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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Abba Sanyang, Minister of Lands and Regional Government

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Alagie Manneh: You hailed from Foni, and served as APRC NAM for Foni Kansala under former President Jammeh. What were the highlights of your one-term tenure office?

Minister Abba Sanyang: I first opted as an independent candidate, but that failed. Later, I was nominated to stand and contest for the APRC seat. I went unopposed, and I won. I served for five years. I am confident to say that in the five years that I served that constituency, I changed the livelihood of the people, completely. I touched on the lives of every citizen of Kansala at the time. I constituted systems that weren’t common in the country. I can proudly say that I am one of the first National Assembly members who established an office in his own constituency to address and complement the efforts of poor and vulnerable families within the community, and thereby established what is called Kansala Trust. I put some of my salary there to support education, women gardening, and some other community issues. I also ensured that every single child birth was registered. I can proudly say that I have made an impact on their lives.

Before anything, you are an education planner. Why is the education sector in the country in dire straits, especially in terms of quality?

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It’s true, quality is a natural phenomenon and it changes over time, over a period based on the demands of a society. What you or I might term as quality could be different for somebody else in some other areas. But again, The Gambia has strived so far and it’s doing very well in terms of having its people educated because that’s where we all went through. You [Alagie] went through the system, I went through the system, your cameraman went through the system. And I am happy to say that your cameraman was my student and if he had underperformed, he would not have been involved with such technologies, equally, you and so many other students I have taught. You see, the education system can be a tool of its own, but the human quality is again another factor. At what level is a society’s people involved in education and performance, also matters a lot.

You were deployed to the Foreign Service under Jammeh, and served in the Gambian Embassy in Havanna as first secretary. How did you take that appointment?

Well, I will not know how I took up the appointment. Several things happened before that appointment. I was appointed, sent to Cuba only to be sent back after a year and a couple of months. I worked at the Senegalo-Gambian Secretariat after that. I was later removed, and reinstated into another portfolio at the same secretariat before being moved again to be the Governor at CRR. But before all this, I am a professional qualified teacher, and an education planner too, by profession. I would like to highlight these key things to you. That means that I have a profession, a qualification and, I am a determined teacher. And I will be a teacher all my life.

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Unlike some other bilateral ties, the Cuban one brought about a lot of tangible benefits to The Gambia, hasn’t it?

Yes. Besides the training of Gambian students in various fields of life, agriculture, health and engineering, the Cuban government also partnered the government in the areas of health. A lot of Cuban doctors came up to complement the efforts of our government. They are working in various health disciplines in this country. I was made to understand that some of them were even lecturing at UTG, which really helped the country to have a good base in its health sector. They have strengthened the health sector of this country. The diplomatic ties between The Gambia and Cuba are very close. I really cherish the scholarships they were according to Gambian students.

You also served as head of former President Jammeh’s Empowerment of Girls’ Education Project (PEGEP). The project’s accounts were frozen, and there were allegations that it was also politicised.

No. That’s not correct. I served in that position for about four years, and we were paying for every girl child in this country. I was a signatory to the accounts. All the accounts, about two to three – the dalasi accounts and the foreign currency accounts. The dalasi account was supposed to pay for students who were in The Gambia, and we were paying for some university students at the UTG. Every girl child’s [education] in this country at the time was paid for, and any girl child who excels is given a scholarship to any country of her choosing. So, that was definitely not politicised. That one, to be honest, was never politicised. The president has his prerogative to nominate anybody for scholarships. That is him. He is the project owner. Most of the students internationally, one cannot say it’s nepotically selected, no. Some performed very well in their preliminary like high school year, and their fees of studies Jammeh is interested in those ones, yes.

As per TRRC findings, the pageant that partly funded the Pegep was used to lure and abuse girls like Toufa Jallow. Did that surprise you?

No. The pageant has never funded… the beauty pageant has never been part of Pegep. I am the project manager of Pegep. Anyway during my period, it has never been part of it. We had nothing to do with the pageant thing. It was a separate thing completely from the Pegep.

What were your key achievements during your time as governor of CRR?

We’ve definitely done our best for that community. We cannot say that we’ve made a lot of reforms, but we have nurtured very good peaceful coexistence between the people. All problems that had ever come to the office, 98 percent of them, were amicably addressed. We believe that problems or issues that people would assume insurmountable were easily solved within the premises of the office. We also encouraged a lot of investors to come in terms of agriculture. We were very supportive to all facets of sectors in that region. We were directing their functions and implementation of government’s policy and programmes of every sector within the region.

How did Barrow come to appoint you as lands and regional government minister?

How would one know? I don’t know. Yourself, you called to congratulate me, and you said so many things about why you think I should be very effective in this position. That is your aspiration. Somebody else did the same thing. It could be the same inspirations and aspirations that people have, that the president might have had in giving me the position. I am sure he has the confidence and trust in me to steer the affairs of the ministry.

Your predecessor, Musa Drammeh is infamous for his alleged involvement in what has been seen as mismanagement of land resources. How do you intend to handle that?

You see, it will be very difficult to say somebody… people’s assumption about somebody are all right. People say a lot of good things about you, equally, they say a lot of very bad things about you. It’s the same for everybody else. Nobody is so complete not to be critiqued. I assume what life means to people is to have a conscience. If Allah gives you responsibility try to live by it, you owe it to the people. You must live by the signs of Allah, and you fear Him, and respect people. These materials that you are talking about are all properties of Allah, and it’s there for people to use, to maximise and make their lives functional. To say that it has been abused or mismanaged, I may not concur with that because whoever it is given to as a Gambian, is not an abuse; it’s for a purpose. Either that Gambian will use it or give it to another Gambian, it’s just for a Gambian to use. So, that is not an abuse to me. Anybody who has the opportunity to have it, should have it. It’s a very scarce commodity that we all need to understand and respect, that’s why we need to thoroughly manage it. For me, I will do my utmost best to make sure I reserve or preserve the land. When I say reserve and preserve it doesn’t mean keeping it, no. It means it is to be given to people entitled to it, and everybody is entitled to it who cannot afford it. It’s a sympathy. It is very pathetic to see how some Gambians will struggle in this. It’s a pity. I feel very bad when I see Gambians complaining of being defrauded. It’s sad. I went round the whole country, and denounced these issues. It’s unfair. No matter what you have, no matter what you do, no matter what happens around you, no matter what you say, you will someday go with nothing. Not even the ideas you think you have before, not even the intelligence you think you have before, you will die and be buried in the soil with absolutely nothing. The only thing there for you are your deeds. Some people don’t believe in that, but one thing is certain, you will die. That is imminent for every human being. So, I will do my utmost best for every Gambian to live happily, peacefully on this land issue.

Indeed, the country has become a hotbed for land conflicts. I know that you are new to the ministry, but did you have time to find out why the lands commission is still not under operations?

I’m yet to have that interaction with the commission. We are inviting the commission to discuss their constraints, challenges and whatever is affecting them in order to make it a very vibrant institution because this is a problem for the whole country. we need fulfilment of peoples dreams and aspirations. We feel like land issues should have been a foregone conclusion by addressing the problems bare front. The problems can never be insurmountable; they are man created problems. The problems around it are like for example ‘I own this, you don’t own it,’ or I sell it to Samba and Pateh and they are all fighting over it with the people who sold it to them, families own this, families own that. These are the types of quarrels. That is why the ministry is coming up with a system that we are hopeful is going to be 98.9 or 99.9 percent fraud-proof in this country. We are thinking of bringing a system that is the cadastre system. And if we implement that project in the country, there cannot be any duplication of registration of lands. Anybody who owns a land owns it for good. The cadastre system will help the whole country to know every part of the land that is touched by anybody at any given time.

During a cabinet retreat, VP Joof had asked you to put an embargo on foreign real estate. Many Gambians have welcomed this idea…

[Cuts in] no, you may not have followed my trend of issues on the tour, during which we were highlighting everywhere to the public of our ministry’s resolve to make sure we solve the land issues in the country, once and for all. The estate issues that they are talking about, during the whole tour we have said that we are not against any real estate. The vice president mentioned that we ban foreign real estate. I’m not sure you have that. Do we have that in this country? We’re looking out for those possibilities, and we will definitely take those actions he recommended, but 98 percent of these are all Gambians. They have a right to own, buy and sell a land. Communities have a right to own and sell their lands, except for state land…

What about the re-assessment of The Gambia’s land policy to give at least 90 to 95 percent of the land to ordinary Gambians for homes and shelter?

Land reforms policies are well prepared and we will be going to parliament insha allah before the end of the year.

Under the local government law, 25 percent of the budget of local councils should come from the central government in the form of subvention. But local councils said that this is not being respected, putting them under immense financial pressures and lacking the much-needed funds to undertake development aspirations.

I’m not arguing with that to say that the 25 percent is not being given to them. The government is doing its utmost best. You see, let’s all own our obligations to government. When you say government, who are you referring to?  Ourselves. So, if you say government is not giving me this, what is your responsibility you owe to government? I mean, we are dealing directly with the local people, and councils are created to be at least a disbursement unit of all components of living towards… now, if we say 50 or 60 percent is supposed to be ploughed back to the people, how much percentage is being ploughed back to the people? If you are saying government owes us this, tell us how much are you owing the people as well. The 25 percent you are talking about, I’m sure whenever the ministry of finance or the Central Bank is fluid, these things will be respected, they will be honored, in the fullest. The councils have commitments, but government has a lot of commitments as well. We have to symbiotically work together to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of the Gambian people, not hassling and fighting over these issues.

To be contined

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