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City of Banjul
Saturday, July 13, 2024

Where is this country heading to?

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By Madi Jobarteh

It is seven days today since Malagen released its bombshell report on the fraudulent airport tax which has been illegally imposed on the country by the Government in cahoots with a foreign company, Securiport. The Gambia Government itself has completely ignored the story as we have seen no press release from the so-called Government Spokesman even though he had the temerity to release a ridiculous press statement from New York about recent killings.

The nonsensical nature of that New York press release lies in the President himself pretending not to know about these killings until he arrived in America and informed by ordinary Gambians at a hotel! Is Barrow telling Gambians that his IGP, the NIA, the Minister of Interior, the National Security Council, and the Cabinet have never mentioned these murders to him?

But the most shocking is the fact that seven days after the Malagen story, no political party and CSO found it necessary to react to it, officially. Until today no party has issued any statement or written to the Government to seek answers or gone to court to stop it nor asked their members to protest at this blatant illegal act hatched at the highest level of the State. Yet these political parties indeed claim they are interested in improving the lives of Gambians!

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I have come to the undesirable conclusion that indeed Gambians like to talk about change, but we do not want change. Otherwise, how can one explain the total silence and calm by the political parties, CSOs and citizens in general at the utter mismanagement and plunder of this country by the Government since 2017 to date? The culture of abuse of office and flouting of the Constitution and pillaging of public funds by this Government are so blatant and crude that one would imagine this country is led by a bunch of pirates

Apart from their silence on the Securiport scandal, no political party has cared to respond to the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) more than a week ago, as if they agree with him. In the first place, the SONA was illegal according to the Standing Orders of the National Assembly which required it to be delivered between January and March. September is not the beginning of the legislative year hence it is not the appropriate time for the SONA.

That aside, the President did not in fact address the state of the nation at all. One may ask, is the President truly aware of the state of the nation in the first place? Given the press release from Ebrima Sankareh that the President was saddened and shocked over the killings during a hotel briefing when he got to New York indicates that Barrow is not aware of what is happening in this country! Otherwise, why did he fail to mention the killings in his SONA?

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Since 2017 this country has been on the wrong path yet the political parties, CSOs and the citizens in general continue to allow the Government to be perambulating as it likes yet we claim we want change. How? One needs to look at the litany of issues to accept the fact that indeed Gambians holler about change with slogans like ‘New Gambia’, ‘Never Again’ and ‘System Change’ but indeed we do not want change. We love to be continuously misused, abused, and discarded. Sadly.

Just look at this. What happened to the audit of seven SOEs in 2018 exposing massive corruption in public enterprises? No reaction. What about the Auditor General’s Reports which further confirm abuse of office, disregard of the rule of law in public procurement, collection and expenditure of revenue and award of contracts among other anomalies? No reaction. Not only was the Banjul Road Project illegal in every respect, but we have allowed the Government to normalize the malpractice of awarding road construction to house builders only for them to construct concrete slabs as roads thus causing more flooding. No reaction.

We have all seen the poor secondary school examination results in this country yet all we do is to scream about them! Since 2016 at least, these results have been terrible. As we are appalled by the quality of education services, it is the same deplorable conditions in public health facilities. At the same time, we continue to witness massive environmental damages to our seas and rivers, beaches and forests thanks to corruption and poor law enforcement. Meantime in agriculture, sports, energy, or security and indeed in every other sector hardly is there any positive results for the people. Yet Government officials would always be bombarding citizens with outrageous narratives, empty rationalisations, and false justifications just to distort, misinform and mislead citizens into more suffering in silence.

Look at the fuel sector. While the Government claims to have invested billions in subsidies, pump prices continue to rise. But then the same Government would play with the GamPetroleum case just to make it collapse shamefully in court! But then to further insult citizens, the Government Spin Master Ebrima Sankareh had the audacity to issue a nonsensical press release saying investigations are still ongoing and appropriate action will be taken at the end of the investigations. It’s now three months, where is the investigation? We remain silent and calm!

No wonder the high cost of living is high in this country. At the same time, unemployment is rife while delivery of basic services is not only poor and erratic but also largely inaccessible and expensive. Whether it’s water, electricity, telephone, or internet, it appears as if no government exists in this country to ensure efficient, affordable, and responsive services. But then the masses of the people with their political parties and CSOs just grumble online and offline and it ends there. Even when some CSOs took matters to court, those court decisions did not come to be implemented.

In that case, is it any wonder if crime rates are high in this country? Take a ride in your neighbourhood and the highways and closely look around to notice the scores of unemployed and underemployed young men and women loitering around. Look at the wares that men and women sell by the roadside and ask yourself are these the things that will take people out of poverty and deprivation? Look into the faces of old and young men and women along the streets and in the markets, on the beaches and everywhere and you cannot fail to notice the hopelessness and helplessness that circulates around. The fact is the majority of our citizens are suffering massively poor social and economic conditions. The kind of crimes in our neighbourhoods are the effects of lack of opportunities and hope.

The recent announcement by the IGP to suspend checkpoints only to double down is another indicator that Gambians only hope for change but do not want change. Suddenly, one can see how many people became jittery and demanded that the checkpoints should remain. Why? It is amazing that after having lived with checkpoints since 1994, people cannot still realise that checkpoints are lazy, weak, and corrupt policing methods that serve no good purpose. The evidence is before our eyes. Checkpoints do not prevent or detect armed robberies, burglaries, road accidents or rape. But they delay people, create bribes, and cause abuse hence place cost on everyone!

It is six years now since autocratic rule was uprooted in this country. But today, key enablers of that brutal system remain in strategic positions across the State. The new rulers today have come to share the same interests as the old rulers of yesterday. How therefore will change come? In light of that, is it any wonder that the draft constitution failed in 2020? Is it any wonder that the TRRC Report and the White Paper remain just that in name? Is it any wonder that the Elections Act is not still reviewed and updated? Is it any wonder that there is still no anti-corruption law? Is it any wonder that the Access to Information Act is not still operationalised one year after it was enacted? 

All of these indicate that the political leadership of this country at the level of the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary as well as the political parties are not interested in change. Occasional press conferences and public statements by politicians and political parties is not enough. They have a lot more tools to use yet they are not utilising their full potential as political parties do in democracies. Rather our parties and politicians have distinguished themselves in fomenting division and undermining national unity as they engage in empty rhetoric and cosmetic politics. No wonder this country has remained the same hapless, mismanaged, impoverished and corrupt society it has always been.

A clear example of the culture of bad leadership and abuse of public resources can be found in the current trip of the President to New York to attend the UN General Assembly. Who can justify a delegation of tens of people on a chartered flight for a tiny undeveloped country such as the Gambia where debt service alone accounts for over five billion dalasi in our budget while basic social services and opportunities are lacking for women, children, and youth.

Honestly, it is sad to maintain hope and sanity in the Gambia. The sheer lack of leadership across the board is beyond overwhelming! The sheer manifestation of irresponsibility in people in positions of responsibility by their sense of entitlement, and ability to disregard public concerns and the law and common sense is just frightening. I cannot express how frustrated and hopeless I am in the ability of our people to salvage ourselves. Yes, one can count isolated cases of success here and there, but these are not even holistic and sustained. Otherwise, how could any responsible government, political party or CSO fail to react in any way to the Malagen report about the airport tax? How come?

Sometimes one is tempted to just give up. After all, it is a democracy in which everyone has one vote. No one needs to be a hero, a martyr, or a champion as if we are under foreign occupation or a brutish tyranny. No one can liberate the people. Only the people can liberate themselves based on their own conscious actions. Therefore, on election day we all go to vote and the government that emerges represents our collective opinion and will. If people want change, they have their voter’s card to bring about change they desire or maintain what we have!

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