Saturday, March 10, 2012

Curbing the inadequate capacity of local institutions

Beneficiaries of good governance project, Sanba Njabeh Village/photo:M.S.Joof/Nov2011
Gambian voters in the Badibou, Jokadou and Lower Niumi districts will not be voting along party, ethnic or religious lines in this year’s National Assembly elections and the 2013 local government elections.

That is, if the success of a “capacity building project on good governance” implemented by a local agency is anything to go by, communities in the three districts would be able to determine which candidate really deserve to be elected to represent their interest in the legislature and in at the local government level.

In fact, sources revealed voters in the Lower Niumi districts are likely to come up with at least “one female candidate” in the 2012 national assembly elections. Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission has schedule parliamentary elections on March 29, 2012 while the local government elections will wait till 2013. 

The 2002 Local Government Act serves as a guideline for the setting up of local institutions such as Village Development Committees (VDCs) and Ward Development Committees (WDCs) to decentralise the governance system of The Gambia at the grassroots.  

However, the conspicuous inadequate capacity of these local institutions means the system has little or no impact for effective contribution to the good governance of the country and its fledgling democracy.

Hence implementing a “capacity building project on good governance” in a country where the literacy rate is projected around 47 per cent (2010 World Bank report), would generally require better access to and the sharing of information.

Working against this local institutional problem is the Agency for the Development of Women and Children (ADWAC), which has successfully implemented a one-year capacity building project in three districts: Badibou, Jokadou and Lower Niumi in the North Bank Region (NBR).

It is aimed at contributing to good governance and the democratization of local institutions. 22 local institutions, including 15 VDCs, 6 WDCs and the Kerewan Area Council (KAC) are beneficiaries to the project. ADWAC hopes the KAC’s capacity would been enhanced for it to effectively engage the Wards in planning and decision making processes and contribute to funding strategic village development plans.
Established in 1995 at Kerewan, the regional administrative capital of NBR, ADWAC is one of 13 civil society organisations that received a grant last year from the European Union (EU) under the Non-State Actors Strengthening Programme (NSASP) in The Gambia.

A data collection survey was carried out by the agency to set a baseline on local peoples’ level understanding of the governance system of the country and their roles and responsibilities in national development and decision making processes.

Taking into account the high level lack of awareness of almost every aspect of government’s policies by Gambians,
it is not surprising that the findings revealed some communities not knowing why they are paying taxes, how and why they should hold their elected councilors accountable and to a large extent, the central government.

ADWAC’s Executive director, Mamsamba Joof/ Photo:M.S.Joof/Nov2011
The survey revealed people in the North Bank believed “it is a law that they should pay tax” while others think electing representatives at local government and the legislature “is a need to satisfy the ambitions of a particular political party”, ADWAC’s Executive director, Mamsamba Joof explains during a conducted tour of EU-funded projects under the NSASP (November 14-18, 2011).
“The project have not entirely made people to stand up and say “we need our rights”, but their level of understanding of why they pay tax, and the role of the Area Council and elected councilors has become clearer to them,” Mr. Joof said. 

“The good governance project brought to us by ADWAC has benefited a great deal. It has really built our capacity and now we have full knowledge of why we pay tax,” the chairman Kerr Jarga Ward Development Committee (WDC), Mr. Alpha Khan said. “Prior to the project, we knew little about the importance of paying tax, now we know that this money is being used by the Government to pay civil servants and in the country’s development process which is very important”.

ADWAC also builds the capacities of the WDCs on how to take charge of their own development aspirations through the development of strategic action plans, and the Kerr Jarga WDC has already developed its own action plan outlining various development priority needs for the communities in the Ward.

“They’ve taught us the roles and responsibilities of good citizens, how to hold the Area Council accountable and also how to work with it and the Village Development Committees (VDCs) in achieving our desired development goals,” added Mr Khan. “We were on a series of errors before they (ADWAC) came. Now we know we have to be transparent and respect each other’s views in the process of charting about the Ward development plans”.

Chairman of Samba Njabeh VDC, Mr Wally Ndow/Photo: M.S.Joof/Nov2011
For the Chairman of Samba Njabeh VDC, Mr Wally Ndow “It is better to teach people how to fish than giving them fish everyday”, saying ADWAC’s good governance project has empowered them to be able to decide their own development priorities. 

The benefit derived from the project does not solely stops with the beneficiaries; the grantee (ADWAC) also had a share of it. It strengthens its relationship with local government authorities (Kerewan Area Council). After all, the agency is implementing a programme that should have been the primary work of the Area Council.

At the end of the project in February this year, ADWAC was honored by the EU-NSASP for filing in the best report on “financial management”. However, the agency fears sustainability of the gains in the project is threatened by it short-lived period. 

 “The EU should consider expanding the project for another year or two to consolidate the achievements at community level and further strengthen the capacities of the participating organisations. The  NSASP is just a one-year project, our experience have shown us that you can have a good start to a project but the sustainable impact require a longer period,” Mr. Joof  said. “Sustainability is core in ADWAC’s activities. For us, we think if no action is sustainable, there is no need to start such action.”

Author: Modou S. Joof

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