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The issue of National Assembly vehicles: Shifting focus to apprehend the necessity

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By Sait Matty Jaw

A recent discourse surrounding the acquisition of vehicles by the National Assembly (NA) in Gambia has sparked debates on social media and beyond. Amidst the uproar, it’s imperative to steer the conversation towards appreciating the potential benefits these vehicles can offer, rather than solely fixating on the price tag. Delving deeper into the matter, it becomes evident that the necessity of these vehicles extends beyond financial considerations, encompassing factors that can significantly enhance governance and citizen representation.

One particular concern raised by critics’ centers on the cost of these vehicles, which some claimed to be as high as 3.5 million Gambian Dalasis. However, according to the NA the vehicles cost 2.5 GMD and is 50-50 shared cost between the parliamentarians and Assembly to be paid over 5 years. Understandably, this hefty price tag raises eyebrows, especially among citizens grappling with unemployment and economic challenges, which is also the major concern of critics. Yet, beyond the initial shock value, a nuanced understanding of the situation reveals a more complex reality.

To place this issue in context, it’s essential to acknowledge the National Assembly’s pivotal role in the democratic process. As an entity responsible for enacting laws, scrutinizing government activities, and representing the interests of the citizenry, its functionality directly impacts the nation’s governance. In this light, the purchase of vehicles should be seen as a strategic move to bolster the Assembly’s effectiveness rather than an indulgent expense.

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Let’s examine the multifaceted benefits these vehicles can yield:

1.         Closing the representation gap: A prevalent issue in many democracies is the detachment between citizens and their elected representatives. Gambia is no exception. Afrobarometer surveys indicate that constituents often struggle to contact their parliamentary representatives. By providing vehicles to parliamentarians, particularly those hailing from rural areas (we are all aware of the conditions of roads there), the potential for more frequent and meaningful interactions with constituents increases. This aids in bridging the gap between citizens and their elected officials, fostering mutual understanding and better representation.

2.         Addressing quorum problems: Parliamentary sessions often face disruptions due to insufficient attendance, which impedes the legislative process. The provision of vehicles could help mitigate this issue, allowing members to attend sessions more consistently. This, in turn, strengthens the functioning of the Assembly and enhances its ability to fulfill its duties effectively.

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3.         Enhancing oversight: Effective oversight of government activities is crucial for ensuring accountability and transparency. With reliable transportation at their disposal, parliamentarians can easily monitor and assess government projects within their constituencies. This heightened oversight can lead to improved service delivery and reduced opportunities for mismanagement or corruption.

4.         Uplifting parliamentarians: Elevating the dignity and status of the National Assembly is paramount. By providing parliamentarians with adequate and dignified means of transportation, we demonstrate the significance of their role and the respect they command. This fosters a more conducive environment for constructive debate and collaboration within the legislative body. In fact, when compared to the executive that parliament should check, the resource gap between the institutions has direct effect on the functioning of parliament over the years.

5.         Creating employment: The impact of these vehicles extends beyond the walls of parliament. By employing drivers to operate these vehicles, a positive ripple effect is created in terms of job creation and support for families, ultimately contributing to local economic growth. The good news is salaries for the 58 drivers comes directly from the members themselves. They have to negotiate and pay their own drivers from their own pockets. Compared to the executive everything is paid for them.

6.         Cost-sharing and maintenance: It’s crucial to recognize that parliamentarians are taking on a significant financial responsibility alongside the government. The financial contribution by members, combined with their commitment to cover ongoing maintenance costs, showcases a shared accountability for the vehicles’ upkeep. This model could potentially inspire cost-efficient practices in other sectors of governance. However, it is also important to note that this is not the first time such has been proposed. The Amadou Sanneh inspired vehicle policy was earmarked to shift cost of burden from the state to civil servants. Unfortunately, we will never know its impact since it has not been implemented, but perhaps this move by the Assembly can provide critical insight in creating and managing assets for public service.

7.         Strengthening the Assembly: The NA’s newfound autonomy underscores the need for a functional and well-equipped body. Plans to establish constituency offices, managed and staffed by the Assembly, demonstrate a commitment to effective representation. These developments require reliable transportation to facilitate parliamentarians’ regular interaction with constituents.

In the end, while concerns about financial prudence and accountability are valid, it’s essential to view the acquisition of vehicles by the National Assembly in a broader context. The emphasis should shift towards recognizing the potential transformative impact these vehicles can have on citizen engagement, governance, and accountability. A functional and accessible National Assembly is pivotal to a thriving democracy, and this consideration should be at the forefront of discussions. Only through a comprehensive evaluation of both the cost and the potential benefits can we arrive at a well-rounded understanding of this complex issue. Our focus now should be on the good that can come from these vehicles.

Sait Matty Jaw is the Co-Founder and Executive Director, Center for Research and Policy Development based in Bijilo. His research interest focuses on Gambian Politics. @saitmatty

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