Op-Ed: The Gambia Part II: The Roles and Scope of Government


Brighton Essay 10

Part II: The Roles and Scope of Government

The civic debate on the roles and scope of ‘The Government of A Functioning Independent Democratic Republic of the Gambia’ in The 21st Century are no longer inescapable.

1) That at the dawn of independent nationhood we were more concern with sovereignty than roles/scope of government

2) That concept of a nation-state was by and large different to our cultures and traditions. Our governments failed to teach and culture those concepts. For 52 years nation-state and government remained locally foreign. Our participation was cosmetic.

3) That the ultimate GOAL of our struggle was to “Make Gambia A Functioning Institutional Democratic’ within which change of president is A MEANS TO THE END AND NOT THE END

The roles of government are what we want our government(s) to be/to do and/or to be responsible. The scope of government(s) is the SIZE (how widespread) our government(s) to be/to do and/or to be responsible. The two are different but not mutually exclusives.

The roles and scopes are important for 3 main reasons:

i) Costs: The larger the roles and/or size (widespread) governmental functions the more it costs taxpayers. Government is an OVERHEAD. In very investment, a rational investor wants to reduce overheads in order to maximize RETURN ON INVESTMENT. There’s nothing different here that Gambian taxpayers want more of their taxes to service their needs than tight up in operational bills of The Government

ii) Limiting Space for Civil Liberties, Freedoms and Human Rights: The more of government into anything the less of such in the private space. For instance for time immemorial we pray Eid al Adha (Tobaski) based on moon sighting. Once government gets involve they will ask us to pray on their defined time which may or may not fit our moon sighting traditions. There are so many such examples – circumcision, marriage, sexual orientation, investment opportunities, mandatory schooling/education, etc.

iii) Crowd-out Prosperity: Excessive governmental involvement in many of societies routine activities CROWD-OUT the space for prosperity. When the rule-maker of the game is at the same time a player; more often than not the game is rigged in her favor. For instance Gamtel/Gamcel can’t fairly compete with private telecommunications investments. Government(s) does not always rely on the Return of Investment to advance. Often when they fall they tax, throw good money on bad and move on. A private business doesn’t have such luxury hence an inbuilt efficiency. Profits, efficiencies and effectiveness breed prosperity and flushes out mediocre. Another good example of effectiveness/efficiency – when we home we pick and choose what we do or not. When we move to USA/Europe and outside of Gambia we do everything including dishwashing, cleaning, adult nursing cares, security guard, etc. I started my America venture as a Security Guard. I won’t do that in Banjul even if I stay unemploy.

Government is not a Quranic/Biblical sanction. Government is the creation of mankind to fairly, effectively and efficiently manage our collective affairs in a nation-state, body and/or some kind of collective undertaking. Man understood government is necessary because certain needs/wants are individually prohibitive at cost and/or practically impossible such as an army, schools, hospitals, roads, etc.

Thus the roles and scope are not given (static/constant) but a function our needs/wants. The task of every government is to service the needs/wants of her membership/country. Here every reference of government is a government of an independent democratic republic with a free capitalistic/market society.

When The Gambia became independent in 1965 we were only about 350,000 people. Today our population is estimated anywhere from 1.8 million to 2 billion people. Most certainly our wants/needs are not static and must have changed with other changes such as population.

Now what/how do you think population changes affects the roles and scope of our government?

In order to appreciate this question lets review some of the things that our government(s) has engaged on since 1965.

1) Security/Protection & Law and Order: This is the primary role of a government of a democratic republic. Thus we expect the government(s) of The Gambia to ensure the provision of such service to the fullest. However there are many nuances in this role that need another look. This was partly why I stated early government is not Allah/God sanctioned. Do we need National Army, Gendarmerie, Police, Police Intervention Unit, Coast Guard, etc. Logic, commonsense, our geography and economics says no – we do not need all of these to the protected and secured. Even if you argue we need them how good do they protect us – since July 22, 1994 100s or 1000s of killings, disappearances, unaccounted persons, etc. cases remained unsolved and over 50% of our tax revenue go to just keep these institutions afloat. If we apply reasonable person judgment we can protect our people/property at lower costs and unrestricted freedoms/civil liberties

2) Works and Communication: This has 2 main components each of which in my view are redundant for today’s Gambia

i) Works was supposed to be about road constructions/repairs, supply public facilities including schools and hospitals with furniture and other fittings. They’ve failed and we still pawning up tax money into it. Stop it! Lay-off all employment directly related to these functions. Divest equipment and real estate. These savings plus budgetary allocations can be cheaply used to contract independent/private businesses to accomplish those tasks. Such contracting has efficient multiplier effect to create more jobs, more taxes, more goods and services hence improve our GDP.

ii) Communication & Information – essentially Gamtel/Gamcel/Radio Gambia and old Printing Department. Not sure if the later even exist anymore. At the dawn of independent nation hood our government can argue the need for government to provide such services. Today we are far removed from those days and conditions. In addition government continued to make information laws, producing and disseminating information is an ABSOLUTE CONTROL that not only crowd-out private sector participation but more important controls what we see or hear. Very undemocratic borderline tyranny!

3) Religious Affairs, Women’s Affairs, Youths, Climate Change, etc. Lets start with Youth Ministry. Besides educational needs/development which is appropriately covered under Education Ministry what is this Unit/Department doing in reality that deserve the costs of maintaining and running those offices and paying personnel? Again what do we do specifically for women that are different and important that we have to create a Ministry? What about girls, men/boys, disable, etc.? Climate change is another trouble undertaking. Yes climate maybe (maybe not) changing but what can we do or even contribute as small Gambia. So why not focus on Environment Sanitation/Health, Forestry and things we can affect – probably that will considerably reduce malaria incidence and improve the overall local environmental quality for the immediate inhabitants. The costs of attending endless seminars/workshops for a poor nation like us should always be weighed against the direct benefit of poor taxpayers. For our religious practices/believes simply stay out. They do not contravene common laws so why government injecting herself. The same concerns are over government interference on Circumcision, marriage, etc.

4) Local Government, Lands and Trees. Ok! I added trees there because tree and land tenure in Gambia is redundant. Land in some cases/areas can be privately own but all naturally grown trees are publicly owned including those on private land. This would legally need some cleaning up otherwise we all break laws at one time or another. The bigger question here though is better address by DECENTRALIZATION. Should Banjul continue to govern our REGIONS through politically appointed Governors? Or should we elect our own local governments to manage our regions based on regional needs/wants? The later is better and am sure when explain would be the preferred option. In such an arrangement the role of Banjul and Region governments will be defined and as well agreed on certain proportional resource allocation. This will redundant the Banjul Ministry. This will spread projects across our land. It will increase accountability since different ends will be interested in what’s been done at the other ends. It will discourage the rural-urban drift that has in more recent years costs us all kinds of problems – crime, congestion, environmental concerns, poverty, etc.

5) Planning and Good Governance: This is just created by The Barrow administration. Is insane to say the least. The whole structure of a 3-prong democratic government is for good governance. The apportioning into specialty areas such as Ministries, Departments, Sectors/Units, Agencies, etc. is to tap into appropriate skills for planning and implementation. Thus, the question we have – what would Ministry of Planning be planning? How would they ensure good governance? Please cut it out. The monies you are just put in charges are own by people who have very chronic needs to better their living standards. Any money spend on wages/salaries, pay bills, etc. beyond what’s necessary is simply impoverishing our people. They deserve better!

6) Public Corporations and Agencies: They used to be under central government as Education Department, Health, etc. It was because of chronic inefficiencies, incompetence’s and corruption they had to be carved out as a condition of Work bank/IMF Economic Restructuring Program (ERP). In the early going (late 80s/early 90s) Gamtel was 2nd to none in our region. Today try calling a landline – good luck. Gamcel is no better – drop call, static reception, etc. TV is probably the worst in the region. The books are not appropriately audited in a long time. They are not meeting their contractual obligations of paying dividends to the people. Surprisingly Gamtel/Gamcel are better because they still exist. GPTC is long gone! GUC/NAWEC badly limping! Pray and hope SSHFC pay your retirement contribution when due. GPA is probably operationally better than all but that is because of the structure of that business. The revenue side is equally bad or worst. Sadly they steal every within reach from fellow Gambians who struggled elsewhere in cold winter days/nights. The Customs & Excise seem to have their own rules what to charge and what should be paid to the public. GRA is only (supposed to be) a collecting agency, yet they will pay themselves annual parties out of the poor’s taxes. This is madness!

7) Central Bank, Economic Affairs, Finance, Regional Integration and Trade: These are all important aspects of government. What does that mean? The policy, laws, informational and control aspects are important roles of government than spear heading the drives in some of these areas. Besides Central Bank’s control of commercial banking its vital role is directly the national monetary policies – money supply/open market operations, discount rate, and maintenance of reserve requirements. Although Finance and Accounting are different disciplines one coin one offices with 2-arms should suffice here. What do a whole Ministry of Trade do? Our trade policies/agreements – bilateral or multilateral? Noticed they’ve thrown in here Regional Integration – what’re the roles of Foreign Affairs. Here the issues are more of reorganization than redundancy. Although within that reorganization lots of fat can be strip-off and thrown away.

8) Petroleum and Energy: Please give them a table at Environment. The hope there maybe enough oil deposits in Gambian water to explore is not good enough to open up a whole Ministry. It’s over half a century Banjul surrounded by water is without 24/7 clean domestic water supply.

9) Etc.

The above are just my selection! We can surgically review every intervention of our government – not hard to find waste, fraud and absolute redundancies.

No doubt our government is seriously TOO BIG for the purpose. That means it costs us too much more than necessary. These increases are not accidental. Government want to control every aspect of our lives hence justify taking over anything they could as NECESSITE and/or GUARANTEE. Each of those rationalizations has minimal truth in reality.

The traditional/essential roles of a democratic government are necessary because those functions are either prohibitively expensive for individuals/groups to provide and/or impossible. Government as guaranteed (or guarantor) of anything is a fallacy at best. Government will provide water; electricity or telecommunications services will never be done efficiently and/or effectively. It will only be there in some form because they will always create some taxation scheme to throw on bad projects/programs. The effects on the people are impoverishment and no good services. As a society government will continually seize (TAXATION) portions of the fruits of our labor. The afterward-inefficient re-allocations of capital impoverish everyone. This is the our cycle of poverty!

If and when we embark on a TRUE REFORM of GOVERNMENT, GOVERNANCE and DECENTRALIZATION, I hope our actions/inactions will be dictated by our experiences over the last 52 years:

a) What we want our governments to be/to do

b) How much does it costs? How much money do we have?

c) How would those roles and scope restrict/expand our civil liberties/freedom

d) Would governmental injection into those areas of society usher prosperity and/or restrict it?

Changing/amending one constitutional provision for another will not do it. Cutting out or adding a government Ministry/Department/Agency also wont do it. Nor would internally rearranging the deck of card would do it. Anything done internally by one government can be similarly undo by successor governments


This will require HOLLISTIC REFORM by the people and not the sitting government. This can best achieve through A NATIONAL PARTICIPATORY undertaking. Please consider the creation/establishment of A NATONAL GOVERNMENT; GOVERNANCE and DECENTRALIZATION TASK FORCE/COMMISSION.

God Bless Gambia; To The Gambia Ever True

By Burama Jammeh




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