Saul Saidykhan

To underscore the frustration behind the growing disenchantment with President Barrow’s leadership style among Gambians who truly wish him success (forget the never liked,) allow me to state the Gambia’s top dozen priorities in January 2017 when Barrow took over as most of us anti-Jammeh crusaders were openly clamoring:

1. Reforming the Civil Service into a merit-based institution beginning with the requirement that ALL ‘Tier One’  civil servants: Permanent Secretaries, General Managers, Director Generals, Managing Directors, Directors, Regional Governors, and their Deputies be veritable Professionals with advanced credentials in their specialized areas and a minimum number of years of post-graduate experience within or outside the Gambia. After two and a half years in office, there is NO reason why this hasn’t been accomplished given it’s now apparent that Barrow isn’t shy about firing anyone he doesn’t like. A criteria spelling out how current civil servants and future aspirants can get to Tier One positions in the civil service should by now be clear to all literate Gambians. This is NOT the case.

2. Reforming the Security Services into merit-based competent institutions. Twenty years after University of the Gambia started graduating hundreds of students annually, NO ONE should be Commissioned as an Officer in the Army or Police Force unless they have the equivalent of an Advanced GCE/WASSCE diploma. None should ever be promoted to the rank of Army Major or Police Superintendent without a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree. Ranks from Army Colonel and above; Assistant Inspector General of Police and above should require an Advanced college/university diploma or equivalent certification.

The core NIA/SIS should be composed of who are all degreed or credentialed professionals with    training in specialized areas: – guide the Agency in staying within the boundaries of its legal mandate, to evaluate the adequacy of evidence necessary to win conviction of suspects charged with a crime, and to prosecute those charged; for the Audit competence required to stay at par or ahead of white collar criminals and sundry fraudsters; to deter, detect, and trace crimes committed technologically; to prove the commission of crimes forensically where necessary. ALL those lacking the requisite qualification should be either transferred out of the Agency or assigned NON-SUPERVISORY Human Intelligence monitoring tasks to check internal sabotage and terrorism. After two and a half years in office, it’s “ as my folks say: Barrow shows ZERO interest in effecting this type of NECESSARY change though it’s indisputable that institutions -civil or regimented, are only as good as the quality of its personnel.

3.  Getting rid of Jammeh’s key Enablers in both the Civil and Security Services. No reasonable Gambian believes it’s possible to fire ALL the aiders and abettors of Yaya Jammeh’s criminal syndicates that masqueraded as governments for two decades. However, there is NO EXCUSE to retain in, or re-appoint Jammeh’s KEY co-conspirators to senior public service positions. Those implicated in helping Jammeh in the wanton looting of the Gambia’s meagre common weal, and those that killed, tortured, raped, maimed, and exiled Gambians for Jammeh SHOULD NOT be on our public payroll at this point. Keeping these undesirable characters in our public life is not only insulting and insensitive, it is an affront to our collective conscience as a nation.

4.  De-personalizing governance. Unlike DK Jawara, Jammeh took the idea of ‘my government’ literally thus his involvement in ‘Everything Gambia’ from Central Bank Fiscal policy to exploiting business opportunities, to awarding education scholarships, to public service recruitment and promotion, to siting of public infrastructure, to market stall assignments. This mentality was the driver of the bloated State House budget (to cater for countless amorphous “Special Advisers”) in the Jammeh years. The call and hope were for Barrow to revert back to the Jawara era budgeting system. Two and a half years on, Barrow is instead doubling down on the opaque and corrupt Jammeh style of governance! This is a DISGRACE.

5.  De-mystifying the presidency. Yaya Jammeh used his exalted position to gallivant on our public stage for two decades fronting as a latter-day medieval Mansa wrapped in elaborate ‘borrowed robes’  figuratively speaking. He commandeered our public till and used that bounty to play generous Father Christmas dissing out gifts and bestowing ‘good luck’ on all manner of shameless court jesters and fortune seekers. As a ploy to hoodwink the feeble-minded, Jammeh set up multiple publicly funded family Foundations through which he took personal credit for projects and initiatives funded with public money! To complete his self-mystification, he thumbed his nose, wagged his fingers, and pounded his chest at the very people who held his fate in their hands because “only Allah can remove me” and “I’ll win even if you don’t vote for me”. He bought planes unilaterally and flew on chartered executive jets around the globe at public expense. He was the Teflon leader – infallible and untouchable. Yet when push came to shove, he was disrobed at the Gambia Bantaba with global klieg lights shining on him.

 Tragically, only two and a half years on, Barrow seems to have NOT learnt a darn thing from Jammeh’s humiliating experience because from the dubiously funded family Foundations to the self-mystifying “only Allah can remove me” puff, Barrow’s only discernable competence at this point seems to be in the arena of mimicking the Jammeh Playbook. There is NO reason why Adama Barrow should spend a USD $752K “gift” or grant on chartering a flight for a single overseas trip. This is another DISGRACE. (For context, Gambia’s economy is less than USD$400M annual GDP, Tanzania has a USD $50B annual GDP economy, yet President Magafuli NEVER flies by private/charter flight. The Gambia needs and deserves a president who UNDERSTANDS the poverty of our people, not one trying to imitate our previous imperial poseur!

6. Collapsed Public School system. For close to two decades, an average of 97% of Gambian public High Schoolers can only pass three Subjects or less in their High School diploma exams (WASSCE) precisely why almost all well-to-do Gambians now send their children to Private schools. This is an EMERGENCY that requires urgent attention because of its long-term implications. You see, when only 5% or less of our youth are adequately prepared to compete with their global peers, not only are we short-changing ourselves, we’re also engendering a combustible scenario in which the 95% will resent the privileged 5% class to an extent that they could – in the long term, engage in mutually destructive behavior to the detriment of the country. To compound our education woes, we continue to focus resources on book-heavy as oppose to technical and vocational areas. We produce more lawyers and Political Scientists than Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical engineers, Welders, Agronomists, or Carpenters. Yet at this stage of the Gambia’s development phase, we need more of the blue-collar types cited than the two popular white-collar professional types we’re churning out in large numbers. Two and a half years on, if Barrow is aware of this crisis, neither his utterances, nor his budgetary allocations indicate so. D100M of the D800M UN-ITEMIZED budget allocated to State House could make a noticeable dent in this area.

7. Collapsed Health sector. Even more precarious than the Education system is the state of the public healthcare system in the Gambia! Instead of offering relief to those in need, ALL our public hospitals and Health Centers are glorified First Aid Stations. They lack both the requisite equipment and medications to address the medical needs of the Gambian people. Worse, the staff – from medical doctors to auxiliary nurses are mostly ill-trained professionally and ethically, and have no concept of “Patient Confidentiality”, empathy, or simple courtesy! Being misdiagnosed and treated rudely are the norms in Gambian public hospitals and Health Centers. The state of the Health Center in Brikama, HQ of the Gambia’s largest municipality, is a perfect symbol of the rotten Gambian public healthcare system. Sadly, two and a half years on, if Barrow is aware of this crisis, neither his utterances, nor his budgetary allocations indicate so.

 Consequently, thousands of Gambians die annually of myriad PREVENTABLE or easily TREATABLE ailments! Again, D100M of the D800M UN-ITEMIZED budget allocated to State House could make a noticeable dent in this area also.

8. Agricultural revival. The collapse of Gambian agriculture is one of the main contributors to the unsustainable rural-urban migration in the country. Though totally politicized, Yaya Jammeh at least made a valiant attempt to help modernize Gambian agriculture by seeking farming equipment grants from Asia.

 For the long-term security of the country and to maintain a livable and sustainable environment in the Kombos, it is crucial to stem – if not reverse, the current rural-urban migration trend. Curiously, instead of distributing the “Jammeh Agricultural machines” seized on the orders of the Janneh Commission to  farming communities around the country to rent out to farmers at nominal rates, the machines were sold  to middlemen who now sell them at prices beyond the reach of most Gambian farmers! Worse, for the two farming seasons Barrow has superintended thus far, Gambian farmers are unable to sell and receive cash for their farm products at Point Of Sale (POS.) Instead, they’re handed Open-ended IOUs. Why should dirt-poor farmers be forced to wait months to receive money for their products? With Barrow’s third farming season only a few weeks away, there is no indication of a change in government policy to avoid farmers’ needless suffering. This is another DISGRACE! Again, D100M of the D800M UN- ITEMIZED budget allocated to State House could make a noticeable dent in this area too.

9. Revival of PPP-era Economic hubs – one of the tragic legacies of Yaya Jammeh is the deliberate killing of the rural Economic hubs created and sustained by Jawara: Basse, Kaur, Kuntaur, Georgetown, Sapo, Mansakonko, Tendaba, Kerewan, Kafuta, etc. All these locations used to have hundreds or at least dozens of PERMANENT and temporary public service jobs. As I stated in a different post, many of these rural public servants were part-time farmers – thus the negative concomitant impact on the Gambia’s agricultural output when they were shut down. Worse, by letting these places die economically, Jammeh triggered the forced Internal Migration of a large number of rural people to urban areas without any industries to support them. In short, most of the rural-urban migrants in Gambia are in fact Internal  Economically Displaced citizens. This is what eventually led to the tragic decade-long “Backway”phenomenon whose deleterious effects we will continue to grapple with for decades to come. The sensible and responsible thing to do is to urgently move to reverse this destructive Jammeh  policy. Again, D100M of the D800M UN-ITEMIZED budget allocated to State House could make a noticeable dent in this area.

10. Government Vehicle and Fuel Subsidy policy. The largest single Cost of Governance in Gambia is the almost D3Billion government spends annually on buying, maintaining, and fueling vehicles for public officials. The Fuel subsidy bit is particularly outrageous! Curiously, NONE of the countries the Gambia  routinely runs to (even in Africa) to beg money for survival allow any such wasteful Vehicle policy anymore. About half a dozen businessmen from India and Lebanon working in concert with a couple of Gambians are behind this corrupt Gambia Fleecing operation. When Finance Minister Amadou Sanneh made an earnest effort to scrap the scam program, it became his undoing. Barrow only seems to care about what is in it for him if popular opinion is anything to go by! Consequently, money that could be spent on developmental projects in education, healthcare, agriculture, and job creation for the youth is forked over to a few corrupt businessmen who in turn give kickbacks to their partners in Executive positions in government! Barrow seems to have ZERO intention of scrapping this scandalous program.

11.Transparency in government financial matters. The hallmark of the Jammeh era is the opacity of government operations especially in the financial arena. Sadly, to this day, even senior Finance Ministry officials choke up when asked how many accounts the Gambia government has. This shouldn’t be. In this 21st century, streamlining public revenue collection (from Ports of entry to Personal, Business, and Property Taxes) and accounting for ‘Completeness’, transparency, and efficiency isn’t hard at all if the capacity and political will is there. In today’s Gambia, this is not the case because Barrow has chosen to put mental patients in charge of our mental asylum: hardened white-collar crooks with a litany of  scandals in their wake are put in charge of our public finances. Talk about entrusting a fox with one’s  chicken coop. Again, Barrow has no intention of upsetting this scandalous arrangement.

12.Electoral reforms were the one topic ALL non-APRC Parties agreed on in 2016. It was also the catalyst for the martyrdom of one Ebrima “Solo Sandeng” Bojang whose name will be immortalized in the  Gambia renewal project a.k.a Third Republic. The current Electoral Commission is only independent in name. With the exception of the short tenure of Chairman Bishop T. Johnson, and current Chairman M.A Njie, the Gambia’s IEC has been dominated by corrupt, incompetent, and morally degenerate “God- fearing” Electoral Commissioners who for two decades willingly connived with Jammeh to bastardize our  electoral system – for financial gain. The “IEC” needs a COMPLETE overhaul. Yet, two and a half years on, Barrow sees no urgency in kick-starting the reforms the Gambian majority demands.

Barrow has clearly chosen to completely abandon or de-prioritized most of these dozen popular issues. Ironically, had he cared to diligently pursue these reforms, most Gambians will be willing to overlook the booty-trap Coalition 2016 MOU to give him a chance at a full ten years in office. Instead, Barrow has violated the ageless Manding adage: “e bul-to nyei, bula e singto nyei yeh” (you let go of the fish you already hold in your hand to try to catch the one that touched your feet!) Not smart at all.

This is the opening salvo in an attempt to avert a needless crisis being primed by an ill-equipped politician with very blurred vision and dwindling humility, but an unhealthy dose of inordinate personal ambition. To keep quiet and watch this avoidable mess to continue is to mortgage one’s conscience. That’s not an option for some of us.

In Part2, we shall look at some home truths Barrow needs to hear at this point, and why his current trajectory is so dangerous to the long-term interest of our country because tragically, while Barrow is busy trying to ‘play’ Gambians, a small group of cunning crooks around him are taking him to the cleaners – at our expense. What a shame!

Ends

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