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Sunday, July 21, 2024

The time has come for civil servantsto organize for collective bargaining!

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By Madi Jobarteh

This Standard Newspaper story fully captures the problem with the Gambia Government. It appears Government officials either do not know their job or they simply decide to bury their heads in the sand just to ignore the truth and facts thereby perpetuating disinformation, inefficiency and incompetence.

In this story, the Minister of Public Service Baboucarr Bouy said civil service salaries will increase when there are improvements in national revenue. He went further to say in 2021 the planned salary increment was dropped because of cost implications which was why only a 30% increment was carried out in 2022. But Bouy is not willing to take responsibility for the revenue situation saying that is the job of the Ministry of Finance.

Clearly it is obvious that Mr. Bouy is merely giving excuses and diversions just to refuse to respond to the fundamental question that goes to the heart of national development, i.e. salaries of civil servants. The salaries and incentives of public sector workers is a critical element in ensuring an efficient, transparent, responsive and professional civil service. When civil servants are poorly paid in an economy which is suffering from high cost of living, then it sets the stage for inefficiency and corruption to become rife in the civil service hence undermining national development as we have been experiencing in the Gambia.

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Therefore, what the Minister said is not the case. The Gambia does not have a poor revenue situation. One needs to look at the revenue sources of this country to realize that indeed the Gambia Government is collecting huge amounts of revenue with more than enough room for improvement. For example, over the years we have seen how GRA has been increasing its revenue collection annually by billions. The Government has other revenue sources such as from SOEs, royalties from mining, loans and grants all of which provide huge amounts of revenue. Even at the local government level, councils collect a huge amount of revenue. Where is the money? How is the money spent?

Therefore, the issue in the Gambia is not that there is low revenue. I challenge the President Adam Barrow and the Minister of Finance Seedy Keita to disclose the full revenue sources of their Government. From the budget alone, we have seen how revenue increases by billions of dalasi every year. But as taxes, loans and grants increase, so does expenditure increase. But this expenditure is mostly to shower more money onto officials to the neglect of civil servants.

For example, we have seen millions of dalasi spent on the President any time he travels around the country. The issue is not that the President should not tour the country. But the issue is that such tours could have cost far less by reducing the size of the convoy. Most of the people who travel with the President have no use in those tours. Also, we have seen the Government buy multimillion dalasi vehicles for Ministers and for their families. Across the Government, vehicles are bought left, right and centre for top officials unnecessarily thereby wasting a lot of money which could have gone to give civil servants better pay.

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Apart from these wasteful spending, there is widespread corruption and mismanagement of public finance across the Government. Huge sums of money are spent on white elephant projects or projects with no value for money. The evidence of this can be found in the Auditor general’s reports and various commissions of enquiries. What is even more scandalous is how SOEs, which were created to raise revenue for the Government, turn into wasteful enterprises. Not only do they fail to provide dividends and if they do it is only pittance, but also, they take loans from the Government and then refuse to pay back.

Therefore, the reasons Minister Bouy is advancing are not the issue. There is no shortage of revenue for the country. The real issue is the mismanagement of revenue by the Government. For example, how can the Government justify buying a vehicle for D12M for the OIC Summit and after the 2-day summit these vehicles are shared among ministers, party officials and other unidentified individuals? The fact thus remains that the Cabinet does not care about civil servants, and all that Minister Bouy says are mere excuses and distortions.

I urge civil servants to therefore begin to mobilize and organize themselves to either join the Gambia Workers Union or create their own unions to take industrial action for better pay and conditions. The right to create or join a trade union is a fundamental right of workers guaranteed by international law under ILO Conventions. The Gambia has ratified several ILO Conventions, namely, ILO Convention 87 which guarantees the right to freedom of association and the right to organize as workers, ILO Convention 88 which guarantees the right to organize and collective bargaining, and ILO Convention 100 which guarantees the right to equal remuneration.

Civil servants must realize that they do not owe any allegiance to the President or the Government. They owe allegiance only to the Constitution which guarantees their rights. Civil servants must realize that their salary is not a charity or favour from the Government. Rather they have a right to decent salaries and incentives. Just as the President, Ministers, NAMs and Judges are showing themselves with good salaries, so also do civil servants have the same right. Therefore, civil servants should not think that they should wait for Cabinet, or they are at the mercy of the Minister of Public Service or the Minister of Finance. No.

Rather civil servants should organize to demand their labour rights and dignity as workers by agitating for better pay.

Time to organize is now.

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