Two Gambian Cabinet Ministers in James Furmose Gomez of Fisheries and Lamin Dibba of Enviroment have netted a “big catch” that will “go a long way in augmenting the Health Sector”, as Health Director Modou Njie put it. What they achieved is a total validator for how serious this Government takes the welfare of Gambians our correspondent writes.
While of an Global International Meeting on Water and Sanitation in Washington DC last week, on a very tight schedule; these three Public Servants took time off to venture into uncharted waters and took on The Global Hearts of Medical Mission a Humanitarian group that had set up free medical practices at Bijilo in The Gambia. The group was unceremoniously kicked out of The Gambia by former President Jammeh without explanation and their Hospital building seized and turned into a residence for Jammeh’ Militia group, The Green Boys and Girls. After spending 8 Million dollars to build the hospital and buy equipment, “with which we served the people of The Gambia, we were forcefully deported out of the country,” a shaking Dr. Byung Barnaba Lee MD tells the Ministers.
This statement brought complete silence at a dinner table. The two Ministers and Director Njie were visibly shaken after hearing these words. By divine intervention, the presence of Minister Dibba was an added bonus given his relationship with the group having been the person that processed their Non Governmental Status when they came to The Gambia in 2006. That relationship was well in play during the deliberations and may have eased the situation which was a traumatic one given the Dr. Lee’s recounting how he put in jail for two days for visiting their building.
After carefully listening to the 80 year old Humanitarian, the two Ministers took their turns to apologize to Dr. Lee and his group for the treatment they received at the hands of former President Jammeh and his government. He said, ” We sincerely apologize from the bottom of our hearts and we do so on behalf of our President, Adama Barrow and the Gambian people who you served so diligently. Your love for our country is well manifested by your actions of complimenting Government efforts in the Health Care system. Ours need rapid transformation and development and it is only through genuine partners like you that do Gods work, can we achieve that goal. ” Gomez went on to remind Dr. Lee that President Barrow’s vision is to bring proper Health Care for all Gambians and against this back drop, he pleaded to the group to return to The Gambia and reclaim their Hospital building and continue to do God’s work which according to Minister Gomez, “is your mission and mandate from the Supreme Being.”
In his turn, the Minister responsible for Environmental Affairs, Mr. Lamin Dibba recalled how he worked with the group setting up the NGO in The Gambia. The 80 year old Doctor was in awe when Dibba gave him their registration number of 2006. Minister Dibba went on to add that
“They were a genuine group that helped all Gambians regardless who they were.” He added that the top priority of President Barrow is to ensure a Healthy and sound citizenry so as to achieve the national objectives for a new Gambia. Along those lines, he assured Dr. Lee and his group that what happened to them was in the past and kindly requested that they return to the country they so love and continue where they left off. Minister Dibba strongly condemned the actions of the former Government and assured Dr. Lee that they have been invited at “the dinner table for a new Gambia.”
Addressing the Ministers, Dr. Lee expressed his profound gratitude to them for taking time off their busy schedule to meet with him citing he has not been able to meet with any Gambian officials since they were kicked out of The Gambia without explanation. Recalling the brutality meted out to them by President Jammeh the Doctor had this to say; ” I did not even know that it was the sign of disaster that we eventually had to stop the clinic. Even though the President had signed off for our use, he told us to give the land back. Police came with guns, and we had to step aside and withdraw. We had to leave our building and facility which had a market value of $5, 000 000. It was forced deportation. My heart was aching because so many prayers and supports had burst like a bubble. I was taken to the CID (Crime Unit) for three days for interrogation.”
Following this narrative, one could hear a pin drop and the somber look in the faces of the Ministers were very noticeable. He lamented also that even when they had to use Gambian hospital facilities for more complicated surgeries, they were charged 5000.00 dollars. That was the biggest bombshell of the night for no one in the gathering could understand how one charges someone for helping and assisting them let alone the exorbitant number involved. Dr. Lee maintained that they had a special place for The Gambia in their hearts and look forward to returning to The Gambia following consultations with the Government on the way forward. He also informed the Ministers that they will be sending a Medical Mission to The Gambia to care for the people.
In his turn, the Director for Health, Mr. Modou Njie thanked the group for their work in The Gambia citing that they were irreplaceable. He alluded that to this day, their departure has left a vacuum in the Health sector; most particularly, “Infant immunization.” He said, to this day, his department is struggling to fill the void left in this area via the departure of the group. He also apologized on behalf of the Gambian people lamenting it was no choice of the people of The Gambia for the uncalled hardships and disgrace they encountered in The Gambia but that of a ruthless leader who was the Pretender In Chief that never cared for the people in the first place. He assured Dr. Lee that in the new Gambia nothing like what happened to him before will be repeated.
The two Ministers promised to follow up on the consultation on arrival back to Banjul. Mr. Ibrahima Samateh and Mr. Sainey Manneh of the Gambian community in Washington DC also attended the meeting.