By Tabora Bojang
The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lang Yabou, has said contrary to calls for Gambia to downsize its embassies as part of efforts to cut government spending, doing so would prove even more costly and ineffective.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mamadou Tangara, told National Assembly Members in 2019 that two foreign missions are identified for closure as a temporary measure amid financial constraints faced by the state, even though the ministry of finance recommended more.
“We are going to close some of them temporarily but when our financial conditions are better, we will even think of opening embassies elsewhere like in Japan and Scandinavia,” Minister Tangara told NAMs at the time.
Since then, the Gambian missions in Malaysia and Algeria have ceased operations.
However, the government projected D911, 561, 457 million as expenditure on its embassies and consulates in the 2023 budget, including three new embassies in Germany, Sweden and Japan, sparking wide criticisms by economic observers who accused the government of lacking fiscal discipline in the height of global economic difficulties exacerbated by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Appearing before the National Assembly Public Petitions Committee to discuss a petition filed by Gambians stranded in the UAE, Permanent Secretary Lang Yabou said Gambia is still underrepresented in the world and cutting down its foreign missions would not help.
“Our presence is less than 20 percent in the world’s capitals. When people are saying we have more embassies I keep saying I don’t agree with that, maybe because everybody has a different opinion. What I know is the more you reduce [the embassies] the more costly it becomes and the more inefficient. I served in Nigeria and then we were covering 12 countries but in 4 years my ambassador cannot visit any of those countries. Is that efficiency? No,” Yabou argued.
At this point, committee chairman and member for Wuli East Suwaibou Touray, abruptly intervened and argued that the country could downsize and make use of counsellors and focal persons in some foreign missions.
But PS Yabou disagreed arguing that counsellors and focal persons are limited and cannot provide certain services like ambassadors do.
“They [counsellors and focal persons] are not diplomats. They are consular officers. So, their operations are limited. If you open an embassy here and designate it to five countries, the ambassador can cover all those five countries and he or she will be recognised. But if you put in a consul general, he or she can only be accredited to a consular district,” he added.
PS Yabou explained that similar measures to downsize embassies were pushed under the Jammeh regime in 2014 which led to the downgrading of the Gambian embassy in France to a consulate general but it failed within a few years.