By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
Civil Society Organisation, Gambia Participates (GP) held a Covid 19 briefing last week with stakeholders from the Government, Civil Society and the media. The dialogue provided a rare opportunity for open dialogue which journalists seized with both hands as they interrogated the transparency of the Government’s Covid 19 expenditure.
The meeting featured delegates from the Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA), an Official from the National Audit’s Office, Civil Society Organisations and members of the media who disagreed on the level of transparency of the Government’s Covid 19 expenditure. GP Executive Director, Marr Nyang asked two questions before he started his presentation which sparked contrasting opinions from Journalists and Officials of the GPPA.
Impact of Covid 19 on the Economy
GP Executive Director, Marr Nyang asked delegates to share their perspective on the impact of Covid 19 on the Gambia’s Budget? Mr Nyang asked, “what have you felt during the Covid 19 Pandemic and the impact it has had on the Economy and more specifically the Budget?”
In response, the Vice President of the Gambia Press Union (GPU), Muhammed MS Bah highlighted that “the Covid 19 has hampered one of the biggest sectors of our economy if you look at Tourism according to statistics it constitutes 22% of our GDP. Not only our national economy but individual economy. According to the statistics, almost more than D20 Billion has been lost in that sector and many are rendered jobless.”
“If you also look at the business sector, I think Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry did an assessment of the sector in the early days of Covid 19 in the country where they assessed 300 businesses both in the formal and the informal sector so you can see that many of those businesses who were just coming up SMEs cannot continue because of Covid 19.”
“So many are jobless, many businesses have gone down and remember if businesses go down obviously it will reflect on our national budget because Government gets money from tax and tax revenue is one of the biggest revenue in the budget. So, this is definitely a problem.”
Is there Transparency on Covid 19 Funds?
After this response, Mr Nyang asked delegates, “do you feel there has been transparency in the management of Covid 19 Funds?”
Chronicle Newspaper Journalist, Omar Faye responded to say “as a journalist that’s the part that the Government is really not doing much because really, we have seen so many reports being put out there by the media with regards to some of the issues that the Government is not doing well.”
“We’ve seen the Malagen story that revealed the lack of breakdown of the Covid 19 Funds. So, I don’t think there is transparency on the side of the Government and this is something that is really derailing our country in terms of how the Government is responding to the issue of Covid 19 but also how the Government is responding to what the Citizens are asking with regards to the funds that are being used to fight the Covid 19.”
“So, on the side of the Government, there is a total lack of transparency and I believe it’s high time the government comes out and tells us how exactly the money has been spent on Covid 19 because still now these are questions that remain unanswered. So, to my side, there is no transparency.”
In reaction to this submission, Mr Buba Jatta, an official of the Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA) disagreed with the submission by Mr Faye that “there is no transparency from Government”.
In his submission, Mr Jatta highlighted that “GPPA as an authority responsible to regulate all public procurement in this country we had a sitting at the Covid 19 Committee. However, I am privy to say these things right now. As far as I am concerned and GPPA is concerned there is transparency in Covid 19 procurements because that’s the area that I can talk of.”
“I and my colleague here, we sit in so many committees to make sure that whatever the Ministry of Health their procurement is in line with the procurement laws. However, those laws we crash with them sometimes some transactions we even disapproved. Some, of course, we approved in line with the law.”
“So as far as GPPA is concerned Covid 19 Procurement transactions of course are transparent. I am saying this because I am in the Committee. I remember some months ago when Covid was at the peak level there is this drug that is called Heparin. Doctors realised that if they gave that drug to the Covid 19 patients they improved.”
“So of course, they suggested that to the committee what can you do so that we can have that drug in bulk. GPPA gave immediate approval to procure those drugs immediately because if patients take that drug, [they] would recover very fast. And lots of technical advice that were given to the committee to make sure that of course, our Covid 19 rate in terms of procurement are at a fast rate. So as far as I’m concerned, I can say that of course, Covid 19 procurement is of course transparent.”
In response to this GPU Vice President MS Bah highlighted that “I think definitely transparency with regards to Government is very limited. That is the fact. Even the National Assembly is struggling to get adequate information with regards to Covid 19. This is a household issue that has been known. It’s public.”
“The transparency has to go beyond just telling us that you’ve spent D500 million. You’ve bought five ambulances, etc but how much is going to each ambulance? How much is going to quarantine? How much is going to drugs? These are people’s money. My money your money it’s coming from taxpayers so this is the reality it’s inadequate.”
The next story will look at the issue of food procurement which was displayed at Maccarthy Square barely 24 hours after an advertisement for the procurement of emergency food items. Gainako’s Yusef Taylor questioned GPPA Officials to clarify the public’s concern that the procurement process had not concluded but the food items were on display causing many to question if the correct procedures were being followed.
Watch the live stream of the Covid 19 Briefing event here.