By Gibril Saine
I observed with great distress recent reports emanating from Treasury officials in Banjul regarding the health of the nation’s finances. The astronomical figures being quoted and claimed to have been embezzled by the previous incumbent continue to shock & awe in equal measure. It is no secret that the country is in dire straits in terms of its money and I fear, with near certainly that The Gambia shall never register any meaningful progress, nor fulfilled the sustainable development goals target without disposing of its debt burden. The country, like most of Africa is caught up in a vicious cycle of ill-advised loan schemes encouraged by Western powers through their agents – multilateral financial institutions – carrying punishing interest rates. After the subjugation of a particular country in such economic mess, the next phase becomes stringent austerity measures through the much maligned structural adjustment programmes, to be completed by privatisation, auctioning off its assets, companies and resources to foreign hands. This pillage and plundering of Africa’s resources thus became the norm, subjecting the continent at the beck and call of the West. Africa, how tragic, yet an avoidable one – But will we ever learn?
To President Barrow – you don’t have to be an expert in British and US foreign policy to effectively administer, just ponder & reflect and use common sense. Analysing from a vintage point across the London financial district, I sense such ground work being laid for the Gambia, urging the leadership to wise up to the trap. For the record – future generations of Gambians are indebted to the neck held hostage in financial ruins, but for the flamboyant lifestyle the ‘Jammeh family’ had lived crisscrossing the globe in private jets, decadent cars, lavish mansions, legendary ‘Kanilai’ parties the world has come to know about. It is still baffling to many, and an absolute travesty that Central bank officials and their cohorts at the Finance Ministry who aided and abetted – presiding over a thievery of the worst kind West Africa has ever seen prevail scot-free; still practising at the heart of government. Many-a-night, I woke up to nightmarish dreams watching history repeat itself for a country we all so dearly love. If empiricism is anything to go by, the Barrow government appears reticent leading without a rear-view-mirror, blinded by big money, the business class, auctioning off the nation’s assets to foreign hands reminiscent of recent past.
Cheii Gambia – Where are we heading to; and where is honourable Halifa Sallah and the rest of Parliament in their oversight roles policing executive power. With a measure of anger, the Gambian people are whispering chants of betrayal #President Barrow #Ousainou Darboe continually repositioning their selves & kind ever closer to positions of influence. With due respect to Darboe, he is clueless in terms of foreign policy and diplomatic niceties, and should be reshuffled. The banished adage of patronage, clientelism, thru a façade of nepotism and cronyism thus emerged overstepping bounds of conflict of interest. It is incumbent upon President Barrow to separate himself from businessmen and negotiations, and to allow each line ministry handle investments as accordingly. The so-called permanent secretary for investment at the office of the president is undemocratic, and must close immediately. The country boasts a chamber of commerce, and an Investment zone and free trade Agency (GIZFTA), so why the multiplication of services – further adding to bureaucracy.
Dialling back to the 2015 IMF & World Bank report on the country, both institutions in essence called out sheer incompetence at the Central bank of the Gambia and the finance ministry where officials are found culpable in their oversight duties pertaining to monetary policy. It was against the backdrop of that report when the erstwhile finance minister ‘Kolley’ came out with a falsified statement projecting 6% GDP growth rates he knew was untrue. Loans were contracted with foreign financial firms disappearing into thin air. Inflated road projects that do not measure to scrutiny, nor the huge costs attached. The diaspora is screaming asking why is it that European road projects are built to last 100 years, yet in Gambia multimillion dollar projects erode under the power of heavy rainfall. incredible right!. As of 2016 the interest rate payments alone on Gambia’s external and domestic debt stock stood at 107% GDP. This figure is bound to accelerate to monstrous figures the country can never afford nor repay. Over several decades, poorly structured schemes of greed emasculated under clouds of lies and deceit in covering tracks came to define Africa’s failures. Looking closer, It became apparent that certain aspects of corruption and looting selling the nations assets and reserves to vested interest are deliberately calculated by the very politicians screaming national interest. A classic scenario came to define Yahya Jammeh – rich beyond measure.
For Gambia, the country lives on hand-to-mouth producing just to give it all away in interest payments and then borrow more to survive the year ahead further adding more pain to the already existing wound. The Jammeh era mismanagement of borrowing-at-will with no questions asked a docile parliament nor the media unaware of its true role. From an advantaged vintage point in London, I watched the Gambia and Africa on a pattern to destruction signing mismanaged loans deals secured on exorbitant interest payments which consume large chunks of the country’s GDP. I’m all for debt ceiling legislation in curtailing supplementary budget expenses as brilliantly enunciated by Gambian economist, Nyang Njie. The IMF and such partner financial institutions carry bad reputations for impoverishing developing nations exacerbating poverty through painful austerity regimes. It’s about time Africa and Africans take our own destiny in our own hands drawing plans designed to last. With total debt wipe-out, I stand optimistic the Gambia can finally wave bye to the much maligned ‘SAPs’ and set meaningful economic agenda in motion as infrastructure spending, agriculture, education, ambitious social programmes that uplift everyday Gambians further away from the poverty line boosting job creation too.
Western bilateral and multilateral aid gestures are mere charitable handouts the Gambia must try kick addiction from. Just look at the few millions handed to the new government with the right hand, yet taking it all back with the left through excruciating interest payments on loans consuming total GDP output. To the world – the Gambia is drowning under the weight of a national debt burden ratio at an alarming 110% GDP, rising annually. The only honest and pragmatic solution to remedy this unacceptable state of affairs is total debt wipe-off if the United States and Europe truly care and are sincere partners as they claim. I urge Britain to lead in this benign gesture given centuries old history, but will she? So I task Mr Lajos, EU high diplomat in the Gambia to help lay the foundations with the Finance Ministry counting in U.S embassy and the UN system for a better way forward. I urge Gambians & our government to pre-empt IMF and World Bank together with EU are talking of debt restructuring. These are mere semantics, useless as the paper written on. They are also looking to prop up government and the nation’s coffers with few cool millions – do not fall for it, those shall register worthless in the long run as interest payments multiply on the debt in situ. The only pragmatic and honest solution to the Gambia’s economic woes & future aspirations in building a progressive city-state as envisaged in the national development blueprint is, but total debt cancellation and a wipe-off.