By Madi Jobarteh
Once again, the issue of loans to NAMs confirms that this country is yet to create system change by updating our laws in order to modernise our institutions and practices hence strengthening the good governance of this Republic as a democracy. For example, it is Section 95 of the Constitution that talks about the ‘remuneration and allowances’ of the members of the National Assembly. It says such remuneration and benefits shall be decided by an act of the National Assembly.
The only law that talks about the salaries, pensions and gratuity of NAMs is the ‘National Assembly Salaries and Pensions Act’. But this law does not mention loans to NAMs. Furthermore, this law is outdated because Schedule 1 of the law gives the exact figures for the salaries of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Majority and Minority leaders and Members. Yet the figures given there are not the same amount as in the 2021 budget. This means the salaries of NAMs as set in the 2020 or 2021 budgets, and indeed any other budget, are illegal as far as this Act is concerned. Yet it is four years since we have an elected President and elected NAMs and none of who ever took time to address the issue of the salaries, pensions and benefits of NAMs.
Therefore, one would have thought that Hon. Ya Kumba Jaiteh and indeed each and every NAM would have concerned themselves with these issues in order to better situate our National Assembly as the apex accountability and governance institution in the country. Unfortunately, our NAMs did not only fail to do so but some would go further to propose and support millions of dalasi loans for themselves at a time when the country is highly indebted and painfully impoverished by bad governance since Independence to date.
I totally oppose the idea of loans to elected public officials such as the President, NAMs, Mayors, Chairpersons and Councillors, especially on the argument that appointed public servants do receive such incentives. Appointed public servants could spend their entire life in office as career public servants. But elected officials serve only on the basis of terms hence the focus should be to ensure that while serving their term they enjoy all necessary and ethical benefits except loans. This is to protect elected officials from being trapped by loans such that it might undermine their functions. Given the role of elected bodies as oversight, approving, law-making and accountability institutions, loans can undermine their independence, objectivity and integrity.
While it is true that all workers must have the necessary incentives to live decent lives, public office must not be seen and designed to serve oneself more than the ordinary citizen who are already reeling under poverty and deprivation due to the failure of elected and appointed public servants. Thus, the incentives public officials obtain must be measured by being reasonable and justifiable lest citizens feel cheated and hold that public office is an avenue to serve only oneself! That would tantamount to corruption and abuse of office. It will make citizens lose trust and confidence in the Government and its officials hence pose a threat to national security.
This loan proposal from Hon. Jaiteh and sadly supported by the majority of NAMs is utterly unreasonable, unnecessary, unaffordable and unethical. This is because the need to build homes for NAMs is not a national priority and indeed not even a matter of personal urgency for the NAMs themselves. No NAM is currently homeless while others have more than one home. But the majority of Gambian workers do not have personal homes while most homes lack basic structures and facilities. To now have NAMs request D54 million to build their own homes is to tell citizens that the National Assembly and politics in general is about self-aggrandizement.
The unreasonableness and unaffordability of this loan is the fact that the National Assembly election is on 9th April 2022 which is 16 months away. Hence on what basis could a public official contract a loan of nearly a million dalasi to pay within 16 months and still remain financially viable? None of the NAMs can guarantee that they will return to the Assembly in 2022, including Hon. Ya Kumba Jaiteh as a Nominated Member. Or is it that the plan is when NAMs take this loan they will not pay back? Would that not amount to defrauding the Gambian people?
Furthermore, the ticket to the National Assembly should not include the desire to build one’s home or build personal fortunes. That would be to reinforce the widely held believe that politics is about selfish interest, and not national interest. Thus, this proposal has the tendency to severely corrupt and weaken our National Assembly hence weaken the Republic as a whole as a failed State. With this proposal succeeding, the tendency for the next Assembly to also propose a loan for themselves would be hard to deny because a terrible precedence has already been set.
Compared to the rest of the Gambian populace, NAMs indeed enjoy huge salaries and benefits. One needs to only look at the budget to realise the many allowances that they carry such as car, house rent, transport and sitting allowances as well as per diems when they go on trek. Furthermore, NAMs are paid transport allowances when they go to workshops and other meetings. Hence the life of a NAM is a very privileged one in the Gambia. How on earth therefore could NAMs demand a loan of such magnitude at the very end of their term?
Even though this loan proposal was approved, I strongly hold that it is illegal and unethical and must not be implemented. Neither the Constitution nor the National Assembly Salaries and Pensions Act provide loans to NAMs. While NAMs have the power to review the budget estimates before them, the Constitution did not state that they can inject budget lines for personal loans. The budget is a national cake and there is no space for personal cake.
As a young NAM, Ya Kumba bears a sacred and historic duty to see to it that high values and standards are set in our governance institutions and practices. This is the legacy a young lawmaker should strive for and not to seek to succumb to that aged-old self-serving politics. Therefore, I demand Hon. Jaiteh to endeavour by all means to reverse this loan proposal with immediate effect. Her decision is utterly ill-advised and misplaced and needs to be reversed ASAP!
For The Gambia Our Homeland