Since January 2017, we have seen the Barrow-led government stumble time and again. We have criticized, raised concerns – sometimes even protested – but it seems all efforts are falling on deaf ears. There seems to be a disconnect between the governors and the governed. We have repeatedly called for reforms but still no substantial changes have happened, or if they are happening also, at a very slow rate.
When it was announced on the Gambia Radio and Television Services that the president, His Excellency Adama Barrow had through his personal efforts donated fifty-seven vehicles to members of the National Assembly, there was a hullabaloo that it did not follow due process. The government came out to say that the vehicles were donated by an anonymous donor who did not wish to be named.
Then the other saga that hit the nation was when the president and a huge delegation travelled to New York to attend a meeting at the United Nation. There were complains that the delegation was too large and considering that we were complaining of a depleted economy, it was not wise to go with such a large delegation. We made all efforts to find out the number of people that the President travelled with but to no avail. The Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Information, the Office of the president all failed to give us the right figure.
Not long ago, it was announced on GRTS that the president had donated eleven million dalasis to the 2018 batch of pilgrims. When there was an outcry, they modified it that it was actually a philanthropist in Saudi Arabia who gave it to the pilgrims and not the president. But again, it was said that he wants to remain anonymous. Citizens tried to get more information but like always the government remains tight-lipped.
All these point to some form of aloofness on the part of the government. They seem to ignore calls to meet the demands of the citizens and this is not healthy for a democracy especially a nascent one like we have. The National Assembly which should be the body that compels government officials to reveal the names of those who say they wish to remain anonymous is not doing this at all. Could it be that the fact that they were given vehicles is preventing them from holding the Executive to account?
All these problems – or most of them at least – could have been avoided had there been a Freedom of Information Act. The Gambia Press Union has worked assiduously to ensure that we have this Act. They worked with the Ministry of Information and then the Ministry of Justice, but it seems that the Ministry of Justice is dragging its feet. Why is it that since this government came into office, they cannot seem to put these things in order to ensure that all bad laws are repealed and laws which are democratic and friendlier to development are put in place?
The time has come for us to put an end to the anonymity when government is dealing with people who wish to give or spend huge amounts of money yet wish to remain unnamed. We have seen how political patronage encourages and promotes nepotism and corruption. The truth is that usually when people give money like that, it is because they are expecting to get something more in return.
Considering that we have been informed that we have oil of up to eight hundred and twenty-five barrels which will amount to up to D300 million dollars and that the European Union has pledged 1.7 billion Dollars to the Gambia, we should try by all means to ensure that we put the right institutions in place to make sure that when these funds come they will be put to good (the right) use. We have often seen countries in Africa who have oil end up having serious problems resulting in civil wars because the right institutions were not in place.
It is time for citizens to engage the government and insist on transparency and good governance.
Tha Scribbler Bah
A Concerned Citizen