Last week Gambians were once again reminded of how our nation was unilaterally controlled by the executive branch of government under Yahya Jammeh’s 22 years rule. Jammeh effectively neutralized the other two equal branches of government by making sure that the legislative and the judiciary were stripped of their independence and powers to check on the executive. He did this by not only appointing citizens who will dance to his tunes, but he also used state resources to ensure that National Assembly members and judges were enticed to a level where they could no longer have the backbone to stand up to his whims and caprices. He blurred the lines so severely that nothing could happen without his initiation and approval. As a result, he was able to get the National Assembly to amend any bills and pass any laws he wanted. He ensured that judges were so demoralized which in turn weakened the institution that had the constitutional obligation to protect the interest of the nation.
While we are not with the illusion that the new government in the Gambia will degenerate to the level of dictatorship, it scares many who fought so hard to not only change personalities in power but the manner of government operation and decisions. One of Jammeh’s signature mode of operandi was donating exorbitant resources to government and private institutions to buy their unconditional loyalty and silence. With his departure and the magnitude of abuse of office being revealed at the Commission of Inquiry, Gambians expect the Barrow government to take a different approach in handling government affairs. This is why when citizens hear that the President has donated items to government institutions, it brings back terrible memories of horror that Gambians lived under for two decades.
Many Gambians are fully conscious of the lack of resources many government institutions are experiencing post Jammeh. However, it is also a fact that government institutions as well as services to citizens across every sector of Gambian society were so badly abused and deprived of resources they are almost at a state of despair. This is why at the onset, Gambians expected this new government to institute emergency economic and security measures to ensure that the confidence of the public is slowly restored in the proper and independent operations of government institutions.
The security as well as economic measures were not adequately addressed and without the intervention of ECOMIG forces and the economic packages of international donor partners, this government would have collapsed upon taking over. While we have seen some security measures taken by rounding up NIA operatives, the state’s provocative actions or lack thereof in maintaining some senior security operatives and government officials left a lot to be desired. The economic front apart from the Ministry of finance’s review and slicing of the 2017 budget expenditure and auditing of the civil service, almost all expenses under the former regime continue to be in place. Government personnel travel and payment approvals for per diems continue unabated. Appointment of former Jammeh officials who openly aided the dictator in compromising the independence of our institutions continuous without regard to citizens’ concerns.
In effect, the Barrow government needs to be very conscious of its decisions. The idea that the President’s personal efforts as echoed by many speakers at the presentation of the 57 pick-up trucks to National Assembly members is what led to the undisclosed source of donations is a cause for concern. Regardless of the transportation needs of National Assembly members, the picture that the President would personally orchestrated the donation to lawmakers simply does not adhere to the principle of separation of powers. Worst, hearing the speaker of the National Assembly, the third inline to the successor of the presidency praise-singing the president brought back nightmares for many. It smells and feels more like Jammeh economics patronage than anything else. It reminded political activists of bad memories of fighting a dictator who would not stop at crossing any ethical and constitutional lines to get his way. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the government advocating for the independence of parliament through the allocation of resources. But there is a proper way to do this without compromise; through budgetary allocations or supplements in ensuring that institutions such as the National Assembly have the proper tools to do their job.
This proper channel was not followed in this case and as a result, many citizens are concern about the source of funding of providing expensive vehicles at a time of economic crisis. Many simply want to know the source of funding of the vehicles; were they in fact donated by the President or were they donated by Gambia Revenue Authority, the nation’s sole revenue collector? Why was the director of GRA present and was repeatedly featured with a huge smile during the presentation? If GRA is the source of funding of these vehicles, how can anybody justify the public revenue collector for government treasury to make unilateral decision to spend that much money without Parliamentary oversight? If the National Assembly is the beneficiary of such generosity purportedly from the President’s personal efforts, how can they effectively question the source of the funding?