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Saturday, May 25, 2024
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The pretending government

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By Dr Ousman Gajigo

Just after I completed my last article on role-playing by the Adama Barrow government as opposed to real governing, a few developments came to light that illustrated the point perfectly. One involved the renaming of the Ministry of Agriculture and another was the announcement that The Gambia government will “investigate” the death of a citizen in Germany. The announcements of these events show why this government is unserious and why we should not expect any meaningful results from them.

Officially, the new name of agriculture ministry is the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Security. This move perfectly exemplifies the lack of seriousness of the people running our country at the moment. Given the choice and the ability to do undertake meaningful reforms and bring positive changes to the lives of people, these officials chose the most superficial matter and made an empty ceremony out of it.

It would have made sense to change the name of a ministry if there had been a major reorganisation of the government in terms of the range of sectors covered. For instance, if the scope of the Ministry of Agriculture has been expanded significantly through a consolidation. Or if a particular sector has been sub-divided across multiple ministries. But that is not the case at all in this situation.

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The primary objective of the agricultural sector has always been food security. As a result, the premier objective of the agriculture ministry in any country, including The Gambia, has been food security. Indeed, the foremost international organisation on agricultural matters is the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and its top objective to “…defeat hunger, improve nutrition and food security”. The fact that food security is a fundamental goal of agricultural sector is neither a new revelation nor a novel responsibility added to the portfolio of the agriculture ministry. The same goes for livestock. Livestock has always been a sub-sector of the agriculture ministry. There is not a single person in The Gambia who would be at a loss in determining which ministry houses the livestock unit as animal husbandry is universally understood to be an agricultural sub-activity. Furthermore, the financing or implementation of agricultural policy would not be affected by this name change. Put differently, this name change would be no different from adding the world “learning” or “students” to the official name of the Ministry of Basic Education, while leaving its scope, financing and policy implementation intact.

So, here we see the government engage in a gimmick by making a ceremony out of a pointless exercise. The change in name did not signify any change in the portfolio or deliverables of the Ministry of Agriculture. In the meantime, we have several serious problems in the agricultural sector that deserve but are not getting the required attention. For instance, The Gambia has the lowest rice productivity in all of Ecowas, and this has been getting worse throughout Adama Barrow’s tenure, and Gambians are enduring rising rice prices and yet there was no mention of how to effectively tackle this problem. Food prices are good up all the time, leading to food insecurity in the country. The women growing vegetables in village gardens are completely forgotten to manually draw water from deep wells due to lack of irrigation. The productivity of the livestock sector in the country is currently at the lowest point since independence. Yet despite these burning issues, the government thinks mere renaming is worth an action item.

Instead of pointless renaming of ministries, another serious activity would have entailed re-organising and consolidating ministries in a more rational way. For instance, there is no reason to have two separate ministries of education, where one covers basic education and another covers tertiary education. This should have been removed since 2017. Right now, there is a disconnect and needless duplication in the education sector as a result of this unnecessary separation. Partly as a result, less money is allocated to investments in education infrastructure while outsized amounts go into paying salaries of duplicated senior positions. In the current Gambian situation, the Ministry of Higher Education should be directorate within a single Ministry of Education. But instead, we have almost 20 ministries, which is far higher than necessary to effectively run this country. The one meaningful action that would require re-naming ministries in The Gambia today is if we reconsolidate some of these into few ministries for effective delivery of services that would benefit ordinary Gambians.

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Instead of addressing this problem, this government decided to make the problem worse. The former Ministry of Information and Communication has now been divided into two separate ministries: Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. This is not only unnecessary but also extremely expensive. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Information can be handled by a small unit. But instead, there is a duplication of roles whereby in addition to this ministry, there is a government spokesman (Ebrima Sankareh) as well as another spokesperson (DPPR) at the State House. 

The new minister of this unnecessary Ministry of Information, Ismaila Ceesay, also informed us that The Gambia would be “investigating” the death of a Gambian who was tragically killed by the German police a few days. Of course, The Gambia government should be concerned about the potential abuse of a citizen anywhere in the world. However, the idea of the Adama Barrow regime carrying out an investigation into a crime in different country is a complete joke. And we should be offended that this unserious government is insulting the collective intelligence of the country by presuming that we would take this bogus claim seriously.

Basic law enforcement in The Gambia is falling apart. The reason for this failure is obvious. First and foremost, there has been no security sector reform. And as I have pointed out before, the budget allocation to internal law enforcement is ridiculously low. This means that the average salary of police officers is too small to enable them to carry out their basic duties. As a result, the average police officer on the street is more concerned with supplementing their incomes through begging. Another major reason is the absence of almost any budget allocation to essential equipment and transportation. For example, over the past three years, the budget allocation for the purchase of police vehicles for the whole country cannot even buy two land cruisers. As a result, crime is rampant in the country, while Adama Barrow continues to hide behind Ecomig forces.

Even if The Gambia has a well-funded police force, it is simply impossible for the country to carry out an investigation of the murder of a citizen in Germany. Beyond the obvious issue of jurisdiction, the resources are simply not there for the country to project its law enforcement beyond our border. If we rule out an investigation by our police, we are left with the diplomatic staff in our embassies or consulates. And there is no way any of our diplomatic staff would be able to engage in any sort of investigation in a foreign country because that is not competency of such staff.  The only thing those staff would be reduce to is to simply lodge a complaint and wait for internal German investigations to be completed. In any event of a wrongful death of a citizen in a country such as Germany, the best course of action is to wait for the inevitable investigation by the German government themselves. How can the Adama Barrow’s government, which cannot even prosecute perpetrators of crimes under the Jammeh regime currently in The Gambia, investigate any crime in a foreign country?

The idea that the Adama Barrow government would investigate a crime in a foreign country is a complete fiction and it is designed to deflect attention from the government’s glaring failures. The underlying reason for a high number of Gambian youths in foreign countries is the failure of the current government to provide economic opportunities at home. This failure is what led to thousands of our young citizens forced to make risky irregular migrations to Europe. Maltreatments of our citizens abroad or during deportations all stem from this fundamental failure. 

The common thread in the announcement for the new name for the Ministry of Agriculture and announcement of a fake government investigation in the death of a Gambian abroad is the now standard practice of the Adama Barrow government where appearances are prioritized over real work. It is a government that is busy with the act of role-playing than with real governing. It is only fitting that such a joke of an announcement comes from an unnecessary ministry whose very existence is the perfect embodiment of lack of seriousness and purpose.

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