By Lamin Kura Ceesay
I write to you with utmost respect and admiration for your governance of our dear motherland, Gambia. A country that has been taken advantage of by many politicians, ministers, National Assembly Members, heads of institutions, law enforcement officers and even the Judiciary.
For many years the good sons and daughters of Mother Gambia and Mother Gambia herself had suffered systemic abuse, including exploitation of her resources, repression and killing of her good sons and daughters, stealing of money and property belonging to her good sons and daughters by her greedy and dishonest sons and daughters as well as being lied to by her deceitful sons and daughters.
These were revealed in the Algali Commission of the AFPRC Junta, the Janneh Commission and the Truth, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission of your government, where we heard harrowing revelations of corruption, persecution, suppression, assassination, discrimination, dishonesty, cruelty, animosity and servility. When we talk about the legacies of the late Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara as a true democrat and a proficient leadership, there always comes a bid but and guess what that is?
The rampant corruption by some of his ministers and top government officials under his watch that left Mother Gambia under developed compared to some states that had their independence around the same time or even after she had hers. When we talk about President Yaya Jammeh being a champion of infrastructural development and a Pan African it is followed by the statement ‘the torture and killing of people under his watch is the only problem’.
In 2016, God came to rescue Mother Gambia and her sons and daughters decided. They decided not to only remove President Jammeh but to also put a stop to all the bad things mentioned above and make Gambia a model of a small country that the whole world would envy. A country of progress, peace and prosperity, where corruption will become taboo, where dishonesty will have no place, where people will be free to constructively criticize public officer and hold them accountable for their actions, where politicians can no longer deceive people, where people will not be talking and watching over their shoulders for fear of being assassinated or tutored if they are lucky.
We were told you were the right one to guide us through. Unlike many others who voted you in just to see President Jammeh off, I voted for you based on two traits that people who knew you said about you, I asked some people in your party then (UDP) and some of your neighbours in Yarambamba and they described you as an honest, religious and kind person and for me that was enough to trust you to lead us through.
Until today, I believe you have all it takes to put the country on the right track. Some people question your competence but for me that is something you can gain overtime when you have competent, honest and god fearing ministers and heads of institutions in your government. Someone with a heart as kind as yours would wish for the beat for Mother Gambia and competent, honest and god fearing ministers and heads of institutions will make you wishes happen.
That is why I and many Gambians voted for you and intend to vote for you come the next elections.
However, of recent I have observed your Minister for Tourism and culture spoiling the momentum for us and that is the very reason why I am writing to you. I work in the tourism industry and I engage a lot of the people in the industry on issues affecting national development and I can tell you in December when the 3 Years Jotna were planning on a demonstration for you to step down, majority if not all people in the industry ignored their call as their planned demonstration was not only detrimental to tourism but most people felt you started on a right footing i.e. truth and reconciliation, constitutional review etc. and needed to be given a chance to complete the five years. You earned our respect and most of us were going to vote for you again.
In the last couple of months, I see a lot of disheartened people in the industry nut because of you but because of your Minister for Tourism. I have not come across anybody in the tourism industry that is not disillusioned by Hamat Bah’s handling of the tourism industry.
His administration is tainted with corruption, incompetence and is making unilateral decisions on prominent issues affecting the industry. He had turn the ministry and its satellite institutions into corruption centres going by the recent petition by some concerned staff of Gambia Tourism Board.
He had declared tourism dead when COVID-19 hit the world whilst every other tourism Minister in the world is trying to strategize and reassure their stakeholders of a bounce back. Everyone knows that tourism had survived pandemics, political and financial crises before and so will it survive COVID19 but Hamat declared it dead and sent some Gambia Tourism Board staff home on half salaries until October.
We are aware that his permanent secretary and acting DG Abubacarr Camara who is as incompetent as he is have recalled some staff including their buddies, nephews, close followers to work and are paying them their full salaries all in the name of punishing the staff that revealed their corrupt acts. In fact, as I am writing to you they are looking for all possibilities to sack those honest and hardworking staff.
For two months now, the Minister, his Permanent Secretary, his Permanent Secretary’s husband who is also the Director of Finance of Gambia Tourism Board and the Acting Director General of Gambia Tourism Board will meet at the Ministry to find ways of covering the corruption they were accused of and how to make sure their accusers are sacked.
For Abubacarr Camara this will be his biggest achievement and this will make the Minister confirm him as DG. He had rejected several calls by tourism stakeholders to meet and discuss the way forward for tourism during and post COVID with the excuse that he has meetings at the ministry.
For what? To strategize on how to sack staff that exposed their corruption. Of recent you must have heard the contention the Minister is having with key stakeholders including hoteliers and tour operators on a plan he sent them for the opening of the season in October. The planned was not properly written (copy and paste by his incompetent acting DG), did not address issues raised by stakeholders and was not welcomed by even International Tour Operators who will be bringing the tourists into the country.
When the stakeholders wrote to him expressing their dissatisfaction with his plan, he went on radio and called them timewaster and that they can talk the talk whilst he is working the work.
That statement made many stakeholders angry but also laughable as everyone in this country knows that nobody talks the talk more than Hamat Bah.
Your Excellency, let me remind you of the following actions of Hamat Bah and you can decide whether he should continue in that portfolio of a tourism Minister or not.
In January on state television he created a diplomatic spat between Gambia and Thailand and in March he created the same with Senegal. This has never happened in the history of our country.
Yahya Jammeh of all people would expel diplomats or say something about a country only when the diplomat or country has allegedly interfered in the country’s affairs. As far as I can remember there has never been a time when a Gambian Minister launched an attack on a foreign country causing us to apologise and shaming our highly respected country, The Gambia, despite being small and poor, has dignity and that is what Gambians are known for all over the world.
In 2018 Hamat Bah promised that 10 four and five star hotels will be built by 2020 and he even invited you to lay the foundation stone of one of the projects that never was. Up to today no single brick has been laid at that project. I think he is taking advantage of your softness and about time that you showed him that being quiet does not mean you are not aware of his deceits.
In 2017 Hamat Bah threatened to deal with chiefs as if he has the right to do so. This angered many people and belittled chiefs who are highly respected in their communities.
In the upper Saloum District, Hamat Bah deprived a whole community of access to their farmland and up to this day, that community will cross river to farm in Njau village for the people of Njau were sympathetic to them and allowed them to farm on their land so as to make a living. That whole community had despised Hamat Bah and if you continue to support him in his disastrous acts, you will not have the votes of that community and other communities in the Saloum District.
Of recent, in the middle of a pandemic, Hamat Bah removed the Director General of Gambia Tourism Board and dissolved the Board without informing you. He acted in his own interest because he had asked them to punish some staff who complained about the malpractices involving him, his permanent secretary and her husband.
Then he held a media conference describing the staff of Gambia Tourism Board as greedy people being paid high salaries and that even the drivers of Gambia Tourism Board are earning more than his deputy permanent secretary. Did he forget that those drivers hardly earn travel per diems compared to him and his Deputy PS? Did he also forget that those staff he is chastising were the ones that worked so hard to make him proud that he stands on every platform and proudly boasts about the achievements of tourism as it relates to the National Development Plan? Hamat Bah has sent workers home on half salaries when his own is intact. He will never have peace until he gives back to those staff what he took from them. Every shame and suffering of the Director General and Board Chairman he sacked and those staff he sent home on half salaries during these difficult times will mean his suffering and disgrace. He owes those hard working people an apology or he shall continue to be shamed every day of his life for God is with the suppressed.
The latest gaffe from Hamat Bah is another spat he had last week with the tourism stakeholders. As usual, he again acted on his own and came up with the most ill-advised plan for the start of tourism in October. The plan requires tourists travelling into the country to quarantine for 14 days. What on earth does that mean? And which tourists will travel to Gambia to be locked up for the entire period of their holidays? It does not make any sense at all.
I have reliable information from Gambia Tourism Board that the board he dissolved and the DG he sacked were working on a sustainability and marketing strategy for tourism during this pandemic. The strategies were supposed to address economic challenges that the industry may be faced with as well as the repositioning of the Gambia to continue to attract tourists. He stopped those efforts and the only strategy he brought forward was the D100 million that the Ministry of Finance will give to the industry. The question is, how far will that go in addressing the challenges? Will it be fairly distributed? Will it be fair for example to take a huge chunk of that money and give it to an investor who took too many loans from a bank and not able to pay whilst denying that small or medium scale business owner who committed all his or her resources in that business and got hit by the pandemic?
Hamat Bah needs to take a break from a fight he will never win even if he continues to victimise people and focus on what will move the industry forward. Tourism is an important industry to the economy providing more than 70,000 direct jobs and almost half of the Gambian population indirectly benefit from it.
Your excellency, can you imagine losing the votes of this great number of people because they are disgruntled with your minister under your watch? Do you also want to have a good legacy with a big but? How long are you going to allow Hamat Bah to mess up the good works of Mambanyick and Honourable Sanno and other NPP militants who are touring the length and breadth of the country to rally support for you? Most people believe that you are keeping him in his position because you need him for the coming political campaign but I see it differently. I don’t think he is useful for any campaign because he has lost his support base even inside his own party and some politicians will go all out to hush him.
As your supporter, I am worried that during the 2021 political campaign Hamat Bah’s actions and utterances will make us lose a lot of support. I know after reading this article he will come running to you and convince you that these are mere accusations from the opposition and that the whole tourism industry is behind you just like General Saul Badjie made Yahya Jammeh believe that the whole army was behind him when he refused to step down only to find out that even the Junglers that were closest to him have deserted.
When you are within those high walls of the State House, you hardly notice what is going on outside those walls but I implore you to invite the tour operators, hoteliers, guides, fruit vendors, taxi drivers, craft vendors to the State House and sound their opinion on whether your tourism minister is consulting with stakeholders in preparation for the coming season and what they think about that ridiculous plan he and his PS and Acting DG of Gambia Tourism Board sent to the stakeholders that resulted in him telling the stakeholders to talk the talk.
On a final note Your Excellency, I urge you to take the issues I raised in this letter seriously and act before more damage is done. The tourism workers are confused, stressed and unhappy and it may have some serious consequences on your government. Take this letter to be from someone who loves and respects you and wants to see your success. Even if you do not believe that I am your supporter, take my words seriously for I swear I have no bad intensions.
Whilst I remain your true admirer and supporter, I pray for your good health, prosperity and for you to be able to complete all the good works you are doing and intend to do for our dear motherland, The Gambia.
Your true supporter