By Sailu Bah
“The demolition of old buildings is not the responsibility of Council but that of the Physical Planning department which gives the directives and then notify us as custodians of the city,” said Mr. Abdoulie Bah, the Mayor of Banjul.
Mayor Bah said this in an interview with this reporter in his office on Saturday, 5th July 2014, in response to an earlier concern raised by some residents within the vicinity of the former Odeon Cinema at Lasso Wharf in Banjul after its walls were demolished purportedly by a team from the Disaster Management Committee of the BCC.
The concern raised by the said residents is that the demolition of the walls of the former Odeon Cinema may pose as an environmental threat to the residents living within the vicinity and most especially the young children. According to them, the removal of the walls can also make the area prone to flooding as there is nothing to prevent the rising water from the stream after a heavy rain to inundate the area and carry on shore reptiles such as snakes and crocodiles.
The Banjul Mayor said the Physical Planning department demolishes old buildings in order to avoid disasters. He said whenever the department detects an old building in any part of the city which they think poses a threat to the community, they would write to the owners of such a building and accordingly advise them to address the problem. He said steps to demolish old buildings are only taken when the owners fail to address the problem.
“The department will then write a notification letter to inform the Council about the exercise they are about to conduct in an identified place and asks the Council to fuel the machines in order to be able to conduct the demolition,” said Mayor Bah.
Mayor Bah said the building owners are lucky that the Physical Planning department does not ask them to pay for the cost of demolition when they fail to address the problem after they have already been advised to do so. “As this exercise requires funds to implement, this is where the Council comes in to facilitate the work as it is within its jurisdiction,” he added.
On the issue of erecting a temporal fence, the Mayor said they will try and consult with other stakeholders to see how they can prevent any future flooding from the area, but added that it is not the responsibility of BCC to build or erect structures in people’s compounds.
“The demolition is not just done for the sake of demolition, but we are doing it to save people’s lives,” he said.
He explained that whenever the Physical Planning department is about to engage in a demolition exercise, they always notify the BCC, the police and other relevant institutions.
He cited an example of a baby who was saved from a disaster which could have been fatal when a roof fell down on the bed he was lying in. He said the disaster immediately occurred after the child was removed from the bed as a result of his loud cries.
He concluded that any time a building collapses and claims casualties the people would tend to blame the government for not doing anything, but added that it is the responsibility of the owners of old buildings to comply with the authorities for the purpose of disaster risk reduction.