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Friday, June 21, 2024

Fiscal responsibility: Who is counting the cost of executive travel & per diems?

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By Gibril Saine

In case President Barrow is left in any doubt, there is a clatter of anger and discontentment among the public left frustrated amid signs of betrayal by government ministers and their handlers taking the country for a ride. For all its worth, this has turn out to be a summer of discontent and betrayal from the Barrow-government and its quagmire of incompetent civil servants taking the public for fools pursuing unnecessary travel arrangements in a sleazy attempt to enrich their wallets.

From inception on that mid-January afternoon in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, I had been loyal to the coalition-government on its drive to bring about change the people truly deserve; going as far as arguing for patience. But enough is enough! How selfish are African politicians, and what a forgetful bunch in charge of our country driving us into the known. Folks, I write with a heavy heart, hurt, for the tears of a desperate mother left in ruins after the flood in Niani, the oyster collector driven out of the industry due to the environmental catastrophe manifest on coastal communities, for the poor farmer guessing his options as harvest season approach.

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And I fret for the massive incompetence at the heart of the Gambia government growing worst by the day – driven by factional divisions, parochialism, and sectionalism resembling more like a ”Terri Kaafoo” and ‘UDP takeover” than the coalition-government designed to repair damages of the Jammeh-era; and to uplift the lives of ordinary Gambians. I agonise writing these difficult words for the simple fact that hope was in the air for transformational change. Like diplomacy and its reciprocal factor, respect and trust is a two-way street, a give and take; and why should I give mine when the nations finances & priorities lay in tatters at the hands of clueless interns.

Public confidence is fast eroding in Barrow’s leadership. He could be a model president, and had all the necessary tools at his disposal too. But the problem with Africa, Gambia in particular, is the fictional creation of presidential-monarchs surrounded by ‘Yes Men’and ‘praise-singing’ staff too concerned for personal gains than the daily grind of governance. The compliance and ethical safeguards designed to flag-up & disrupt self-perpetuating rule are deliberately overlooked due to pride and arrogant ministers and governors, and just about anyone with a sniff of power. Well I do not mean to generalise, but the point will have been taken.

To compound frustrations, local journalists seem too close to the president instead of their hard-press oversight role – to investigate, scrutinise executive conduct, analyse the facts therein, thereby bring out facts to the public. But I lay blame squarely at the feet of parliament and pro-democracy groups, including DUGA, for failing the public. For a leadership promising to change sins of the past regime, fiscal responsibility and prudence with public finances should be its modus operandi.

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Mr President – Sell all government cars and for ministers and governors to drive ordinary cars as the case imposed by Tanzania’s visionary president, John Magalufi. The hefty price-tag of maintaining those luxurious cars, fuel, and the disastrous per diems every minister seem to be taking advantage of has raised alarm among the public. The Gambian people are frustrated for the lack of visionary leadership demanding the judicious use of public purse. Reflect, to see that selfish agenda, vested interest, screaming bloody murder was the fight in bringing down the Jammeh regime. The same betrayal signs of greed, decadence, and thievery through backhand deals has resurfaced within the government. Folks, Brikama Area Council just took out a D10,000,000 loan to buy rubbish trucks sic. From GCAA, GRA, Ports, MOFA, PURA, to the regional governors, what is going on Gambia!

Reading history, a wise leader will cast a protruding eye across the nation see what works or the lack of it thereof. And recent appointments as in religious Affairs Advisor, advisor on good-governance, and the UDP takeover at the Foreign Ministry are unlawful, and distractions the executive could do without. Competent ministers should be able to advice the president on various policy ideas and decisions across government instead of adding to bureaucracy and waste.

Mr President, The Gambia is a secular state, therefore, turn to the ‘Quran’ and ‘Sunnah’ for your personal salvation, or consult the ‘Supreme Islamic Council’ as to decisions concerning Islam on certain issues. The Permanent Secretary for investment at the Office of the President is unconstitutional and should be abolished. Why is no serious political advisor or minister telling him so? And why was this not flagged up by parliament? Gambia, this is how problems begin, surrounded by ‘Yes-Men’ like Dawda Fadera, Richard EKU, obsessed with selfish thrills than what’s best for Gambia. Please, have the MORAL balls and tell the president the right thing. That is what an advisory role amounts to. And certainly the reason why tax payers are paying your damn salary.

The Justice ministry ought to take an effective role to advice the administration as to constitutionality of appointments and decisions across government. Mr President, man-up & stand counted – meaning, you could have lifted the nation after the recent torrential rains in the country resulting in major floods via telecast, yes, even whilst in New York. That was a missed opportunity, but then again, you could speak on the energy crisis facing the country, or the high cost of living, or the lack of jobs and what government is doing to fix it. I strongly urge you to review all future travel arrangements by ministers and senior civil servants – and to BAN per-diems, as Tanzania’s President did. Even where travel was necessary, why stay in luxurious Five Star (5*) hotels when three Star (3*) would suffice – again, Tanzania is doing just that. Truth is one, so forget those outdated traditional trappings & sack any minister or official going foul of the law.

I dare remind the President & his high-maintenance ministers that tax payer funds must not to be used for the jet-set lifestyle they seem to pursue. A major corruption scandal is about to engulf the administration unless he speak-up with authority and demand enough. It is a painful watch at the ‘Janneh Commission’ to see Central Bank officials, Jammeh cohorts & the Business Cartel all lying through the teeth. Folks, where in the world can you find millions of dollars withdrawn from Central Bank coffers past closing time. In essence, while the business day come to close, these vultures were busy siphoning away tax payers cash through the back door, yet we are expected to trust the same perennial thieves still practising at the heart of government. And why are those soldiers and close confidants of Yahya Jammeh collecting bags of cash from banks still in the army, let alone state house. From a national security standpoint, that is a major flaw on the part of CDS Kinteh & his reform agenda for the army. Enough with the incompetence, and neither do we need a large army at a time of peace; nor to allow government spend millions of tax payer dalasi to buy wasteful weapons when poverty, hunger, Ferries, jobs, NAWEC all grind to a frustrating halt.

Every leader we seem to trust has failed us. But I will call on honourable Mamma Kandeh– professionalise GDC political Party & hold the administration accountable on donor funds, per diems, and countless failures showing up across government. Through the ‘Freedom of Information Bill’ under draft, your party can summon government papers on donor funds, economic spending, signed agreements & deals up for scrutiny as to law of the land. That is the role of an opposition in a democracy, whilst adding to your numbers for elections to come.

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