proceeded to St Augustine’s High School. Faal travelled to abroad where he completed a diploma programme in Journalism and Mass Communication from the School of Journalism and Communication in the United Kingdom.

Faal relocated to the United States of America where he earned BA in Journalism at Roosevelt University where he was elected editor of the students’ newspaper, ‘The Torch.’ He also obtained a BA in Political Science, and MA in Political Science. Upon completion, he taught in the Department of Political Science as a teaching assistant, lecturing Comparative Politics and Political Theory. He worked as a journalist in both Europe and U.S. He was the Editor of Northshore Examiner in the U.S. in Evanston Chicago. He worked for the Chicago African as staff writer and Chicago Defender, one of the oldest Black newspapers in the U.S.

He served as Office Manager of the Movement for Political World Union, The Hague. He studied Conflict and Peace Resolution in Denmark. He has a Doctorate in Governance from the Center for Transformation and Leadership in Ghana.

He is an accomplished author and had written two books: Political World Union – a documentary appraisal with a Dutch lawyer and a book of poetry ‘At The Cross Road.’

Welcome Mr. Faal and thank you very much for granting us this interview.

Mr Faal: Welcome Sankulleh

Journalist: What is your experience in local government administration?

Mr Faal: When I first returned, in fact I was recruited from the US by the then Secretary General Dr. Jabez Langley to come and work with the government of The Gambia. So when I came, I worked briefly with the department of information services as a journalist information assistant but then after two months I had to resign because I was disillusioned with journalism practice at the level of government. I wanted to go back to the U.S. but I had to stay because of family pressure and that was the time I had to move to the council as deputy town clerk like Deputy Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of council and that’s where my involvement with local government started. I followed the rank and moved to the rank after one year the position of CEO became vacant, I applied among many others and I was appointed CEO. Then it was the town clerk and the town clerk was the administrative head of the council and that was in 1990. I was there till 1994 during the coup and 1995 I was appointed acting mayor of the council. After the coup, the councils were dissolved and military officers were made heads of all the regions, so after one year in the council Major Antouman Saho was appointed ambassador to Taiwan then I was asked to take over as mayor. So I was mayor from 1994, 1996 to 2002 when I was appointed Minister of Youths and Sports.

In those days there was no tenure of office, I was fired as minister so I went back to lecturing at GTTI where I was lecturing Local Government Law.

Then in 2008 because of popular demand from the people of Banjul I was requested to contest the mayoral position which I did and won. So I was mayor again from 2008 to 2013 when I lost and which I accepted as a democrat thats the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.

Journalist: With all your experience in local governance, how will you describe this mayoral election?

Mr Faal: I think one of the biggest setbacks in local government election is that people are not informed and the people are not educated.  I have to give credit to National Council for Civic Education (NCCE) but I think there is more that has to be done by other agencies because I don’t think NCCE can do it alone because what has been happening over the years is still what is happening and people just assume this is how it has been, so this is how it should be but that does not make it right. A lot of people do not know the role of local government.

Journalist: Do you think some of the mayoral aspirants really know what the job of a mayor entails?

Mr Faal: No no no most of them don’t actually know, they don’t understand the rules governing local governance and I think before you get into something you have to know what you are going into and that has not been the case from the look of things.  The local government Act itself is not giving executive powers to any mayor. The mayor is just a ceremonial head and his or her role is limited to chairing council meetings and being the link between council and government, the mayor supervises the activities of the council on daily basis. But the supervision is based on resolution of council, when council passes resolutions, and then it is the mayor’s role to work with the administration to make sure that the resolutions are being implemented and then report back to council.

Unfortunately even former mayors who are vying for another term do not actually understand the role of a mayor.

The mayor cannot add or deduct anything from the resolution that has been made by the council; the council is supreme so the mayor’s role is purely ceremonial, you are like a messenger and the power is given more or less to the council who are the representatives of the people at the local level because they work with their people; conceptualize programmes and projects and which are brought to council for implementation.

Journalist: Both Kanifing Municipal Council and Banjul City Council have lots of problems to tackle; you had first-hand experience during your tenure as the Mayor of BCC. What are the possible challenges of the about to be elected mayors of the two councils?

Mr Faal: I’ve heard some of their promises and think they are really out of context, they don’t know what it entails to be a mayor. A mayor is not a self -serving institution of his or her own. There is a bigger body, a more a powerful body than the individual as a mayor and that is the general council. So I guess what they should have been saying is ‘I will work with my team to do A B and C’ but they cannot say when I come I’m going to do this and that as if they are positioned or what they say is sacrosanct and that is where they will face difficulties and disappointments.

I’ve heard some of them for example somebody vying for a position in Banjul saying that when he becomes mayor he is going to provide healthcare to all Banjulians (laughed) that is laughable. You don’t even know the resource base of the council first before you make those outrageous promises. I have heard one of them also said he is going to build a toll way to Banjul and every car coming into Banjul will pay a certain amount of money. That is not his responsibility. That is central government’s role. There are roles that are for the central government and roles that are for the council and the mayor has specific roles. Anything that the mayor does outside his or her responsibility will be seen as ultra-vice (acting outside your bounds). First you have to know the resource base of the council. Councils are under-resource, the revenue base is so small, the government should be giving 25% of the development budget it’s in the Act that has not been coming forth since 2002 when the act was actually ratified. So the assumption that councils are seating on a goldmine is totally wrong because the responsibilities are great so before you talk about embezzlement and corruption you have to be there to first know what is there. But you don’t know what is there and you are making promises that when you are elected you will be disappointed because they will not be achievable. It has happened to the mayor who came after me, all the promises that he made were not fulfilled and it was based on those promises that the people of Banjul voted him in and moreover, because of my association with a party that was in direct forbearance with a dictator. But it was not in terms of me not been efficient in taking care of the activities of the city.

In fact we were the ones that worked on the formulation of the 2002 Local Government Act, so we know what it entails because it was by virtue of our expertise that were part of the whole process of formulating the Local Government  Act 2002 and the Finance and Audit Act. But as a mayor alone, you cannot actually bring about development, you are just a figure head so when a council fails, it is very unfair to say the mayor fails or the mayor is corrupt. It’s a responsibility of both the mayor and the councilors and it is more on the councilors than the mayor. These are things that people do not actually know or understand because they see the mayor as supreme as president in a government or president in a country when actual fact the mayor is just a toothless bulldog.

Journalist: Finally Mr. Faal, in 2013 mayoral election, you were in the ruling party and very popular according to reports gathered and yet you whole heartedly accepted the outcome of those results. How important do you think it will be for losing candidates to accept the outcome of the results come on Saturday?

Mr Faal: I think if you are involved in politics, because governments do not come by themselves, it’s not actually the government that create people, it’s the people that creates the government through voting and it is all about representation. If you contest in an election, you are contesting on the basis that you are a democrat; you will accept the will of the people. So if you win,quote “the people have decided, therefore if you lose also the people have also decided” and you have to accept the will of the people.

If you look at Section 1 Sub-section 2 of The Constitution of The Gambia it says “The sovereignty of The Gambia resides on the people”, so the people decide and this is like a domesticated course of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights where it says “the will of the people shall be the basis of `authority of government”

In fact we are talking about here is that representation or participation is not determine by every four or five years holding elections, it is more to that. We are now moving into the age or new era of democracy. We have moved from the old system of democracy representative to the modern concept of democracy which is participatory. You don’t just have people elected into office and then you leave them to run the show especially local governance. You participate in the decision making process and how do you participate in the decision making process as a voter is you influence decisions that will have direct effect and impact on your community by formulating projects at the grass root level, lacing with your councilor and the councilor bringing your problem to the council.

Journalist: It’s a pleasure talking to you Mr. Faal

Mr Faal: Thank you……