By Mustapha K Darboe
As a man who was aware of how inequality, poverty and crony capitalism destroy lives and ultimately the republic by concentrating wealth in the hands of few, Thomas Jefferson, a former American president, said that he “sincerely believes that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.”
You can be forgiven to think that this is an exaggeration. The military is by nature undemocratic and therefore its control over state institutions or growing influence in affairs of governance is at odds with democratic or republican values.
But what Jefferson was talking about could be found in his other quote. He said that the “banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered”.
Human security is the issue here. “Addressing challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of the people.” Thomas was simply recognizing the value of economic wellbeing in ensuring the security of any nation.
The little news I read about Senegal’s problem tells us that their demonstration is beyond the arrest of Ousmane Sonko. According to Aljazeera, the youths are venting their frustrations with the system: unemployment, rising food prices, corruption, endless lockdown etc.
Then ask yourself, what is the situation in this country?
We deal with 35% unemployment rate and 41.5% youth unemployment rate. This adds to the fact that every year, around 60,000 men and women enter the labor market.
But even those employed, a greater bulk can’t make enough to put food on the table. For example, under 4 percent of employees in Gambia earn more than GMD10,000 per month. Among employed workers, 17 percent earned a net income of less than D2,000.
And ridiculous tax exemptions for their cronies, done on discretionary basis— in just the first 6 months of 2020— cost us D1. 1 billion, something which could have reduced our fiscal deficit by 0.7 percent of GDP.
We have a government that neglected cost-cutting measures and indulge in buying cars like Yahya Jammeh did. The vehicle policy designed in 2017 which projected to save us D300 millions yearly became dead on arrival. They continue to buy vehicles even from companies that Janneh Commission recommended should not do business with government for 5 years.
We are having cosmetic reforms of the state-owned enterprises. Both IMF and the World Bank has concluded that the country’s state-owned enterprises have a poor track record of service delivery and financial performance. They are overstaffed and inefficient. For example, a human resources (HR) audit 2016 shows that until 2014, seventy-three percent of the staff employed in the telecommunication and cellular operation sector are employed by Gamtel (53%) and its subsidiary Gamcel (20%) compare to Africell (12%), Qcell (9%), and Comium (6%). It reveals that: (i) Gamtel was 103 times overstaffed and that Gamcel is 4.3 times overstaffed relative to Africell, the most productive entity per employee and the country’s largest network operator; (ii) around 75 % of employees were either ghost workers or could be made redundant; (iii) Gamtel operates at a loss primarily due to high administrative and personnel costs.
A retrenchment plan was developed and dumped. Meanwhile, the state-owned enterprises continue to be a liability for central government. Staff estimates, based on available data, shows the SOE sector imposes a fiscal burden of D5.6 billion on the Government, even as they are this inefficient. No human with sense keeps financing a bankrupt company!
Meanwhile, a special audit financed by the World Bank and meant to reform the SOEs was conducted, only to carry dust on the desk of the finance minister.
NAWEC has been insolvent since 2011, reporting a negative net worth of D4.2 billion in 2017. Over recent years, it accrued operating losses of US$10–20 million per year.
With these and many rubbishes in this country, they created new means to steal the poor by going into major roads and construction projects and sending government institutions/ministries into renting on properties of their friends.
They don’t mind that this country is classified as an indebted, poor country with a public debt over D73 billion. Nevertheless, fiscal indiscipline continues.
For example, at a time when revenue for government was in sharp decline due to Covid 19 pandemic and tourism took a significant nosedive, government initiated 8 roads constructions projects all of which were squeezed in July 2020 supplementary appropriation bill amounting to GMD854.3. All of these roads were to be domestically financed like the Banjul Roads and Sewage Project including the 88km Nuimi Hakalang.
By the way, we are now told the Banjul project cost $40 million. As if this is one country that has a pandemic call “dearth of commonsense”.
Amidst sluggish growth, there is not strategic investment. For the past decade, studies have shown that rice production has been on a steady decline in this country. As at now, Gambia consumes 200 thousand tons of rice but only produces 46 thousand tons. The rice importation cost the country $50 million of foreign exchange earnings yearly. What plans is there for it? Their responses are always predictable: “OH, WE HAVE A WORLD BANK PROJECT TO CONDUCT A STUDY ON THIS” and then that is it. A country that requires external funding to even buy a printer.
Meanwhile, a public-owned company like Saaro that could be invested on to add value on agriculture related produce like groundnuts and sesame, among others, are having little attention from government. They don’t care because efficiency kills corruption. You ever wonder why heat from the sun is killing us here and our energy company cannot even utilize solar to light our homes?
We are losing our waters to foreigners. They tell us Gambians don’t want to be fishermen. Inyong WULO!
This country is retarding. During my childhood days in Salikenni, we had proper facilities including cold storages by the river in my village. This was in several places, EVEN IN KIANG. Now, even Bakau does not have that. In 2018, the National Audit Office did a performance audit on all community fishing sites, and it found that millions of dollars were mismanaged. Nothing happened and the people continue to wallow in poverty.
Who or which political party cares, really, to change this situation other than interests we have seen from one person’s turn to eat to another’s?
As if that is not enough, they told us, there will we right-sizing of the security services and the civil services. Because both of them are overstaffed, not to mention having ministers who are either complicit in the plunder of our resources in the past or human rights violations.
The security institutions have 18,752 personnel, a figure which comprises 46 percent of the total 40,569 public servants on the payroll. The security budget of the Government increased to $30.4 million or D 1.44 Billion in 2018, representing 14.5 percent of the national budget, from $24.4 million in 2017.
And this value-less looters of state and destroyers of lives think they are doing these to others? No. When the republic is going down, no one is protected. The so-called affluent in the riches of Dakar, were they protected from the looting and insecurity?
AL NGA TAA!