Open letter to the President

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Dear Mr. President

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Edrissa Baldeh, I am a staff of The Food Safety and Quality Authority of The Gambia (on study leave). I am currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Animal and Food Hygiene in Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, Japan. I obtained a Masters degree in Food Science from the same University in March 2019.

Mr. President I want to draw your attention to the ongoing crisis at the Food Safety and Quality Authority of The Gambia (FSQA). Like most Gambians, I was shocked that seven staff among the petitioners of the Director General were sacked. Mr. President three years ago, when this young men and women were mobilizing their family and friends to vote against a bad regime, they imagined to usher a new government that will reform the civil service, promotes fairness and equality before the law. Whilst there are countless positive changes in the Gambia under your leadership, the FSQA continues to accelerate in the opposite. The Director General, Zainab Jallow has continued to run that vital institution as her own personal enterprise aided by the board which she controls like a remote.

Mr. President I believe you are man of justice and truth. I know that there are some people feeding you with false information and there are many unlawful actions done by people you trusted with authority. Such people neither love our dear country nor want to see you have a rich and everlasting legacy. Please pardon me to take you through how the latest events at FSQA unfolded. I trust you were kept in the blind whilst the biggest miscarriage of justice was taking place under your government. In late last year, when working conditions became unbearable, over 32 staff of the FSQA filed a petition against the current Director General of the Authority. After the submission of the petition, in a bid to frustrate their efforts, most of the petitioners were immediately posted up country by the Director General. They refused to honor the postings because of obvious reasons which they detailed during their press conference. The Board of Directors of FSQA intervened and commissioned a Committee of Inquiry to investigate complaints and concerns regarding the petition (commendable!). The Committee of Inquiry included the Commissioner of Labour, the Director of Human Rights, Office of the Ombudsman, the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Office of the Vice President and the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Personnel Management Office.

Consequently, to the dismay of the petitioners, after the conclusion of the inquiry, the report was kept secret. When the petitioners wrote to the Board of Directors of FSQA requesting copy of the investigation report, they were sent on leave without salary. Hence, they were left with no option but to call a press briefing and inform the country of their plight. Two days later their services were terminated. Meanwhile the leaked final investigation report has vindicated the petitioners and implicated the Director General, Zainab Jallow on multiple corrupt, financial and leadership mismanagement practices. The report was submitted to the Office of the Vice President-the line ministry of the FSQA. It highlighted serious violations and leadership abuse by the Director General.

I believe this report was hidden from you because as a man truth, you would not allow such power abuse to take place in your government. You vowed to Gambians and swore on the noble Quran that you will treat all Gambians equally, without fear or favour, affectionate or ill will. You promised to upheld truth and justice in our country. Today if there is anything noble to do, is to reinstate the seven (7) sacked FSQA staff and implement the recommendations of the investigation without fear or favour. As you have read, the investigative team was made up of independent seasoned senior civil servants, hence their words should be taken earnestly. Besides a lot of taxpayer money was used in financing this investigation, it will also be unfair to the citizens of our country if your government ignores this report. Great leadership involves taking tough decisions to salvage the truth. Today I respectfully request your intervention in this critical issue which will undoubtedly help shape your legacy as President. You may be commended for the positive developments you made during your tenure however like others before you, your legacy as President will be stained if you allow senior government officials like Zainab to freely practice corruption. If there is anything the petitioning staff of FSQA deserve is praise for exposing corruption. You cannot fight corruption and abuse of power if whistleblowers are victimized.

Besides being the backbone of FSQA, these staff are breadwinners of their families. They have invested a lot of their time and energy in the improvement of food safety in The Gambia. I stood with them from the beginning of this struggle and it will remain like that. I have worked with them crisscrossing the length and breadth of The Gambia controlling and sensitizing communities about food safety and quality issues. I have worked with them in daylight and in the darkness visiting food establishments to ensure that food in The Gambia is safe. They have nothing but love for our country and enthusiasm to serve our people. Like me, they have no personal grudges against Zainab Jallow. It will be against equal and exact justice to punctuate their careers for no apparent reasons. Like myself, I am not worried about their future. And I am optimistic these young men and women will surely find their way to the top.

Personally, I am a victim of Zainab Jallow. In what I now called blessing in disguise, in 2016, when I got a scholarship to study Master’s degree in Japan, after exhausting all efforts stopping me from going for further studies proved futile, she unilaterally denied me `study leave with salary`. She gives no regard to the fact that I have a family to take care and the provisions of the government of The Gambia service rules. This has been her modus operandi. If she cannot find a way to fire someone, she frustrates him/her by either ignoring them (like you don`t exist in the office) or trying to find their faults. Some staff who could not deal with such toxic work environment ended up resigning. This is the order of the day at FSQA. Today I do not care if my services are terminated. First of all, I will never work in that office again if my colleagues are not reinstated. Secondly, I will not be going back to work under the same conditions I went through. Even though I love serving my country, my mental health is important to me. With my knowledge and skills, I prefer taking them to where I am valued than work with someone who treats me like a slave. Maybe there exist things I am worried about but not my future.

On a final note, Mr. President I hope you will ask relevant authorities to furnish you with the proper information and get to the bottom of this saga. I hope senior government officials, presidential advisers, aides, close associates of President Barrow and ordinary Gambians reading this will also join their voice in calling the President`s intervention in solving this issue once and for all. It may take for the truth to become public but it will never remain in the dark. As already inscribed in the investigation report, I am sure history will vindicate us.
Your Excellency, thank you in advance for your consideration and swift action.
Edrissa Baldeh