When the Constitution demands that the President delivers the state of the nation address at least once a year on the condition of the country, it does not mean that such address should only be about the plans and intentions of the Government. Section 77(1) rather intends that the President will talk to Gambians about the prevailing issues, concerns, and experiences of the people in the country, and his ideas and solutions for these issues and concerns. In that discussion, the President is bound to refer to or highlight policies and programs intended to address these issues and concerns.
Unfortunately, once again President Adama Barrow has totally failed to speak to the very daily issues, concerns and experiences of the everyday people of this country. Instead, the President wasted the public’s time and resources to only list ongoing and planned projects and highlighting so-called successes and expressing intentions and actions. Most of those projects and successes are in fact failures that have come to cost the people so much!
One example is the Banjul Road project, which is not only a failure and blatant waste of public funds but also has come to cost lives and livelihoods in Banjul. But the President never spoke to the illegality of that project. Thanks to that failed project the country is further indebted beyond five billion dalasi annually! On energy and petroleum, Barrow has failed to speak to the blatant corruption involving GamPetroleum and the abysmal failure of the Ministry of Justice to prosecute a case which involves over a billion dalasi.
At the same time, the President has failed to speak about the high cost of fuel other than blaming COVID and the Ukraine War. Currently the transport union is on a sit-down strike thus bringing untold suffering on the people. Yet the President did not even mention that strike much more, offer his solutions and invite the union to more dialogue as any responsible president would do.
The blatant destruction of the environment by fishmeal factories, fishing companies, sand mining companies and other businesses who are occupying the Tan Bi in Banjul was totally neglected by the President. The deliberate encroachment on forest lands and the indiscriminate dumping in forests across the country which threaten the environment were also not addressed by the President. Meantime so many Government ministries and agencies are renting while state lands are being distributed to individuals who do not legally qualify to get them.
While commending the Gambia Armed Forces for its intervention in Foni in the wave of incursions from Senegalese soldiers and Casamance rebels, it is shameful that until today the President himself has not gone to Foni to commiserate with displaced Gambians. But talking about the army and security in general, what has the President done to promote security sector reforms over the last six years? Until today the country is facing military, police, and immigration checkpoints all over the country as if the country is in an armed conflict. These checkpoints do not give any pleasant experience to citizens, rather they slow down economic activity and hamper the free movement of people.
After strategically causing the collapse of the 2020 draft constitution, Pres. Barrow said a new constitution will be drafted to be placed before the National Assembly alongside the reform of laws especially those that infringe human rights. But the President has not provided any timeline as to when the new draft constitution will be placed before the National Assembly. Overall, what is evident is the slow and inconsistent legal, constitutional and institutional reforms hence indicating a failed system change since he took over in January 2017 contrary to his promise in his 2016 manifesto.
Gambia citizens and communities are suffering from severely poor utility services which are erratic and expensive at the same time. Gambians are facing high healthcare costs while public health facilities and workers are poorly equipped to adequately cater for the health needs of the people. The recent secondary school results indicate the poor quality of education services. These are all issues that hugely concern Gambians that the President has failed to squarely address as to his solution for them.
What about transitional justice and the Government’s own White Paper on the TRRC Recommendations? Where do we stand with the implementation of the White Paper? It is now nine months since TRRC submitted its final report and four months since Government issued its White Paper yet today, the President woefully failed to address the issue which is utterly sad and unfortunate because the success of his Government is unattainable without the implementation of that TRRC Recommendations.
The President must realize that democracy and governance are not merely and only about civil liberties, active participation of political parties and citizens and good international relations. If democracy and governance have to be viable and good, it means there should be effective and accountable leadership and responsive administration that address the needs of the people. Currently this is not happening in the Gambia. After kicking out dictatorship, and as Barrow trumpets himself as a democrat, he must be told that the social and economic conditions in this country are dire. People are suffering severely in all aspects.
In essence, the President has failed to deliver an appropriate state of the nation address. He has used it to avoid, ignore and mislead critical issues while diverting attention to issues of interest to himself. The issues and concerns of the people are rooted in the very challenges facing this country due to poor performance of public institutions and officials. He has failed to speak to the issue of transparency and accountability to ensure that the Government indeed delivers. His speech gave the impression that this country is going in the right direction when that is not the case. Contrary to his false claim that the Gambia has a story of success, indeed this country is in severe and turbulent conditions due to his inefficient and corrupt administration.
I hereby call on the NAMs to invoke their powers under Section 77(2) of the Constitution to summon the President to the floor of the National Assembly when they discuss his address. He should be there to listen and answer the questions and comments that will arise. NAMs must realize that the State of the Nation Address is the only occasion when the Executive and the Legislature at the highest levels sit together in one room to talk about national issues.
Hence in the debate of the address, NAMs should call in the President to be part of the conversation since that session is focused on the President’s address. The President is not a king and the Gambia is not a monarchy but a republic in which governance is led by the President and the NAMs. Therefore, the President should come to the parliament to engage in discussion about his address.