Oped: The Gambia: Quality of Life Is Function Governance?

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Burama Jammeh

The promises of an independent modern nation state are Dignity, Freedom/Self-Determination and Prosperity. Over the past three-quarter-of-a-century decolonized African nations struggled to realize these promises. From Pan-African leaders to Macky Sally and his boy-sosseh Dr. Adama Barrow (and all those in-between) turned oppressors of their own people while employing national resources to pay for their own lavish lifestyles. Astonishingly, its during almost the same time period most of Western Europe grew from the rubbles/ashes of WW II to become gold-standards of development for the rest of the world. These shortfalls in the aspirations of Africans and particularly Gambians is not for lack of productive resources but largely bad governance.

The Gambia started with less than ½ million people on the roughly 11,000 square kilometer area. Of that area about 1300 square kilometer is water of which about ¾ is fresh throughout a year. In addition, Gambia also enjoys about 750 – 1000mm annual rainfall. Not a bad deal for a start without getting into every weed. One measure of rudimentary living in Gambia is water use – as a nation we used an estimated 30.6 million cubic meters of water annually. The per capita water use is 23.5 cubic meter. Compare this to 163 cubic meters for an average person in Senegal and 1690 cubic meters for a USA person.  The Gambia has an estimated GDP of US$1.1b (roughly GMD55b) by 2018. The average GDP per capita (GDP per person) is US$487.58 (GMD24,379). While the national revenue still falls short GMD10b (roughly US$200m) the national debt ballooned to an estimated 130% of GDP (about GMD71.5b). The 2018 Interest due on the debt was GMD4b to be paid from 2018 national revenue of GMD9.4b. That’s about 43% of national revenue. National revenue of 2019 was estimated at GMD12.8b with a debt interest obligation of GMD2.7b. There is a significant unexplained drop in debt-interest due from 2018. Was there a pay-off some of the principal, or write-off by creditors, or exchange rate fluctuation, and/or drop in interests of loan(s) etc.  While the average Gambian live on less than US$1.90/day (about GMD100/day) the National Debt per capita is D35,750.00. This is the debt burden our government placed on each one of us – and we have no roads, water, electricity, clean streets, etc.

Independence (1965) to date both political and economic powers are hoarded in Banjul with all its negative consequences of corruption, mismanagement, inappropriate decisions, etc. The only participation in governance by the people is casting votes in periodic fraudulent elections.

Gambia’s physical environment have gone from good to worse. Legend has that 100 years ago, Gambia is completely covered with dense forests/woodlands. Today only about 450,000 hectares is left as forest. Of these a good fraction are shrubs and grass savannah. Northern Banks of River Gambia from Kerewan to Sami Tenda Bridge exhibits desert conditions with less than 2 trees per acre. Domestic waste has overwhelmed our abilities to dispose. Such wastes are haphazardly thrown at Bund Road (Banjul), Bakoteh (KMC) and the frequent rotating dust bowls of plastic bags/debris at Brikama Market area. Gambia’s domestic waste are 80-90% bio-degradable that can be simply process into compost/manure for crop horticulture. No! Bad government(s) can’t do or create conditions for good things to happen. Yet our that government established giant offices with our meager resources to combat Climate Change. It’s incomprehensible to imagine a government that failed to clean our streets can combat climate change. For them (government) is not about improving the quality of life of the poor from Kartong to Koina but legalized living-large on their backs. Equally government has since 1978 championed national tree planting but can’t accurately report on progress/failure. Unless something change Gambia is likely run out of wood/wood-products for domestic consumption for construction and heating/cooking shortly. Without appropriate and affordable alternatives, this will further compound the grinding poverty.

Similar critical observations can be made of qualities of our health. Life expectancy in Gambia is about 58 years (WHO April 2011). A chimpanzee in an undisturbed habitat lives longer than 58. Only about 2% of the population lives above 65 years. Sanitary food delivery systems are none existence and/or of no acceptable health standard. Domestic water sources and supplies are neither controlled nor treated. Gambians die of preventable/curable communicable diseases and other illnesses such as liver cancer, diabetes, hypertension, tetanus, stroke, etc.

The sum of Security Cost Centers in the national budget eats-up over ½ of our national revenue annually. Although affording security is a basic fundamental function of a democratic government; Gambia government have failed to protect Gambians and their properties. Over the past 30 years no homicide is/was resolved through normal investigative police/intelligence work. In fact, government reportedly is complicit in most (or all) the homicidal crimes in Gambia. Petty crimes are on the rise.  White collar (economic) crimes are open secret in Banjul and are hardly punished.  On the other hand, there are Police Check Points on average every 3 miles on any main road in Gambia to stop and search our beings/properties. This is an affront to our independence, freedom, civil liberties and dignity. The elaborate security apparatus serves little good for the people but a drain on our meager resources. It intimidates citizens, abuse our civil rights and helps perpetuate the grip of power by the powerful.

The rural urban population drift is the result of lack of appropriate governance arrangement, centralized economic policies, no population policies relating to national development goals and lack of basic essentials in rural Gambia. An estimated 61% of Gambians live from Brikama to Banjul. While the urban setting is congested the cultivable lands in the country are abandoned. This is a recipe of chaos and poverty.

Agriculture employed about 85% of our people or so we said. Yet we’re rapidly giving up production without substitutes, converting agricultural lands into settlements in the urban and semi-urban settings. The little produced are neither processed and/or preserved nor do we have reliable market for the raw products. Research and development haven’t introduced any promising adoptive crop/animal varieties that may better respond to changing conditions.

Beyond the perils in the aforementioned sectors above, let’s examine how the 3 presidents (Jawara, Yahya & Barrow) manage our money. The numbers are different but their attitude with our money is the same. This is the central cause of compounding poverty in The Gambia and not absence of extractable minerals.

Notice the increase in national revenue from D680 million in 1994 to D8,534,000,000 billion in 2017 (in a 23-year spread). Yahya expanded goods/services taxed and raise rates. He also employed very aggressive collection, by creating Gambia Revenue Authorities to manage our monies as his personal equity. Surprisingly the same arrangement is in place with all the loopholes.

The important takeaway of these numbers; our BASIC COSTS EXCEEDS OUR REVENUES. The debt and interest on debt are legal obligations to be paid when due. The bills of government such as personnel emoluments and several recurring costs must be paid on time everytime otherwise chaos ensue.

Abridged National Income/Expenses Matrix (For The Specified Years)
Jawara/1994 Yahya/2017 Barrow/2018 2019/Barrow
INCOME GMD in billions  
 

Tax Revenue

 Non-tax Revenue

 

0.60

0.08

 

7.86

0.67

 

8.50

1.00

 

11.8

1.00

Total National Revenue 0.68 8.53 9.50 12.8
EXPENSES        
 

Personnel emoluments

Recurring costs

 

0.49

0.62

 

2.68

2.80

 

7.51

12.58

 

4.10

5.70

Total Costs of Government 1.11 5.48 20.09 9.80
Debt Interest Servicing 0.13 3.7 4.0 2.7
Cash Before Programs -0.56 -0.646 -13.7 -0.6
PROGRAMS        
Roads

Domestic water

Electricity

Health care

Education

Parks/Amenities

Etc.

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0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

CASH (±)/BUDGET DEFICIT -0.56   -0.646   -13.7  -0.6

 

Notice the exclusion of government stated grant figures in the matrix. Recognition of grant(s) as revenue differ greatly usually depending on the adopted Accounting Principles. Due to several factors accurate accounting of grants is a complex task. Some grants come as technical aid with no direct cash lay-out to government. Others are several year projects with or without determined annual layouts. Some multi-year grants may or may not have any concrete figures attached to future periods. Few are cash deposits to government. These are usually small and/or short term. These are called general grants – government may use them as wish. Furthermore, grants are not necessarily agreed upon in line with national budgets/budgeting time line. Some grants are spontaneous (or respond to events such as floods, droughts, food shortages, etc. In addition, over the last 10-15 years granting and disbursement of grants, especially from EU has significantly changed – bilaterals are becoming a thing of the past and multilateral are increasingly becoming the flavor. The point is that many grants are hard determine with accuracy at budgeting. Simply recognizing every promise of grant as revenue in the national budget will be wrong. Besides general grants, any grant recognize as revenue should be cancel out in the expense column with corresponding donor approved project/program.

All 3 presidents racked up obligatory costs of paying for government and service the interest on national debt that are more than our national revenue – hence the negative balances. Costs of government is an overhead, thus should be kept as low as possible. For Gambia overhead costs shouldn’t be more than 25% of national revenue and strive to go down to 10% – that will be prudent use of taxpayer monies. Costs of government under Jawara was 165%, Yahya’s 64%, Barrow’s 211% (2018) and 77% (2019). Besides these larger overhead costs, Gambia is legally bound to pay interest on national debt when due. The ratio of debt interest due each under review are 19%, 43%, 42% and 21% respectively. Thus, in all our sample years costs of government and national debt interest servicing are more than 100% of national revenue. The programs are marked with zero because there is no money left. To finance any program(s) we will either beg (grants) and/or contract additional loans.

This irresponsible government behavior with our money is the primary cause of compounding poverty in The Gambia. It gets worst each passing year with larger figures involved, swallowing exchange rates and degraded creditworthiness. Gambia is not poor because of no extractable mineral deposits. In fact, up to this point that maybe a blessing in disguise. With past and current inefficiencies, the waste and industrial byproducts of such complex operation would have been an environmental nightmare and possible health hazards.

Gambians have an endemic attitudinal and knowledge deficit regarding governance and public policy matters.  This will not (cannot be) change by simply substituting Jawara with Yahya or Yahya for Barrow or even Barrow with yours truly Burama Jammeh. It will require a complete knowledge, structural, legal and accountability changes with a redefined role and scope of government(s). Those desired changes were clearly articulated throughout our 22-year struggle – reference The General Olusegun Obasanjo Facilitated Interparty Agreement, Opposition Parties Proposal and Demand for Governance and Electoral Reforms issued June 17, 2015, NADD MoU, The Coalition 2016 Agreement and individual Political Party Manifestos.

Three years since Yahya was deposed, it appears we didn’t mean any of what we claimed to have fought for The Coalition 2016 Agreement Said:

  • The flag-bearer (Adama Barrow) shall serve a 3-year transition period focused on democratic reform……. Not concreting River Gambia
  • To develop people-centered republican constitution that facilitate decentralized functioning democratic governance, create enabling environment of prosperity and enhanced civil liberties/freedom
  • Conduct a free and fair elections

Some of these key elements/steps of that reform are:

  1. To define (or redefine) the ROLE and SCOPE of government(s) of Gambia
  1. Allow our people to write their own Republican Constitution (not the government write up the governing contract as in 1997)
  • To decentralize governance – completely restructure government from Banjul to the last hamlet as dictated by our laws, geography and cultures. To disperse management of public power and resources all across our nation. This will foster vertical accountability and as well encourage healthy horizontal competition
  1. To truly Separate Powers of the 3 Co-Equal Branches of government(s). The present arrangement is simply cosmetic. The Executive controls the other 2.
  1. To decentralize election administration. Henceforth election should be managed by Term Limited Regional/District Election Commissioner’s and not politicians. To conduct fresh registration and develop segregated Voter Register based on the new decentralized areas. Either Jawara’s Politically Appointed Divisional Commissioners’ serving as Election Returning Officers and/or Yahya’s hand-pick so-called IEC Commissioners did not meet basic democratic independence standards
  1. ECOWAS should be thanked but send ECOMIG packing. We neither asked help to be occupy, nor to serve as presidential security guard. ECOMIG was to help us chase Yahya out of State House and secure public installations. That was long attained. If Gambian electors cannot guarantee Barrow’s secure and that of government – then he deserves not be our president.
  • Dissolve The Super Security Complex: Gambia do not need NSS/NIA/SIS, Gambia National Army, Gendarmerie, PIU, etc. They are too expensive and are largely affront to our basic freedoms/civil liberties. All we need is a well sized, trained and equipped Police Force broke down in a decentralized command.
  • Divest all State-Owned Enterprises (SEOs). They’re corruption milk-cows. It’s over 35 years when IMF forced conditions gave birth the SOEs. To date none has attained its national goal while they’re massively looted. On the other hand, there’re enough private capital to provide Gambians with quality services at competitive prices. We ought to let government(s) focus on creating conducive enabling investment environment.
  1. Incarceration Centers (Mile 2, Jesuwang and Goergetown) should be renovated/rebuild/improved, etc. Current conditions at these facilities violates human rights at its base. In the meantime, inmates should either be relocated at the emptied-up (from the dissolution of GNAF) military garrisons littered across our country. Free harmless (or rehabilitated) inmates – locking up undeserved is an unnecessary economic burden to the taxpayers. The criminal justice system ought to be immediately reform to eliminate all (most) the human right abuse pitfalls in the current system from the 1st contact with Law Enforcement Officer to the 1st day at court. The current system essentially strip one off ‘Presumption of Innocence’ while making Law Enforcement Officer jury, Judge and Executioner. This is unacceptable!
  1. Justice for Abused Victims: We know many people’s basic human rights were abused. We also know several (or many) people died at contact with certain public officials or in government custody. Some seemingly mysteriously disappeared (or vaporized in thin air). We will have to invest in our Police Force to have tools to be able to put together evidence to prosecute those respond of these heinous crimes to the full extent of laws of The Gambia. The Dr. TRRC is a joke and mockery to basic justice for all. ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ – hence we will let our legal experts see if those respond of such delays may have violate any law(s).
  1. Facilitate an unadulterated Civic Education that will make Governments of The Gambia a certification requirement from Primary/Grade 1 to undergraduate school at UTG. The none school going population can be reach through several mediums such as TVs/Radios, NGOs, CBOs, etc.

Thereafter, all presidential aspirants can seek the presidency in a free and fair election.

The path Dr. Barrow is shepherding us is nothing new. Adama Barrow ONLY want to stay in power as long as possible. He’s not interested in democratic changes and don’t probably know what they are. Developing he’s so-called National Development Plan is no different from Jawara’s Singaporean Dream and/or Yahya’s Vision 2020 – far those wishful laundry lists got us after all these years? Adama Barrow hiring/firing chiefs and alikalos are no different from Yahya’s and is no excuse because they were appointed by the later. Our goal was to correct the wrongs of our political past and not to haphazardly repeat them because are creations of the predecessor. The government is larger today than December 01, 2016 with costs more than we can afford. Public corruption and nepotism are open secrets. On and on…… The outcome of these silly political grandstanding for more than half-a-century of self-governing are – over 50% of our people live below our own designated poverty line, similar numbers are illiterate (cannot read/write), we all walk through mosquito/frog fill potholes, we pick domestic waste at one point and throw at another, we’re even running out space to bury our death, Gambians are sicker today than February 18, 1965, etc. Above all we are largely deprived of basic freedoms/civil liberties through intrusive stops, searches, other coercive tactics, etc.

Let us not fall for it this time around. Let us stop Barrow at 3 years as agreed. Let us DECREE A TEMPORARY COUNCIL OF GOVERNORS (selected group – no president at this period) THAT WILL OVERSEE DEMOCRATIC REFORMS while ensuring basic functions of government. Let’s call a National Conference on Democracy of stakeholders to map out an Action Plan for our match to FUNCTIONING INSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY.  Let’s do the desired reforms within 3 years before a general election

We can do this!

3-years Jotna! #Barrow has to Go!

Burama FL Jammeh

Economist/Financial Analyst

 

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