By Tumbul Trawally
The International Donor Aid package of 1.45 billion Euros (1.70 billion US Dollars) offered to Gambia in Brussels, Belgium is a golden opportunity for the government to create jobs and alleviate poverty. This is a big deal!
According to the IMF, Gambia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017 was $1.038 billion. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the monetary value of a country’s production of goods, and rendering of services during a time period, usually a quarter (3 months) or a year. It could be the cost of a service as mundane as a haircut in a barber shop, or as sophisticated as the cost of manufacturing an airplane. In other words, the aid package is 70% more than our GDP. That is a huge infusion of resources into our economy. By the way—selling and buying of stocks and bonds are not counted in the GDP.
Mr. President, this Aid package gives you the opportunity to show Gambians and the world that you are cut from a different cloth than your predecessor, the Kaninlai Butcher/Dictator, or the other corrupt African dictators. Be the Gambian version of a selfless Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, or our own Sir Dawda—by working for the advancement of Gambia–not yourself. According to your National Development Plan (NDP) 2018-2021, the priority areas are decentralization, macroeconomic stabilization and economic management, human capital development, youth empowerment, and private sector development, among others. These are all very noble ideas, but they will amount to “Naught”, if the Aid package is squandered.
Within days of the announcement of the Donor Aid package, I am certain the sharks smelled blood in the water and are ready to pounce. Mr. President, you have to be very vigilant and adopt a policy of “No—one—is—too—big—to—go—to–jail”, including you, to be followed by the seizure of the stolen assets; otherwise, the aid package will go down in flames, just like the “Jahali-Pachary Rural Development Project” or countless other projects, over the course of the decades. In the case of the Jahali-Pachary project, a low level Accounts Clerk, Gassama Jobe, was imprisoned, while the Accountant at the Ministry of Agriculture, who should act as the overseer or liaison between the government and the project, went scot free. Not only that, he was promoted to be the Accountant General. Gassama Jobe’s malfeasance lasted for years.
The Accountant at the Ministry of Agriculture should have been aware of his swindling of the project’s funds within a year, at the max, through the routine reconciliation of the books. Instead, it took a lavish wedding at the ultra-exclusive Banjul Reform Club on Fitzgerald Street, to uncover Gassama Jobe’s defrauding of the project’s funds. The seizure of stolen assets is the best deterrent of embezzlement of government funds. It takes 10 years for a civil servant earning D100, 000 annually to earn a million dalasis and 20 years if earning D50, 000. Some individuals make the repugnant, but rational decision to steal a million dalasis, go to jail for a few years, and come out of prison, with their financial security intact, or may be even better. These are usually very egoistic and non-God-fearing individuals. The deepest parts of hell await those who embezzle government resources, which belong to every citizen, from Katong to Koina.
Develop the infrastructure throughout the country and decentralize development. Spur economic activity in the major towns: Brikama, Gunjur, Sibanor, Essau, Kerewan, Farrafeni, Soma, Kaur, Kuntaur, Brikamaba, Georgetown, Basang, Basse. These towns should be the economic hubs in their regions: creating jobs, reducing unemployment & urban migration, and decentralizing the country’s development. It is similar to the role played by Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Edinburgh, or Glasgow in Britain; or that played by the German cities of Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, or Stuttgart.
Once these towns develop, it will have a spill-over-effect into their environs. We are not the Dutch– who are able to increase their landmass, by reclaiming the sea. Thirty to forty years ago, most Gambians would have rejected building a house between Sukuta and Brufut. Today, it is a prime real estate. This came about because Banjul, Kombo St Mary’s Division areas were saturated. As a result, builders had no choice, but to seek land in other nearby locations. Their proximity to Banjul resulted in an appreciation of their land value. The excess money the landowners derived from the sale of their lands is spent on other goods, which keeps the wheels of the economy turning. When businesses are thriving, they use the excess cash to hire more employees and buy more equipment or merchandise.
Imagine what a boost to GDP and land value in the Nuimis, Jokadu, and Badibous, a bridge, tunnel, or a reliable 24 hour ferry service between Barra and Banjul, would have. Economic activity will increase as the landowners command more money for their lands. Our economy will also be more integrated with Senegal’s, which has a bigger and a more vibrant economy. I am not advocating for a bridge between Barra and Banjul because I am from the North Bank region; I am advocating for an increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and a higher living standard. Look at the GDP as a pie.
The bigger the pie, the bigger the per capita GDP, which is the GDP divided by the population. Do not pay attention to the GDP; pay attention to the per capita GDP. China has the second highest GDP in the world, at about 12 trillion US dollars, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, China’s per capita GDP is $8, 643 and at number 71 on the UN Development Index. Meanwhile, Switzerland has the second highest per capita GDP, at $80, 591. On the GDP scale, Switzerland is number 20, at about 74 billion US dollars. Where would you rather live: China, the number 2 on the GDP Index, or Switzerland, the number 2 on the per capita GDP Index? We all know that the Swiss have a higher standard of living than the Chinese.
Reduce taxes to attract Direct Foreign Investment. Lowering taxes will encourage investment in factories and job creation. Use the aid to inject liquidity into the commercial banks, which can lend the money to entrepreneurs and businesses. Easy access to credit will enable entrepreneurs to take risk and invest in job creating endeavours. Encourage Research and Development at the Gambia University and other institutions of higher learning. They could be potential incubators of successful products of the future. Research at high institutions of learning gave us the Internet of things (IOT), which is the platform on which successful companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are based upon. Use local suppliers and businesses, where feasible, to capture the major benefits of the Aid package. It is painful to hear of the death of a Gambian youth in the Mediterranean or being enslaved in Libya. We should harness the energy that propels our youths to cross the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean, and use that energy in Gambia.
Where the rubber meets the road is the disbursement of the funds. Will the Aid package be stolen by government bureaucrats, or will it be spent on developing the country? That is where honesty and proper management come in: the key criteria for accountability. Mr. President, as a concerned citizen, I recommend Alex Segura to be the Coordinator of the funds. Who is Mr. Segura? Why not a Gambian? Mr. Segura was the IMF country representative in Senegal from 2005 – 2009. As a sendoff present, then President Abdoulie Wadda gave him an envelope. Unbeknown to Mr. Segura, the envelope contained $200, 000. Mr. Segura headed for the airport after the sendoff party, for a flight to Spain. When he opened the present and saw the money, he returned it to the Senegalese Ambassador in Spain. How many Gambians or Sub Saharan Africans would do such? Not Many! Who knows how many such gifts President Wadda gave and the recipients kept quiet.
Only God knows!
Sometimes, one has to wonder: is corruption a “Black Sub Saharan African trait” or is it baked into our DNA and genes? Don’t get me wrong: there is corruption in every country; however, Sub Saharan African countries take it to a whole new level. The light skinned Berbers/Arabs in Mauritania would do a better job in allocating resources, for the benefit of their entire population, than any African country below the Sahara Desert. Former Nigerian Transportation Minister Umaru Dicko stole 3 billion Nairas in the early 1980s and stashed it away in Britain. In the early 1980s, one Nigerian Naira exchanged for more than one US dollar.
It is a tragic shame—but let us not despair! Not all Sub Saharan African countries are rife with corruption. A good example is Botswana! How many Gambians in the diaspora know a Botswanan, who is not a student, a diplomat, on vacation, or on an official trip? Rwanda is another economy that has elevated the living standard of her citizens, even though I consider Paul Kagame a dictator. He won 99% of last year’s elections, and he could be in power till 2034–if he desires. That is the definition of a dictator. The prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammed would not get such a high percentage, if they were to rise, and compete in an election, anywhere on this planet.
As for the Constitutional Reform: first, flush the Kanilai Butcher/Dictator’s so-called Constitution down the toilet. Second, adopt Sir Dawda’s Constitution, with a few tweaks on the peripheries, e.g. term limit for the presidency and jail time and seizure of assets of embezzlers. As I mentioned in a previous posting, Sir Dawda had the best Human Rights record in Sub Saharan Africa. Why do you think the AU located its Human Rights office in Gambia? It was because of Sir Dawda’s respect for Human Rights.
To further underscore his high regard for human dignity and rights, he executed one person in 30 years. That was Mustapha Danso, who was involved in the 1981 coup attempt. About 8 months before the coup attempt, Mr Danso killed the then Army Commander, Eku Mahoney. Mr Danso was on death row for that incident, when the coup plotters released him from prison, and gave him a gun. He went on to terrorise civilians on Independence Drive, by the Hospital, on the day of the coup attempt.
Being the only English speaking country in our immediate neighbourhood gives us a tremendous opportunity to be the destination of Foreign Investments. It is the same reason London attracts a lot of Foreign Investments. At the end of the day–our primary focus should be about stabilizing the economy, improving the standard of living, and creating jobs for our citizens. In the name of the Holy Month of Ramadan and “Lailatul Qadr”, may the better Angels within our leaders prevail over the Demons, in administering the Donor Aid package.