On the row between the Health Minister and the doctors
In the past week or two, reports have been circulating on social media and the local newspapers that there is a scrimmage between the Minister of Health Mrs Saffie Lowe-Ceesay and the doctors in the country. It is reported that the ruckus began when Madam Ceesay made remarks which were seen as disparaging by many doctors in the country’s health sector.
It was reported that the minister’s statement that corruption is hindering the country’s healthcare delivery system, sparked a lot of condemnation. The ministry officials initially wanted to portray that their Honourable Minister might have been misquoted but, according to The Standard Newspaper which broke the story out they arranged for officials of the ministry to listen to the recorded tapes which made it clear that she was in fact not misquoted.
Now, the Gambia Association of Resident Doctors is calling for the resignation of the minister in forty-eight hours or else they will consider going on a sit-down strike. This has become more serious than I thought. It is important that a solution is found as soon as possible. Someone must do something about this before it gets out of hand.
The Gambia has changed dramatically, and anyone who holds office – or wishes to hold office – in this country must recognize this and work and act accordingly. The Gambia of today is not the Gambia of yester years. The time has come when citizens, be they doctors, teachers, nurses, clerks and others will not take some statements lying down. They have found their voices, and no one will make them silent again.
It is becoming a routine that government officials make statements only to realize that it is unacceptable, and that people will not accept such anymore. When the Teachers for Change called for a sit-down strike, the Minister of Education threatened that they would be punished only to realize that she did not do the right thing. They ended up negotiating a solution. Mr Hamat Bah’s sacking has been called for by some activists (myself included) and the government had to apologize for his statements.
Ministers must realize that they have to weigh their words from henceforth because Gambians have broken the chains and will not sit by and see their rights violated or, being disrespected by government officials. A sit-down strike by doctors would be catastrophic at this stage. Yet, we cannot prevent them from doing it if their demands are not met. So, we must seek to negotiate with them.
Doctors also know that what they signed up for is to protect life at all cost. They protect – or should protect – lives even if it means that they have to sacrifice their leisure, their time with family and other needs. Thus, a statement from one person even if s/he is the minister should not make them lose sight of their sworn duty which they certainly value, judging by their track record so far.
Thus, it seems to me that there is room for a fruitful negotiation and doing it now will save us a lot of trouble; and perhaps, save Gambian lives!
Letter to Foreign Minister Darboe: Matters relating to Diaspora Gambians
Dear Hon. Darboe,
It is an unblemished truth that Diaspora Gambians had selflessly, genuinely and relentlessly contributed to a painful process that would usher in a democratic change in our country on December 1st, 2016. These battle hardened heroes drew their inspiration from faith, their energy from unity and their determination from the conviction that victory against tyranny was achievable. Their resilience, anchored on hope, was strikingly admirable.
Many of these men and women did not oppose dictatorship just to benefit from asylum in Europe and America. They gave up luxury to visit home and spend time with family, friends and loved ones and dedicated countless times and resources to the cause, epitomizing patriotism and love of the country.
Sir, one year after the collective triumph, Gambians in the Diaspora have not felt significant policy shift- if any- on the part of the Barrow administration to integrate them in governance, political process or ease their economic burden.
Frustrating restrictions denying Diaspora Gambians from holding or vying for public offices in the form of citizenship or residency clauses are still in force. Yes, they can invest their wealth in the economy, contribute immensely in the GDP and GNP through remittances but have absolutely no voice in the electoral decisions.
On diplomatic front, Gambians with dual citizenship face even unnecessary hurdles when they want to visit their country of origin. Visa requirements and associated fees are just ridiculous. Many people lost their passports during visa processing at various Gambian embassies, causing delay, unexpected changes and overall inconvenience in travel arrangements.
If US citizens don’t require visas to UK, why should the same citizens of Gambian descent need visas to visit their families?
Gambia holds the flag as one of the most expensive countries to call. The international gateway traffic and call termination facilities pump hundreds of thousands of dollars monthly into the coffers of greedy telecoms operators and individuals all on the back of Diaspora Gambians with little or no corporate accountability. Former President Jammeh used these facilities as personal piggy banks and the current government has so far given free rein to such alarming corporate extortion.
Thus, Honorable Minister, change will remain elusive for Diaspora Gambians unless sweeping constitutional and policy alternatives to the status quo are effected without delay.
Zakaria Kemo Konteh