By Omar Bah
The European Union Ambassador to The Gambia, Attila Lajos has said although Ecowas has extended the mandate of the Ecomig forces to another six months, the EU has not made a decision whether to continue funding the troops.
Ambassador Lajos said after establishing the Ecomig mandate in the Gambia in 2017, Ecowas approached the EU for funding. He said the EU has since funded the Ecomig mandate until September 2019 when the final contract agreement expired.
“So, what happened since then is that the Ecowas authorities decided to prolong the Ecomig mandate by six more months which will end next March. Now during this period, the funding issue is not sorted out. The troops are now pre-financed by Ecowas but at the same time they have approached EU asking for the continuation of the funding and right now, as we speak, it is under consideration by European Union leaders in Brussels,” he told The Standard yesterday.
The 500 West African troops from Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana of which 125 are gendarmerie, were brought to the country in 2017 to restore democracy after former President Yahya Jammeh refused to hand over power.
On whether the EU will continue the funding, Ambassador Lajos said: “Now with all due respect to the process and without pre-empting whatever decision Brussels will take, one thing is sure, this funding of the forces is based on a contract. Every EU intervention in principle is based on a contract. Now in this contract involving two parties will reimburse certain expenses provided that the objective of the contract is fulfilled and that’s where symbolically speaking, we have some issues”.
He said the previous contracts had three main objectives, among which is the protection of state institutions, dignitaries, joint activities where the Ecomig forces will be doing the job with Gambian security forces and the third component was training GAF members.
However, he said, in the two previous mandates all the different contracts were partially fulfilled by the Ecomig.
“If you look at the figures the first-year mandate was around eight million euros, out of which only less than four million euros was reimbursed to Ecowas because certain components and activities foreseen in the contract were not implemented. Last year the budget was foreseen to be fourteen million euros, out of which only little over ten million euros was spent and that’s where we are considering whether such implementations of contracts are actually what we want,” he explained.
He said inasmuch as Ecomig is in the country to provide protection, “the training component is equally important, if not even more important because gradually the Ecomig forces should be fading out and the whole responsibility will come back to the Gambian security apparatus.”
Ambassador Lajos further stressed that the general security sector reform Gambians were anticipating to be visible to the population is lagging behind.
“The information I received from the country is indeed those reform actions which will create more professional, affordable, sustainable and make the security apparatus trusted is not forthcoming. I meet many alkalolu who were telling me that they see no change in conduct of these forces,” he added.
He said the whole aim of the EU assistance is to help government make informed decisions.
“We also delivered lot of financial assistance including the mandate of the Ecomig troops in the country. So, I do believe Gambians want to see visible change and is not lost on me that under the able leadership of the Minister of Justice, who is now the chair of the SSR strategic board, changes will come,” he concluded.