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Thursday, December 9, 2021

On the politics of Covid-19 and food aid: The Barrownites have lost it Part 1

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By Momodou Sabally

It is by now quite evident that President Barrow and his political protagonists (dubbed the Barrownites by a savvy observer of our politics) will never get anything done right in this country due to the litany of incontrovertible evidence they have given us to support that thesis.

Yet one would have thought that they would be able to squeeze some lemonade out of the bitter lemons thrusted upon the country by the Covid-19 pandemic. But even the opportunity presented by the coronavirus pandemic has been soiled by the Barrownites due to greed and excessive desire to grab every grain of power within their grasp. Perhaps they do not know the wisdom behind the old saying “grasp all, lose all.”

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While the one man unanimously referred to as his boss, Macky Sall, brought in leading opposition figures into his office for consultation and collaboration in Senegal’s fight against the Covid-19 menace, President Barrow remains ‘quarantined’ within the thick walls of State House only to make the occasional dull speech after the social media thermometer shows the red alert.

But one opportunity the Barrownites would not miss is the battle for food aid and its attendant advantages. After sitting by and letting individuals and political organisations take the lead in helping Gambians with sanitary gear and food items, President Barrow and his clique were sure to appear on the scene in classic Indian-police style: to arrive at a Bollywood crime scene when the criminals had already escaped.

After a questionable declaration of approval of D500 million as government budget for the fight against Covid-19, the Barrow administration could not provide a clear breakdown as to how the funds would be used. When a leaked budget associated with the said funds appeared on social media, there was a line item for the purchase of condoms which irked the public. Then came the furore associated with the huge amounts identified for the payment of allowances to staff of the Ministry of Health. This further angered the public and then the Finance minister stated that D143 million had already been spent on the Covid-19 fight; again the reaction from the public was an accusation of siphoning of the funds since there was no tangible evidence as to how those funds were spent when frontline workers still lacked the appropriate tools to work with.

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As if the foregoing missteps were not damaging enough for the Barrownites, they floated a tender for the procurement of rice only for the supply to be presented to the public barely 24 hours after the deadline for the submission of bids. Clearly there was something fraudulent about this process. The contract was allegedly granted to a lady with blood ties to one of President Barrow’s close associates even though the lady had no proven record of dealing in rice.

An observer of the Covid-19 rice palaver made the following allegation that has been re-echoed in many quarters:“Long term President Barrow Financiers Fatoumatta Jawara and her brother Abubacarr Jawara of GACH mining and security were awarded exclusive rights to the Covid-19 rice procurement contract without going through the formal bidding process. This was done at the directive of President Barrow. This is another scheme to boost the coffers of his financial supporters prior to 2021. It’s also noteworthy to point out, this same Abubacarr Jawara won exclusive rights to Sanyang Sand Mining Contract without any bidding process, unilaterally awarded via the president’s directive. See the pattern here?

“These two are NOT rice importers. They are now scrambling to buy the rice from actual rice importers who never got a chance at winning the contract. The Jawara siblings are now currently having issues supplying all the required rice because the importers are now trying to sell their rice to them at higher wholesale prices, which in turn is pushing them to sell to government at D1,450 per 50kg bag, about D300 over retail prices.”

Having bungled the timing, and muddied the procurement process of the emergency food aid programme, one would have thought the Barrownites would be extra cautious and especially prudent in the distribution of the rice. But again they went ahead and showed clear signs that they will never act in good faith. The first known recipients of the Covid-19 rice package are groups clearly affiliated with the Barrownites’ political bandwagon, the Banjul-based group dubbed “Benno Japalleh Adama Barrow”, and members of the President Barrow Fan Club.

A little bit of subtlety would have helped disguise this malfeasance, but the Barrownites are not known for mental acuity. Take a look at the announcement posted on one of their platforms, the Barrow Media Empowerment Facebook page on Wednesday, 29 April:“Today Wednesday 29 APRIL 2020 more than 1500 bags of sugar was given to the people of NPP in West Coast Region by the Secretary General and party leader of National people’s party. NPP. H.E. PRESIDENT ADAMA BARROW. We are so proud of you as a leader.Mr President.”
And this clearly politically motivated skewed distribution of the Covid-19 rice comes fast on the heals of some really vitriolic remarks uttered by President Barrow’s vice president as she presided over the unveiling of the first consignment of the rice package. The VP had some really tough words for Gambian youths whom she described as lazy for not turning up to load and offload the rice. She asserted that the daily paid labourer’s job offered for the transportation of the rice was a good source of employment.

Momodou Sabally, a key UDP surrogate, is an economist, published author, former minister of state and secretary general of the then ruling APRC.

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