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Sunday, May 19, 2024

State of the nation: Dire and ominous!

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By Madi Jobarteh

In a Republic, the sole function of the State is to protect the rights and fulfill the needs of citizens. This is what the Constitution establishes in Section 1(2) when it states that “all organs of the government derive their authority from the people and in whose name and for whose welfare and prosperity the powers of the government are to be exercised…”. In multiple places of the Constitution, various powers and obligations are assigned to various public institutions and officials purposely for them to be able to serve the welfare and prosperity of citizens. The welfare and prosperity of citizens have been stipulated as entrenched rights in the Constitution. Therefore, the State, as a matter of law, has no choice but to protect and fulfill those rights and needs.

The question therefore is whether the State of the Gambia is fulfilling its constitutional obligation to guarantee the welfare and prosperity of citizens? Are State institutions and officials performing their functions in line with the Constitution or not? The answer to these questions lies in the quality of life of Gambians. A cursory look at the recent events of the past few days will show that indeed the Gambia Government is failing woefully to live up to its obligations in the Constitution. What is apparent is the gross abuse of the powers vested in public institutions and officials and failure to uphold their constitutional obligations thereby undermining the welfare and prosperity of citizens.

For example, the current crisis in the ferry service between Banjul and Barra glaringly shows total negligence and incompetence in the Ministry responsible for transportation (MoTWI), Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) and Gambia Ferry Services (GFS). One cannot run a ferry service between a vital crossing like Banjul-Barra and allow such a service to stop for even an hour for nothing other than engine failure. A ferry is a huge piece of equipment which cannot just fail abruptly. If MoTWI, GPA and GFS were efficient, committed, and professional institutions they should have had proper monitoring and accountability systems in place such that such a failure could not just happen!

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But apart from the poor conditions of the ferries themselves, visit the terminal buildings in both Banjul and Barra to see the dilapidation of the facilities, not to mention the poor services of staff there. The entire premises are dirty and filled with cobwebs and no air conditioning and not enough space while the toilets are unfit for human use. The conditions of the ferry services therefore clearly shows that MoTWI, GPA and GFS do not care about securing the welfare and prosperity of citizens as required of them in the Constitution. They do not care because they face no consequences for their decisions and actions.

Away from the ferries, it is disheartening to realize that the Gambia Government has paid millions of dalasi to only seven media houses out of the entire media community to promote its agenda. While the Government failed to be transparent about this, EyeAfrica TV, one of the beneficiaries issued a press release yesterday that they signed a contract in October 2023 with the Ministry of Information through a so-called restricted tender. They claimed the contract was for them to produce, “TV advertisements, live coverages, panel discussions, and documentaries.” The question is why would the Ministry pay upfront for live coverages, panel discussions and documentaries? Why would the Ministry identify only seven media houses when in fact there is GRTS and every other media house which can provide the same services, sometimes at no cost?

Once again, this arrangement by the Ministry of Information is unmistakable evidence of disregard of the law and professional standards. The Government’s agenda is what is specified in the Constitution which is to guarantee the welfare and prosperity of citizens. Therefore, the Government needs not pay any specific media house(s) to promote its agenda. Government should be open to all media houses as it performs its work and render account. Section 207(3) of the Constitution imposes an obligation on all media houses to hold the Government accountable on behalf of the people. Therefore, the job of the media is not to promote or oppose Government agenda. It is to hold the Government accountable. Yet once again, public institutions and officials have shown their audacity to violate the Constitution in connivance with selected media houses with impunity.

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This week the Minister of Finance Seedy Keita said the Gambia’s debt has reached D110.6B in 2023 up from D46.3B in 2016. This is more than 50% increment within eight years. He attributed this to what he called “legacy debts in the system which were not recorded… and the NAWEC bond up to the tune of D1.7 billion…” among others. The question is why would the Government fail to record its financial transactions? Why would the Government bailout NAWEC with such an amount of money, yet electricity and water supply remain ever more erratic and unavailable for the majority of citizens while at the same time tariffs keep increasing?

The Minister listed several infrastructural projects also to justify the high debt burden. While indeed every country needs robust infrastructure, this cannot be at the expense of the welfare and prosperity of the people. Thus, while he talked about infrastructure, the fact remains that poverty, high cost of living, unemployment, and access to services in the country are getting increasingly dire. Furthermore, a close scrutiny of these infrastructure projects shows inferior quality. For example, a lot of funds were allocated to the OIC conference projects, yet the quality of the roads is poor and unsuitable. Because they face no consequences for their mismanagement of public funds these officials can continue to impose debts on the country only to produce more poverty.

The evidence of this mismanagement is the lack of proper documentation, monitoring, and accountability of loans and public funds in general. For example, as they bailout SOEs with billions, yet these parastatals not only fail to pay back, but also their services become poorer and more expensive at the same time. The Auditor General stated in his 2017 report that the Government loaned D11B to SOEs without proper record management system and safeguards! It is this failure to ensure efficiency and accountability that the same Government now wants to sell GAMTEL. Meantime GAMCEL is not only useless, but it is also deep in debts to the neck. If Africell and Qcell could provide efficient services and make profits why should GAMCEL fail?

This week the Ministry of Information convened a press conference where ministers and directors keep highlighting success upon success as if they were talking about a different Gambia. It appears the new Minister of Information Dr. Ismaila Ceesay has taken a new and cunning strategy in disinformation and misinformation just to cover up the incompetence, inefficiency and negligence of public institutions and officials. Gambian citizens must be aware of this dangerous strategy where public officials face the nation with a straight face and a smile to blatantly deny, distort, divert, dodge, mislead, and generalize issues while the people suffer because of their incompetence and inefficiency in total disregard of their constitutional role to guarantee the welfare and prosperity of citizens.

The state of the nation is ominous, precisely because the Government and its agents have decided to blatantly disregard their political, legal, management, administrative and operational functions as required in advancing the welfare and prosperity of citizens. State institutions and officials are notorious for failing to perform their obligations effectively, while they continue to abuse their powers in total contravention of the law, ethics, and national interest. They do so because they face no consequences for their negligence of duty, incompetence, poor performance, and inefficiency. They decide how and when to be transparent and accountable. They do not care about the lives of citizens as they take their time and convenience to do as they wish, with impunity. This is the state of the nation.

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