Dispiriting levels of incompetence, cluelessness and lack of vision are hallmarks of two years of the Barrow government

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Dr. Omar Janneh

In general, 22 years of brutal dictatorship has given us ample time to know the kind of change we have longed for in The Gambia. In 2016, we removed the dictator and replaced him with a “Coalition President” who we thought would bring in hope and transformative change so that we can begin the process of building a new Gambia based on sound and sustainable economic principles. But if we take some selfish considerations aside, I think there is a general realisation, either in private or in public that President Barrow is not the kind of leader we hoped he would be. He is a weak, clueless, visionless, greedy, and a dishonest President. Given what we now know, it is a mystery how the nomination of the Coalition flag-bearer by the Coalition Partners produced such an awfully weak outcome. Perhaps this outcome was either the result of 1) democracy of sorts – that most who may be able to do a better job do not engage in politics, so there was not much to choose from; 2) that the nominating members have a strong affinity for mediocrity; or 3) it was due to the incapacity of the nominating members to identify substance, i.e., some essential criteria such as the kind of core leadership qualities, abilities, vision, maturity and character we needed in the flag-bearer to actualise the stated goals and strategic objectives of their own Coalition 2016 MOU. Thus, while the aspirations of the Coalition 2016 MOU are admirable, the Coalition Partners seemed to have paid no regard to the kind of leader they needed to achieve them. Still, we are grateful that they came together and got rid of Jammeh. This was a team spirit that could only be achieved with Mr. Ousainou Darboe not having taken part in the discussions.

After 2 years of bad governance, it is my view that most people are losing faith in the Barrow government’s capacity to actualise the Coalition 2016 MOU or even attempt to deal with The Gambia’s problems. Our situation is particularly problematic because we lack principled individuals with the correct moral attitudes in government and within some government-supported institutions. Upon being appointed, most individuals assume the dehumanised posture while also sitting on the mute button getting drunk and fat on milk and honey at the expense of those they are meant to serve. Over the last 24 months, President Barrow and his government’s efforts have been consumed by working out how to overstay in power and also flirting with low impact projects such as the setting up of expensive commission of inquiries. I do not think that one has to be Albert Einstein to know what the recommendations of some of these inquiries would be, which the government will not be able to implement. And for some of the inquiries, there would have to be other cycle(s) of long and costly investigations, court cases and backed by a strong leadership and a good dose of political will before anything can be realised. Indeed, time will tell if the recommendations of the Faraba Banta Commission and the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation’s investigations will be implemented and over what period. The ongoing Janneh Commission and the TRRC will continue to cost much and deliver little or nothing. They will be the most expensive means to get to the so-called truths. As I write, some supposedly highly qualified [conflicted]individual(s) are receiving training abroad and being paid unjustifiable allowances whilst many well-deserving victims and victim’s families continue to live in pain and misery. If this is what this government and our supposedly educated and or sophisticated men and women call justice and or can offer, then we have a very, very long way to go still.

While the $50 million Chinese-sponsored road and bridge projects in URR may be worthy of note, we must also bear in mind that sooner or later our lousy and clueless politicians will give back to the Chinese much valued resources of ours, if only we know the value of our resources. Look, we must realise that there is no such thing as free lunch. And for a poor country like ours, does it not worry us that the laying of the foundation stones for the road and bridge projects in URR seems wasteful, both in time and money? If the Barrow government is serious about development, it will be important if it also thinks about developing the agricultural sector in tandem with the building of the road/bridge so that the communities served by the road/bridge may become economically buoyant. In case it is not obvious to all, there is probably nowhere in The Gambia, including our (smelly) capital city that does not need a new road. But within 5 years of constructing any new road in The Gambia, that road becomes almost worse than it was before it was supposedly constructed. As I see it, part of our problem is that we bring other people to fix our roads, but we seem to have no one at home to maintain them. By the way, this is no anti-foreigner or immigrant sentiment, but a suggestion that must be part of our strategic plans to help address our development needs. [It is true that Jammeh built schools and hospitals, but it is debatable if academic standards and treatment outcomes have improved during the Jammeh years.] Thus it is my view that we must not only see development as something we can see and touch. We must also think about developing from the ground up. If we train Gambians to solve as many of our problems as possible, they may work in The Gambia and spend their money in The Gambia. In my view, that may be a win-win strategy with considerable trickle down effects. The Gambia Armed Forces and the SIS suck up a lot of our resources for no obvious gain, but pain – after all, Jammeh was a product of it. The Defence Ministry should be abolished and the army should be reformed, and retrained so that these strong individuals and all of us can help build The Gambia.

Other events in President Barrow’s diary in 2019 are the upcoming inauguration of the TransGambia Bridge in January 2019 and he also promised the construction of the OMVG hydro-electric power station which will connect some communities in Jarra, Kiang through to Brikama in 2019. It is unlikely that this project will materialise during President Barrow’s term in office, but if it did, he cannot possibly take absolute credit for it. Readers who are old enough or those who do a bit of research would learn that discussions about the OMVG hydro-electro power started during the first republic and the conversations about it continued during the Jammeh years. For now, we wait for the completion and publication of the environmental impact assessment of the OMVG project, which remains “too uncertain to fully evacuate the consequences of the dam on ecosystems and their environmental services.” But as we have abundant sunlight, solar power may be a worthy consideration should the environmental concerns over the hydroelectric power station outweigh the benefits. We need an able leadership to be able to make this choice, for the sake of generations yet unborn. Furthermore, we may need to radically rethink the environmental impact of our somewhat unregulated land sales within the context of our future development needs in order to benefit from the OMVG hydro-electric power project, if not now, but in the future.

 

For quite some time, we have wanted President Barrow to come out and say something. The self-declared Coalition’s Noah’s ark, seems to have now found his voice and has now called himself a bus driver. During the campaign season, President Barrow assured us that he would save us 100 percent from drowning, and this gave us much reason for optimism. Perhaps for some good reason– e.g., the embarrassing speech in Turkey, it seems he has abandoned the use of his campaign slogan, Noah’s vessel. Anyhow, we now wonder what embarrassing dumb things he might drown us in whenever he opens his mouth. By the way, it is alleged that President Barrow is drowning in paperwork and is looking to hire someone yet again to help him, which begs the question: if he has no capacity to keep up to speed with the business of government, how he can save us from drowning? Some of us may not doubt his enthusiasm to want to lead us, but he has no political maturity and commitment to do the job. Simply put, the man is dangerously clueless. But some self-serving individuals who seem to know our problems more than we can possibly know ourselves may even argue that President Barrow’s dreams for The Gambia will be realised if we remain patient, but how does a weak, unprincipled, insincere and second-rate leader such as President Barrow who also has no capacity to identify good from ugly realise the dreams of a nation? And dreams are never realised by just dreaming! We know now that President Barrow and his team are clueless and know not and shall not know how to serve us; they will deepen the national humiliation the longer they remain in office. Indeed, an observation of the events in the last 2-3 months would reveal that the energy of the Barrow government will now continue to be sucked up by infighting between him and Mr. Darboe. My guess is that the equivalent of a political earthquake may soon happen for the UDP. Indeed the reappearance of the PPP may even make the occurrence of the political earthquake of the UDP more certain, in that the UDP may no longer be the dominant party in The Gambia. Such a scenario may potentially make the likelihood of a coalition flag-bearer or coalition government after the next elections quite high. Meanwhile, the infighting between President Barrow and Mr. Darboe may cause both of them (and some of their sympathisers) to be further detached from the pains of ordinary Gambians, which they (President Barrow and Mr. Darboe) may never have had any affinity for or have long lost it if they ever had it. Thus the sense of frustration, helplessness and hopelessness may deepen for ordinary Gambians which may have the potential to boil over.

The recently revised and approved, but grossly flawed supplementary appropriation 2018 bill of more that D500 million, which represents about half of what was previously presented and rejected, suggests that most of our NAMs, Justice Minister (Mr. Abubacarr M. (Ba) Tambedou), Chief Justice (Mr. Hassan Bubacarr Jallow), Finance and Economic Affairs Minister (Mamburay Njie, a witness at the Janneh Commission) and the Speaker of the House (Lawyer Mariam Jack-Denton) may not be familiar with the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia, in particular the sections on Voting in the National Assembly (section 106) and Public Finance (sections 150-154) or that they chose to ignore these constitutional provisions. The wrongs with this supplementary appropriations 2018 bill run very, very deep and we already know that many of the budget lines are not good value for money; the bill never received the scrutiny it deserved and the Speaker of the House, as clearly stated in section 106 of the 1997 Constitution, has no business whatsoever voting on the matter to break the deadlock. But as we have seen in the setting up of some commissions, we seem to have no regard for impartiality; even those who should know better generally seem to have a strong affinity for doing things the clumsy mediocre way. We must speak with one voice and condemn the unlawful approval of the supplementary 2018 bill until it is reversed. The public must demand that our weak NAMs find their moral backbone and pass a vote of censure (section 75) for the removal of Mr. Mamburay Njie, Mr. Ba Tambedou, Mr. Hasssan Baboucarr Jallow and Ms. Mariam Jack-Denton for their inability to perform the functions of the post we pay them for is unforgiven. As we try to come to terms with that, we must not forget to also speak against the use of the services of international debt advisors to help manage our towering debt problem. Has Mr. Mamburay Njie declared any interests in this firm and does this not further underscore the fact that Mr. Mamburay Njie is totally clueless and must be removed? There are ways to manage our sovereign debt without the services of expensive consultants. And just to complete the job, we must hold the insincere and greedy President Barrow to the Coalition agreement of 3 years by demanding that he steps aside in 2019 so that we can hold elections. It is up to us the citizens to make this happen because most of the Coalition Partners seem to be displaying tendencies of political prostitution, parasitism, insincerity and or lack the morality to demand that President Barrow honours the Coalition 2016 MOU. Besides, there is not yet a credible opposition with the correct moral posture that can also push for the Coalition agreement to be observed.

Some will argue that President Barrow inherited a bankrupt state, and that we must give him time. But his government’s attitude (e.g. the lavish travels, and the possible cost associated with the laying of the foundation stones of the project in URR, and so on) towards a stretched treasury is most out of kilter with what they tell us about the state of our public funds. If indeed the coffers are/were empty, it is unclear why they spend what we have not got. Leadership is about sacrifice, living within one’s means and not at the expense of those that need serving. For example, how does President Barrow, already living off the state, justify an increase in his salary which is currently about D170,000 per month when the cost of a bag of rice is more than the monthly salary/income of most Gambians? President Barrow and his team are neither in touch with the Coalition 2016 MOU nor with the reality of Gambia’s problems, the pains of Gambians and they do not possess the skills, and vision to deal with them. Instead of working to address the admirable goals and strategic objectives of the Coalition 2016 MOU and the Coalition manifesto, President Barrow and his team are busy politicking and sleeping with former Jammeh loyalists with a view to overstaying. Is it not true that one can evaluate the character of a leader (or anyone for that matter) by the type of company they keep? The reality is that having Mr. Darboe as President will not help solve The Gambia’s problems, but worsen them. There are not many people who would beat him to the top spot as the most awful team player. Since his release from prison, he continues to look frail, more indecisive, forgetful, and incoherent. He must go and get himself checked over as soon as possible. And the sooner he distances himself from President Barrow, the better for him – it may be humiliating to have him fired by President Barrow.

If we think about country first, we may come to the realisation that 2 years is long enough for anyone to learn on the job, but some people cannot both learn and be trained. Therefore, we must take the wheels off Barrow’s bus in 2019 before it crashes into the rocks. The Gambia needs a visionary and capable leadership with a strong determination to recalibrate the government’s priorities and bring about the transformative and dignified development we deserve; we can do better.

 

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