‘I have a dream’– A development agenda for The Gambia

A common saying comes to mind now – nature abhors a vacuum. All these proposals must be operated within a certain context and environment –i.e. availability of a practical and efficient governing (not governance) framework, supportive institutional capacity and rigorous and vigorous policies. These three factors are the supporting pillars of a good development programme. The governing framework needs a soul-searching consideration. As earlier mentioned, we have earned ourselves a global attention and have aroused a great deal of hope in the unique way we have handled our change. That gives us the opportunity of whispering aloud our proposals to keenly listening ears of the international community and development partners. The political framework utilised in achieving the current dispensation was indeed highly commendable that worked effectively. It was not a small measure of creativity.

However, it would appear to me that such creativity could be effective and relevant for the spur of the moment and may, if not is, proving to be an impeding factor in the swiftness of decision making – a factor so important under our current circumstances of the need for urgency and clarity of vision. We were able to formulate an abstention method of coalition that allowed all political parties to withhold their candidacy and support a single candidate called an independent who, for all intents and purposes comes from one of these parties. To my mind, the effectiveness of this approach should be limited to the expediency of the situation which was political. We are in a new environment of economic expediency which certainly requires a different framework of a governing body.

The current structure can at best be a ‘governing’ by a “Council” (than a traditional Cabinet) – by the competing leaders of political parties aspiring to be president. That may have its benefits for the specific purpose as outlined above but could have its down side as an inappropriate framework of swift decision making and the accelerated and more responsive formulation of policy. Policy clarity, formulation and programming of development, like investment, requires predictability and the ease of identification of the center of authority and an appropriate decision making process. Otherwise we can end up with getting conflicting signals and responses that can elude proper interpretation.

Consultation is alright in governance but assertiveness is a compulsory ingredient; it strengthens the role of directing and coordination. Such assertiveness or lack of it is most effectively observed from outside when it gives or fails to give very clear and unambiguous policy decisions, particularly on issues of public concern which we will so much continue to require in our present state of unsettled governance framework. That’s the reality of political leadership – as an institution. Of late, there is a visible improvement interactions and clarification of matters of public concern. Although these are mainly reactive, nonetheless, they indicate to the public a process of confidence building and a gradual show of a center of authority. I would not extend this debate beyond a statement of an opinion that we need a more robust form of governing than by the existence of a “Council”. You may note that the desire of having a similar framework was previously expressed in extending the concept into a “Parliament of Independents” (which would have been disastrous and an impractical form of legislature (as Trump would say – never seen before – and literally too!). My conclusion below proposes a modified governing set up.

The implementation of policies requires strong and efficient institutions (processes, procedures and a system) supported and operated by a creative and proactive civil service. It is generally accepted that our institutions have lost the semblance of an operational and predictable framework of procedures and processes leading to an encumbered and broken down system of administration. The civil service was “spoon-fed” with executive orders and have lost any sense of planning and being proactive (not their fault). By the way, there is so much uproar about the removal of such “orders” because of our past experience in their misuse. As a matter of fact the nomenclature is misplaced but every leadership (and manager) requires to give administrative directives – that’s the reality of management, whether in business or government. In business, shareholders, company policy and regulations hold the manager in check, in government the voters and other arms of government, including the media, do.

The reality is governments cannot be administered without administrative directives (at all levels too) – the question is to what extent. Can it be abused – of course yes, can we do without them, of course no. As a rule of thumb, that is why Constitutions are only an expression of a general (Note: general) framework of governance and the rest of a governing system is handled by legislation, regulations and even tradition (ask the British who don’t even have a constitution – please don’t tell me written) in accordance with requirements as they come or are anticipated. We mustn’t tie our hands too tight to make governance virtually unworkable as we are having some governance difficulties right now with all the surreptitious alterations made to the original framework!
Why is this aspect important?

It is part of the institutional support required for creative policy formulation and implementation of development programs. Strong institutions do not necessarily mean stringent ones; it means being robust in the context of accountability, transparency and predictability. In our circumstance, I would suggest a two to three year period of intensive technical assistance support to build the institutions and lay out plans to configure the civil service to be more amenable and receptive to our aspirations and to support the leadership more proactively. It would require re-training and attachment programs for personnel apart from a recruitment venture in more critical and professional areas. We had the best civil service before 22 years (ask the UN system) and we can confidently rebuild it. The core fabric is still around even if dispersed around the globe.

Local technical assistance positions could provide a good incentive to get some of them back. In those days we had attachment programs (not workshops and conferences alone) for professionals (e.g. engineers and architects) and had internal and external training programs for civil servants generally, even local exams for promotions – there was a system in place that was able to bring out the best we had by bringing out the talent in them. That’s what’s lacking – bringing out the talent in our civil servants by weaning them from the spoon feeding of being told what to do all the time and giving them the latitude to deliver. This country has a lot of intelligent and talented people inside and outside the service but we need a deliberate policy on effectively harnessing this important resource and build capacity.

A whole programme of institutional development and capacity building is required – sine qua non to support policy implementation and development programming and implementation (whether such as my dream or any other). Other resources, apart from manpower are required which I need not go into here. Nonetheless, our government has an untapped potential. It is a potential that our partners would not like to see dissipate and would be most willing to assist us harness and nurture.

Thus my dream requires a new framework of governing as a body that will allow the absorption of more professionals in order to support specific critical sectors for development. This will ease the burden on the leadership (i.e current Cabinet) that is supported by a weak civil service. It means literally expanding the governing outfit (Cabinet) by curtailing sectors or sections from the present conglomerate “Council” responsibilities and creating new areas of responsibilities to allow for a greater focus on the development those sectors and the recruitment of professionals to the same critical areas. Specific examples (not necessarily the best matrix) would be as: –

Create a separate Ministry for Planning away from the Ministry of Finance. Currently the Ministry for Finance is more visible in fiscal matters than macro-economic planning. Split the Ministry of Tourism to provide a separate Ministry of Culture to deal with the ‘roots’ (cultural) aspect of tourism which has an untapped potential. The Ministry of Trade to concentrate on employment and allow the absorption of other responsibilities by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a professional branch of International Cooperation, Trade and Investment. Foreign policy is an all-important market entry tool these days and the selling of a country brand (trained marketing and economist diplomats at the technical level; the political top stays in the same format) – ask the West with the frequent crisscrossing to the Middle East. The Ministry of Youth and Sports to be split to give concentration to youth empowerment and development (investment programmes for that target group) and have a Ministry of Sports as a ‘maker’ of money (and talent) e.g. community football teams.

The Ministry of Agriculture – revamp and transfer the management of all government contracts to the Ministry of Works. Create a Ministry responsible for Animal Husbandry. Split the Ministry of Works and have a separate Ministry for all the Parastatals to allow Works to concentrate on infrastructure development and maintenance. With the growing increase in population and vehicle, we would require an urban transit system and an entire urban renewal program for proper urban planning and development control (the last one we had was in the early 80s by Dr Boro Suso and the GTZ of Germany). Education should be re-aligned to produce a critical mass of super-efficient labour force – within some time frame. In some countries in the sub-region there has been the deliberate development of special and competitive education outfits for the very best of students in order to support future development progress.

It mustn’t be education for education’s sake but should be programmed for a future required labour force to realise a dream – a dream with specific tangent of development. This new order of governing will provide a manageable mouthful of responsibilities for the various ministries to chew.
Ooops! – where is the money coming from – simple – budget support from development partners. It is a vision for the way forward and away from piecemeal development programs that have very little sustainable impact on the standard of living. Those sector specific programmes will indeed continue but the greater vision and new direction will provide a greater opportunity for advancement. It is not unusual for countries to hire special consultants to come up with major development programmes (brings to mind Maitre Wade former President of Senegal – not suggesting him here, countries like Sudan and even Libya then did the same).

We need to develop our vision based on some specific concept (recently we have our neighbour with the concept of an emerging economy) – our concept is one of finding a unique and suitable brand.
I will conclude that our brand should be promoted by a better use of the social media. It is a platform that sometimes can portray the character of a society. The current rain of insults and unproductive abuses does not project a very pleasing image for a society trying to catch up. With civility underlies discipline which is part of the success of the Far East – China, Singapore and the rest of them. Discipline in society can also be cultivated as a deliberate policy at the national level (television and radio programmes, sensitisation and educational programmes) – from simple matters of how to answer a phone or respond to greetings, to motor traffic manners, and, in our culture, respect for elders. The West has its core values so have we as Africans and we must not be tempted to exchange ours in the name of sophistication.

We have found a governing framework as an expedient response to a political situation (a necessity), we need to expand this framework and reconfigure our institutions and the services to enhance creativity and, well, leave the rest to providence that delivered us from our predicament in a very peaceful manner. In case one finds the dream a bit too outlandish, take it as a journey into my dream and get back to mundane thoughts; if found useful – improve upon it in various hopefully useful forms. One never knows what can become reality. After all, we all have dreams don’t we – no matter how bold they may be?

 

Lamino Lang Comma served as a senior government official in both the First and Second Republic administrations. A keen commentator on socio-economic issues, he now runs a consultancy company.

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