With Alagie Manneh
Paul Bass was born in Primet Street in Banjul in November 1956. His father was the late Paul Bass Sr of Standard Bank who married Paul’s mother Madeline Bass, or Madeline Frazer, related to the Frazers of Banjul.
Paul got his early education in Gambia, attending St Joseph’s prep, St Augustine’s and Gambia High Schools respectively before traveling to the United States for further studies in early 70s at one of America’s most unique university’s School of the Ozarks.
He then worked for an aviation company in Dallas called Avion, returning to The Gambia in 1993 following a high-level delegation visit led by former president Sir Dawda to Dallas.
A master’s holder in Aviation Safety/Commercial Pilot, Paul worked for the GCAA as Director of Flight Safety Standards for more than 20-years, and registered laudable achievements before retiring in 2017.
In today’s podium, Paul who doesn’t shy to speak his mind, talked hard and freely to anchor Alagie Manneh on his decade-long experiences in public service, his vision and plans for the gentrification of Banjul and other issues underpinning Gambian lives.
Why do you wish to become mayor?
Banjul is a changed City now from what people know Banjul to be. Anybody who’s been away for a while or even those who live here have seen the gradual or general deterioration of conditions in the city; whether it’s the sanitation system, drainage, transportation. In general, what we normally say in the States ‘drive appeal’, as you are driving the appeal of the estate or the real estate, had gone down.
Anybody who knows me, whether it’s in the States or since I have returned knows how passionate I am about Banjul or the belief that I have always held that Banjul can be gentrified, can be fixed again, hence my slogan Liguaaye Yat Banjul. Yes, we had delegated that responsibility to people who had sacrificed to come out to do that. Now I am retired and have time and I am not satisfied with their achievements or what I’m seeing, and the best way to address that is to throw your hat in, put your money where your mouth is and that’s what I am doing. That’s why I am running for mayor so that I can fix these issues with the help of my other colleagues who are going to be elected as councilors.
Some claimed you are not well-known even in Banjul and a new face in politics. Are they right? What is your background in politics?
Background in politics? Actually politics is something that we all, whether we like it or not, or actively or non-actively are involved in, because it is what governs us or how we get things done. Services that we expect as the citizenry comes from who? The decision makers. And who have we entrusted that to? It is the politicians. I don’t consider myself a politician, I’m a technocrat but todays Gambia however needs everybody and I even commend a lot of my other potential opponents. I tell them in person; I am impressed and I appreciate the fact that they have Banjul’s interest at heart that’s why they are putting their hearts in the ring, to help. I am not a politician, but nevertheless you can call me a new kind of politician. I’m a practical kind of guy; if I see something wrong and can fix it, I go ahead and fix it in any way possible.
So yes, I am new in this but I have always been a side-line type of guy but also active. In my days in America, I was active in student government. I was a student senator. And when I left university and moved to Dallas, Texas, I was one of the first Gambians there. In fact, I would be proud enough to say I am one of the people that established Dallas to be what it is today, as a Gambian. There were less than five of us when I moved there. While I was in Dallas, being a resident, I was active in City Hall as a volunteer. I was a volunteer protocol officer for the Mayor of Dallas, for many years and my involvement in that is what more or less, brought me back home because in my duties there in City Hall it came about that there was a delegation from Banjul led by the President, a big delegation. And it was my involvement with the city of Dallas in hosting that team that it came about that I was asked to consider coming back home and work in the newly created civil aviation authority, which was a new parastatal. I worked from 1993 till 2017, when I retired, right before the elections that brought about that impasse. I have 20+ years of public service experience.
And you feel these experiences will ground you well in your bid for mayor’s office?
Absolutely! It helps because it grounds you to be sensitive to local conditions. We were faced with major challenges at civil aviation when I joined. Challenges in terms of its position in the world, an aircraft, which we didn’t have or any aircraft that was registered in the Gambia more or less, faced difficulties as they move around the world. They were banned. Aircrafts from The Gambia were banned to fly into the United States or a lot of countries.
Why? Because there are regulations and laws that we all play in and in aviation, there are certain minimum standards setup by the International Civil Aviation Organisation to allow safe transportation where you won’t have people crashing and stuff.
So what progress have you people registered in that respect at the Civil Aviation during your time?
We have been able to change that in The Gambia to today, we are number three in Africa in terms of compliance with the International Civil Aviation regulations. Our aircrafts can now fly anywhere in the world.
You sound excited saying that. Is that one of your success stories at the GCAA?
Well… I am part of the team that did it. You never able to work alone to achieve big things, you do it as a team, which I intend to do with this challenge of Banjul. We are behind only Egypt and South Africa. Nigeria is behind us, Senegal is behind us and all these big countries in Africa are behind us in aviation. This is why you are seeing a lot of new start-ups in West Africa of new airlines Air Dabia, Slok airlines or this new Mid-Africa all find their homes here because number one, we meet the international standards and the respect that they expect and the access; access to be able to fly into all those countries with a registered aircraft from here.
Today, most Gambians eye careers in politics and claim to be genuine. Do you feel you need to do more to encourage Banjulians you are not just into politics to fill your pockets?
Well, like I said, I was born and raised here. I briefly went out and came back to contribute the little that I can and indeed, the field of political players is big and wide. And as I have said, all of them I commend them for taking the opportunity to sacrifice to run for mayor because I see it as a big job that one needs to sacrifice and commit.
However, there are laws and regulations and things that govern those qualifications. The team is big because a lot of people want to run. You can aspire and if you meet the requirements then you can run. The requirements call for residence, secondary school graduate among many others. But you would notice that you… Just simple logic. Where do you live?
I live in Bakau
Can you come and stand election in Banjul? No. You can vote in Banjul if you have a voter’s card from Banjul but you cannot be a candidate, because you have to be ordinary resident in the local government area in which you wish to stand. So, fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of the aspiring candidates here are not Banjul residents. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s just what the law says.
If you don’t live here, and when I say ‘live’ I mean sleeping and getting out, you are not a resident, but you can vote. So, majority of these aspiring candidates in Banjul, are not going to be able to run. The IEC is aware of this but to IEC for now, all of us are only just aspiring candidates. The IEC cannot tell you that you are not a resident of Banjul because what they can do… the law says you should be ordinary resident here and goes further in number two in explaining what they mean by ordinary resident that ‘within the four years preceding the election or nomination, that the aspiring candidate, that you should be residing or you should live in that local government area for an aggregate period. Pay attention to that word ‘aggregate,’ period of no less than one year or 12 months. And my interpretation of that is that the drafters of that law were perceptive.
In the sense that in Gambia, the majority of the populace are Muslims. And you are as a Muslim, how many wives can you have? Four. One in Brikama, Bundung, Bakau, Banjul. That clause number two’s explanation of four years aggregate, me as a Christian, if at all that word ‘aggregate’ was not there, it would be to my advantage. Why? Because I have one wife and live with her in one residence and can do that continuously for 12 months. You that have Bakau, Brikama and the rest, you have to do what we call ayeh and if you are going to do that in the four years, if they accumulate all of the days that you spent in Banjul, you will have no less than 12 months.
What are you trying to say?
What I am trying to say is that in the field of candidates here there are few whom this aggregate clause favors and they don’t live fully in Banjul. One of them is the incumbent. You know, people tell me Lai Bah doesn’t even live in Banjul and I say well, he has a wife at Mantel. And because of that clause, he is eligible. Now, for the rest of the candidates, you can ask them, if they spend the night here.
How strong is your support base, Paul?
It is very strong because people know me and they see me and they are aware of the fact that I am a true Banjulian and passionate about the city. My strongest supporters pretty much are family and friends and neighbors, because that’s where we expand from. Generally I am everywhere in Banjul, from the market and also I spend a lot of time with the people.
At a time when sentiments seem high in Gambia politics, what advice do you have for the electorates in choosing the right candidates ahead of the looming May 12?
I would say pay attention to all the potential people, they are all well-intentioned people with different methodology being employed as to how you rope in the electorate, whether it’s through inducement or you know different methodology. I would say let them pay attention to what people are saying, what capacities they perceive them to have to make the changes that are necessary and to also pay a particular attention to the fact that the requirement calls for somebody that lives here with them. During the rainy season I go through the same hardships that people go through; the mosquitoes and the fealty places.
They need to pay attention to that candidate that lives with them, that goes through this nonsense with them. So let them pay attention! Whoever they elect, let it be somebody who would live here. That the stench that they smell, he smells the same stench and the same mosquitoes biting him, too. As a matter of fact these mosquitoes recognise us who live here, so if you come from Bakau and want to spend the night here, be aware because these mosquitoes might not recognise you.
How do you plan to celebrate your victory?
Celebrate…? Is there some celebration called for? If I think the conclusion of the election and I get selected, you know, I will do the normal thing, accept and reach out to those people, those contesting candidates and share ideas.
You sound pretty confident, but what if you lose?
I will continue to work for Banjul. I will continue to work to make sure that our wetland is preserved from all these encroachment we are seeing. I would work with whoever is in there to address the issue of the drainage system because it affects me as a resident as well.
Any closing statements?
I just wish everybody well and let people ralise that we are all in this for the sake of Banjul not only for us residing in it but for those other Gambians who see it as their capital, because the capital of The Gambia is Banjul. We should all be proud of Banjul!