January is a tough month when almost everyone here in Sweden have wasted too much money around Christmas and are now anxiously waiting for the next salary. In The Gambia you have the same problem around Tobaski; gifts for all members of the family, new clothes and a ram. Only some months before that, you celebrate Eid al Fitr and that means a lot of expenses too. There are a lot of people who gain on others; prices go up on foodstuff that are already costly. The cost of bread has increased in The Gambia and that depends on the cost of flour. The government has put a price limit on bread, and that could be good, but the problem is that the wheat is imported and has become more expensive. We can’t expect our bakers to make magic, they can’t make bread and get nothing for it.
Wheat is imported from Senegal, Senegal and The Gambia has the same climate so why can’t we grow wheat in our country? Why are we importing unnecessary much from other countries, when we could be self sufficient with so much? The government must be aware of this problem, the members are born and bred in The Gambia, so why is no one dealing with the problem on a long term basis? I have said it so many times, and I do it again: being a politician is not about you – it is about what you can do. It is about what you can do for your country, but do you care? In times of election there are so many sweet promises made, but the fingers are crossed behind the backs of those with the fanciest words. They know how to use the ignorance of the people, they know how to play the game. They know the respect illiterate people have for leaders in nice clothes and an immaculate self-confidence.
When half the population is still illiterate, it is impossible for people to claim their rights. It is shameful to use that against your own people! It doesn’t seem to help being educated and aware of one’s rights when we look at the case with Ebrima L Dampha, a former employee at the Banjul Airport. He is what we call, a whistle blower, a person who calls out when he or she finds that there is a huge problem at one’s company. One should think that the company should react in a sensible way, and be grateful to the one who is responsible enough to stress the problem. The problem is that the problem was not a problem until someone called out the problem and now that person has found himself in deep problem for causing the company problems. Are you following me?
For those of you, who fly somewhere from the Banjul Airport, have noticed that you are forced to pay what they call a Securityport tax. No one explains why and no one explains where the money goes. There are already security services working at the airport, so why this so-called Securityport tax? It is not enough with paying this at your departure, because you have to pay the same amount when you come back. We are speaking about a lot of money, 1000 dalasi per person coming and going. I can afford it, but for someone with a much smaller income this is too much.
The Gambia is depending on tourism, and when the tourists arrive most of them don’t have any dalasi to pay with. This means that they have to pay the fee with whatever the currency they have and there will always be a money loss in the transaction. The difference goes to the same source where the Securityport tax goes. Ebrima L Dampha had stressed the issue with the Securityport tax on his social media. Someone had read this and reported it which led to the sacking of Mr Dampha. So who is the one who has faulted here? Mr Dampha who did his duty as a responsible citizen, or the leadership of the Airport who didn’t want anyone to interfere in their dirty business?
Calling a fee a tax doesn’t make it more legal, because taxes are debated and implemented by the National Assembly and not by some high and mighty who misuse their power. This has, so far, been a great source of income but it must be changed as soon as possible. It is embarrassing to notice how The Gambia tries to appear as a modern country, but fails too often. In a democracy you should not have to fear to point out the issues. You might be considered as uncomfortable, but that is never a reason for sacking a person. There will never be any development in The Gambia if people fear to lose their jobs because they see something that is wrong and they point that out.
With our current system, we will always face what I call the ”oh shit moments”. No one is taking responsibility and no one is taking the initiative to change anything until it breaks. When you face this ”oh shit moment” , people stand there, scratching their heads until someone high up might come with a solution. Look at the problem with the ferries going between Banjul and Barra. Everyone who has been forced to cross the river with these ferries knows how awful it is and how long it takes. Suddenly there was a notice on Facebook that two ferries were going to be closed because of maintenance. They were supposed to be closed for six weeks. Six weeks! That is a very long time and for those who are unfortunate enough to cross every day it must be a nightmare.
So why is not the maintenance done on a regular basis? We all know that there are some issues with the ferries almost every day, so why not deal with them then? No, the deal is to keep on going until you face the ”oh shit moment”, and then hope that some miracle will solve the problem. There are no miracles on this front, practical problems can only be solved by foreseeing leaders who knows that problems will appear and they need to be solved. A good leader is aware that certain things will appear sooner or later, so there will always be a plan for how to solve it and who is in charge for the solution. This is how we take our country forward into a modern world and not a world where we are stuck with our feet deep in the mud.
Speaking about being stuck, look at our police force in The Gambia. They are not fully equipped, don’t have police cars enough and if there are cars they don’t have fuel. Police officers are forced to buy their own uniforms and shoes, and with a regular salary of 3000 dalasi per month, buying a new uniform and shoes when the old is worn out is not an option. Not long ago there was a terrible car crash where two young journalists died. The traffic situation in The Gambia is terrible, and what can be done about it? We have poor police officers standing in the middle of the traffic, are we expecting them to chase traffic offenders by foot?
Too many drivers seem to have got their drivers licenses as a gift from Santa Claus. Where is the authority that is in control of issuing licenses? Currently it is the police that is responsible for that, but that needs to be changed. The police should be focusing on controling the traffic and that people are abiding the law, right now they are spread thin with too many responsibilities. When the budget is layed out for all the expenses that concerns the whole country, doesn’t anyone ask: Where is the money going? Nah, no one is stupid enough to do that. As long as the problem doesn’t concern yourself, you keep your mouth shut. Just be mentally prepared for the day when you face an ”oh shit moment”. What will you do then? Who will solve the problem for you?