By Omar Bah
Following President Adama Barrow’s statement that civil servants who claim to be neutral are opposition supporters whose names should be listed for possible weeding out of the system to avoid undermining his government’s development agenda, human rights activist Sait Matty Jaw has disagreed with the president.
In his reaction, Sait Matty Jaw told The Standard that Barrow’s statements have raised concerns about the potential politicisation of the civil service.
“The comments risk compromising the independence and professionalism of the civil service,” Jaw warned.
He said the civil service, often referred to as the backbone of any nation, plays a pivotal role in the effective functioning of the state and therefore it is crucial for it to remain independent, free from political interference, and focused on delivering services to the public with efficiency and impartiality.
“While it is within the president’s purview to appoint, it is equally important that these appointments be based on merit, competence, and a commitment to public service to ensure effective service delivery. The recent warnings, however, seem to imply a different criterion—political affiliation,” Jaw added.
He said President Barrow’s approach of labeling civil servants as opposition based on their claim of political neutrality risks creating an environment where civil servants may feel compelled to openly align with the political party in power, potentially compromising their objectivity and professionalism.
“The president’s statements can now lead to civil servants being stigmatised or even punished through target transfers for choosing to do what is right rather than pleasing political leaders and I think if all the commissions past and present that Barrow initiated are not lessons enough, I am not sure why we have them in the first place,” he charged.
The activist said it is essential to acknowledge that the civil service is not a political instrument but a vital institution responsible for the smooth running of the state. “Rather than issuing warnings, the president should focus on supporting and strengthening the civil service. Reforms aimed at enhancing efficiency, transparency and accountability would be more beneficial in the long run. Civil servants, being the engine of public administration, require an environment that fosters professionalism and dedication and president Barrow should recognise the importance of their independence and refrain from actions that could erode the trust and credibility of the civil service,” he advised.
He said the president’s commitment to supporting the civil service must extend beyond rhetoric.
“While warnings about political neutrality are issued, the lived experiences of civil servants tell a different story—one of stagnant wages, challenging working conditions, and, unfortunately, some former civil servants finding themselves worse off post-retirement. One cannot overlook the fact that the last salary increments disproportionately favored the political class, leaving hardworking civil servants struggling to make ends meet despite receiving a 30 percent increase,” Jaw stated.
To be taken seriously in addressing the concerns of the civil service, Jaw added, President Barrow must prioritise comprehensive reforms that address not only political neutrality but also the systemic issues of poor working conditions and insufficient remuneration.
“Civil servants are not only leaving their jobs due to dissatisfaction but, alarmingly, are resorting to desperate measures like embarking on the perilous journey through the ‘backway’ in search of better opportunities. This is not just an indictment of the civil service but a symptom of a larger problem that requires immediate redress,” he noted.
He said the president blaming civil servants without providing the necessary support is not a constructive solution.
“A collaborative effort between the government and the civil service is crucial to building a system that serves the people effectively. As citizens, we should be vigilant in protecting the autonomy of the civil service and advocate for a professional, non-partisan approach to public administration. The Gambia deserves a civil service that is efficient, accountable, and committed to the well-being of its citizens. President Barrow has an opportunity to lead by example, ensuring that the civil service remains a beacon of stability and service in our nation,” Jaw concluded.