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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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The cabinet reshuffle: do you expect any change?

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By Dr Ousman Gajigo

A French author once wrote “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, which means “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. The point of that quotation is that some changes are only superficial. Just as a man changing his clothes does not signify the changing of his character, the nature of certain type of personnel changes in government is simply a mirage to hide the fact that nothing fundamental has changed. This therefore sums up well the recent cabinet reshuffle by Adama Barrow. If anyone is expecting a cabinet reshuffle to herald a new direction in the way the government is run, you will be disappointed.

To see why this is the case, let us look at some of the individual appointments. Hamat Bah is the new minister of lands. This is a terrible development for land administration in the country and for the future development of the country. At the moment, there are few things more important than land administration in the country given our poor history of planning.

Successfully addressing housing and infrastructure development all depend on capable land administration. Given that no one can say that Hamat Bah achieved anything worthwhile in the tourism sector or that he has shown signs of being well equipped to handle the complex challenges of land administration, one can only wonder what goals Adama Barrow have in mind for land administration. After all, we have just been witnesses to the latest alleged corruption scandal involving Hamat Bah and his ministry concerning the construction of eco-lodges just this week. It certainly is not the advancement of the country’s interest that is guiding Hamat Bah’s appointment.

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The appointments of Ismaila Ceesay as the minister of information, Njogu Bah as the director of Pura and Momodou Sabally as an adviser, all embody what actually drives Adama Barrow. It is not the development of the country that motivates the president and guides his appointments of officials.

Rather, it is political considerations that are his main motivations. Ismaila Ceesay, who just a while back was crying about the cluelessness of Adama Barrow had no problem turning around and betraying his close supporters by secretly campaigning for the president in the sneakiest of ways. And does anyone in their right mind think that Momodou Sabally would be providing advice to anyone that is not self-interest driven? What has changed in Adama Barrow’s government between when Sabally and Ceesay were criticising him and now that they are among his biggest praise-singers?

What contribution can Njogu Bah actually make to the development of the country after witnessing the arc of that man’s career under Yahya Jammeh? According to the Janneh Commission, Njogu Bah “aided and abetted” the embezzling of funds and for his personal use. The commission went to the extent of pointing out the fact that Njogu engaged in acts that were not part of his official duties and noted “the enthusiasm with which he facilitated these transactions”. Does anyone think that Njogu Bah’s destructive behaviour in the current administration will be any different? The only thing that has changed is that Njogu Bah declared his allegiance to Adama Barrow and has now become a member of the NPP. That political consideration is the only thing that matters to Adama Barrow.

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It is important to elaborate on this point a bit more. Everyone occupying a political post will have to take into account some political consideration. It is an unavoidable fact of life. What differentiates true leaders from mere political survivors is that the former are motivated mainly by the national welfare and make political considerations only where absolutely necessary and never at the expense of the collective good. For politicians primarily driven by politics, national welfare plays second fiddle to political considerations.

To further illustrate how Adama Barrow’s recent cabinet reshuffle is not motivated by national welfare, consider some of the ministers that survived the reshuffle. Let’s take Demba Sabally, the minister of agriculture. This year, we have thousands of farmers that waited for months to receive the payments for their groundnuts. To date, there are still farmers who have not been paid after toiling on the farm for months. It is worth remembering that the administration had threatened farmers if they sell their groundnuts to anyone but the government. Yet, it turns out that the government was not in a position to buy all the groundnut harvest, despite having months to prepare in advance.

In addition, the country’s importation of rice is growing by the day, while the price is going through the roof due to the fact that the country has the worst rice productivity in Ecowas. And yet, the minister of agriculture pays no price for such a poor performance simply because he is a key member of the ruling NPP.

It is worth pointing out that this reshuffle is actually aggravating one of our biggest national problems, which is excessive expenditures that is causing our debt level to rise uncontrollably. Notice that several of the officials who have been relieved of their posts such as Claudiana Cole of the Ministry of Basic Education, Seyaka Sonko of the Ministry for the Interior, Lamin Jadama of State Intelligence Services and Special Adviser Mambagnick Njie have all been deployed to the foreign service. This is the continuation of dumping officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when the government has no use for them. This is a needlessly costly habit for the country.

The budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to grow significantly, without any commensurate benefits for the country. In 2024, the budget allocation to the ministry was almost two billion dalasis. This allocation is far in excess of what is warranted but it will only keep on increasing because the government keeps dumping officials there. In the meantime, the budget deficit continues to grow and the government is forced to borrow more money leading to more unsustainable debt. What is more, key ministries such as education and agriculture are under-funded given their relative contribution to economic development.

The more fundamental problem with increasing the personnel at the bloated Ministry of Foreign Affairs without any thought to the suitability or competencies of these individuals for diplomatic positions is the devaluation of the idea of expertise under Adama Barrow. If one does not appreciate that certain positions require the appropriate expertise, then it does not matter which clown is appointed. Is it any surprise that the country’s diplomatic missions are the scenes of embarrassing incidents? Is it any surprise that we are not seeing any positively impactful results from this government?

What has happened with the deployment of more officials to the foreign service who have no business holding those portfolios is a microcosm of a much larger problem in the Adama Barrow regime. A large number of his appointments is not based on competence or expertise. It is not that there is a shortage of qualified Gambians in the civil service. You will not see the names of those otherwise qualified civil servants being appointed in such a reshuffle because they are not political hacks who spend all their time lobbying for positions.

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