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City of Banjul
Sunday, January 24, 2021

Travel Clearance for public officers undermines effective management

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I wish to join Mr. Ernest Mendy of the Gambia Revenue Authority to request Pres. Adama Barrow to withdraw the decision to maintain ‘Travel Clearance’ for public officials. During the dictatorial regime of Yaya Jammeh this practice was introduced so that public officers of a certain rank would have to obtain an approval from the president or vice president in order to be able to travel out of the Gambia. It does not matter whether such travel is for official or personal purposes or if the Gambia government or the official himself was to finance that travel. Therefore this was a very arbitrary practice, which effectively restricted the movement of public officials regardless of their situation. That is abuse of power!

As Mr. Mendy rightly said this was a costly practice on public officials. I will also add that it was a costly practice on the government as well. There were many useful meetings and conferences for which public officials were to attend but they could not simply attend because it was either too late to get the clearance or the clearance was not approved. Some of these conferences were no cost to the government yet that official could not attend when that conference could have been beneficial to the institution and the Gambia. It also meant that there were travel clearances approved which were of no use to the Gambia. Hence this practice is not cost-effective and also a burden on both the person and his or her institution.

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The idea of the travel clearance must first be understood in its proper context. During the APRC Tyranny, Yaya Jammeh had no work but to defraud and enslave the Gambia in any imaginable way possible. To be able to do that he had to have effective control over each and every Gambian institution. Hence the travel clearance was merely a tool in the hands of Yaya Jammeh to micromanage so that he could have the feeling of power and control as he liked. He did not care if such measures were harming or benefiting the Gambia.
Secondly this travel clearance also reflected a situation in which Yaya Jammeh never trusted his ministers, permanent secretaries and officials down the line. Hence for him unless he had direct access and control of every aspect of life in the public sector he considered himself weak and threatened. Otherwise which president in the world other than Kim Jong Un of North Korea would busy himself or herself with the traveling of public officials? The president is expected to have lot more important issues to focus on than about which pubic official is traveling to where and when and why. What then is the purpose of the ministers and their permanent secretaries and their directors?

Pres. Barrow needs to realise that we do not need that strong man mentality of Yaya Jammeh. Rather what we need are strong institutions operating along the lines of transparent, accountable and modern rules and processes. We expect Barrow and his team to inject such values and standards into our institutions to ensure that they operate efficiently and effectively than seeking to poke their noses into every little business of public institutions. That does not generate confidence and excellence. In the long run it will cause abuse and waste of public resources.

I therefore join Mr. Ernest Mendy to demand that such draconian and inefficient methods of public sector management be abandoned immediately. We have well trained public managers in our public sector who should be able to manage these issues. If there are genuine concerns that Barrow has, we expect him to introduce better modern management techniques and procedures that will ensure that there is no abuse of travels, and if they happen perpetrators are brought to book.

After all, we also have the PAC and PEC of the National Assembly to better scrutinise the activities of public enterprises and institutions. These institutions also have boards of directors to play an oversight function. Hence these are the structures Barrow needs to address to awaken them to their national duty. The managing directors, permanent secretaries as well as the ministers are all structures that should play their functions effectively to ensure that travels are not abused. They are closer to the issues to make better judgments than the president or the vice president.

What we need in this new Gambia is for the Barrow Administration to ensure that institutions have strategic plans, work plans and budgets to guide their operations. We need results-based management systems including effective monitoring and evaluation structures and tools to ensure value for money and more importantly change that we desire. In essence we need to promote the supremacy of institutions that are knowledge-based, transparent and accountable. Hence the idea of travel clearance is not only crude and backward but it is also inefficient and costly.

Let us tell the government to support the building of institutions than to hand over unnecessary and huge power to one person simply because he or she is the president. When we do that, we do not only fail as a nation, but we also endanger that president and perpetuate corruption. The travel clearance was severely abused in the past, as there was no accountability again as soon as the Office of the President approves it. When that approval was obtained, no minister or permanent secretary can do anything about it but to fund it, regardless. Hence it undermines the functions of ministers and permanent secretaries while public money is being wasted in broad daylight.

Therefore let Barrow hand over the management of ministries, departments and agencies to their respective heads and boards to run. Let him trust them. Let him remind them of their duties. Let him ensure openness and accountability. But he cannot run these institutions for them. His role as president is to ensure overall efficiency, accountability and results through his Cabinet. No to Travel Clearance!
God Bless The Gambia!

Author: Madi Jobarteh

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