A typical case of putting the cart before the horse and other issues uncovered
Recently, President Adama Barrow embarked on a tour of various project sites to assess headway registered as the country prepares to host the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Conference. Whether the conference will take place sooner or later is beyond the scope of this exposé. The state of works on urban roads was on his agenda during the visit but as events unfolded, his expression of disappointment couldn’t be hidden given the slow advancement he witnessed. Astoundingly, in less than five days, on Tuesday the 19th of July 2022, the president was yet again at another event to grace the commissioning of 33 new buses in what was regarded as a public private partnership between Q-Group and the Gambia Transport Service Company (GTSC). The launch of the new buses could perhaps be seen as a God-sent opportunity for members of the public given the recent rumors of commercial drivers wanting to increase fares amid rising cost of living in the country.
However, a second thought will let one realize that the project was rushed, not done in the proper sequence of things, and equally not based on systems thinking. Transportation in the Greater Banjul Area is a complex problem not marred by the shortage of vehicles but inter alia over congestion and poor planning and to address these, a holistic approach guided by systems thinking is needed and not as we have just witnessed. The President in his speech commended the project as he noted the following “this development cannot come at a better time considering the recent significant improvement on our road infrastructure network and the growing traffic congestion in the Greater Banjul Area”. This statement I believe, was made under the influence of presidential convoy privilege but let’s leave that for another day.
The speech of the general manager of GTSC gave an unblemished depiction of how things should have been done consecutively as he succinctly stated, “In the long run, to have an efficient and effective public transport system in the country, there has to be a realignment of our public transport infrastructure. We will need bus-based transit system with dedicated bus lanes to contain with traffic congestion and delays”. At this point you may ask yourself why in the long run or why was that not done first, considering the current traffic gridlock? With GTSC being in existence for the past eight years, when exactly is the long-term target to be achieved? Answers to these questions would have been relevant but notwithstanding, Mr. Kanyi has revealed the existing transportation problem quite vividly.
The event would not have been more interesting and more informative without Mr. Saloum Malang, the MD of SSHFC who also doubles as Chairman of GTSC board. The ‘two-hats man’ promised the audience of a speech centered on strategic issues regarding the way GTSC board, parallel bodies within the government and the private sector can join efforts to actualize government policies. He passionately spoke about GTSC’s potential collaborations with Agriculture as well as Tourism and Culture ministries and even went on to buttress on how river transport can be revitalized. However, in what could be described as departure from real strategy talk to fantasy, Mr. Malang stated, “your excellency, going beyond the borders, there exist a market for air transport in Casamance and Guinea Bissau and GTSC certainly has interest in plying those routes as well”. He also went on to reveal that the project was bound to become a loss-making venture had it not been the personal intervention of the president. This to me is in in fact a ground to question the very nature of the public private partnership. Clearly, the general manager of GTSC Mr. Kanyi indicated in his speech that there was a total of seven bidders out of which four were shortlisted and after thorough scrutiny, Q-group eventually won the bid.
But going by the words of the board chair, one could ask, at what point did the president “personally” intervene in the public-private partnership without which the project would have been a loss-making venture? What exactly is meant by the president personally intervening in a venture that is supposed to attract private sector expertise and financing? What is even more confusing is that while the board chair accorded thanks to the president for making the project a reality, the president in his speech extended thanks to Mr. Muhammed Jah instead. Could it be that the supposed public private partnership between GTSC and Q-group has been personified as Barrow-Jah partnership? While it will be lengthy to buttress on all the issues raised, it is safe to conclude the urban transport initiative could have been planned and executed better and that, the president himself has confirmed some of the missing salient steps when he stated futuristically the following “we will consider allocating routes on the local and secondary routes to GTSC based on agreed terms of engagement beneficial to all partners”.
Moses S Bass is a researcher and can be reached via email on [email protected]