Things That Matter – Care with Public Funds

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Dear Editor,

Let there be a module on ‘Politics’ and ‘Finance’ in Gambia’s high-school curriculum to teach young students on ‘Good-citizenship’, ‘Financial Management’, and the utility of ‘ethics’ in public life. In my view, leadership is not just about winning elections and reading from scripted speeches. It is about possessing the right dose of temperament, foresight, and the ability to effectively communicate a massage that resonate & inspire the audience, thereby acting upon it for the general good of the people. In Gambia, and Africa-wide scenarios, One may define leadership as the ‘ways and attitudes of politicians & elite with oversize egos, and the manner in which that behaviour is downsized & channelled through public life’.

The Birthday Problem – In the ‘Jammeh era’, birthday celebrations had become a mainstay of government machinery in which various departments and local government authorities were coaxed to contribute to the ‘dear-leader’s birthday parties. A cake procurement department is set up, so is the food and drinks committee, the entertainment sub-committee, plus that of the venue and sitting arrangement in order – Cheii Gambia. Daily governance thus took a back-seat with female Cabinet ministers jostling for positions amid financial ruins of tax-payer funds. On such occasions, we saw sad realities of young women & girls lured into the trap of Kanilai nightfall – I strongly recommend the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations and the UN crimes investigator in the country to both document rape and sex crimes and for the culprits to face justice #End-Impunity.

Unnecessary Treks and Workshops – The idea that in the Gambia ministers & senior civil servants are found criss-crossing the globe from one city to the next is extremely concerning. To add plaster to the already existing wound, government departments and agencies are constantly on the prowl for useless workshops and ‘Treks’ in luxurious hotel settings gathering per-diems in the process. This is a mystery, given that those workshops and so-called retreats could be occasioned in Ministerial boardrooms and governmental nexus around the vicinity of the capital, Banjul. I hate waste, and if the Gambia is to have any control on its finances, please, abolish unnecessary spending because every dalasi & butut count, and therefore leadership from the top matters too.

Today, ample opportunity has come to meet the Barrow-government through the many bilateral & multilateral exchanges at hand. The partnership with the European Union is paramount, who deserve much credit for refilling the nations empty coffers. The strategic understanding with Senegal, ECOWAS and AU will only grow stronger. And with its Embassy-tag firmly affixed, Banjul-Beijing ties are at their strongest; so are the long-standing ties with Turkey, Guinea Bissau, Cuba and the world. The Foreign Ministry in Banjul continue to play significant roles during this transformation pursuing policies designed on win-win beneficial gains. We can only hope that vision shall be reciprocated by friends and allies in the international community, including the United States. Given the troubled past and the many scandals & thievery of public money as dramatized at the commission in sitting, the Barrow government and civil service stream need tread extra-careful with regards to public funds #Accountability.

A success story – Tanzania: I often refer to the case of President John Magalufi, to the charging of my interlocutors. Like President Barrow, his ascension to power was unexpected against a powerful ruling elite corrupt to the core. Known as ‘the Bulldozer’ with reputation for getting things done, it was poor and ordinary Tanzanians who put their faith and voted him to pwer. Too often in Africa, exciting new leaders with radical ideas & supposedly impeccable moral credentials have started off promisingly, only to ossify into ineffective autocrats. Not him, because his first term has created a buzz of expectation that at last Tanzania has found a leader capable of awakening the ‘sleeping giant’ of East-Africa, one with huge, largely unexploited, gas and mineral resources. In his first budget, development and infrastructure spending went from 25 to 40 per cent – funded by cutting waste, extravagance — even the serving of tea and coffee in offices has been banned, and squeezing more revenue from private companies and the rich.

I strongly urge our President to befriend President Magalufi, and to seek his counsel on tackling corruption & development stories. And you could start by putting a brake on executive waste and for ministers to hold conferences at boardrooms rather than expensive hotel settings; except where occasioned by UN and EU partner agencies. This madness & Jammeh-style mismanagement must end #GambiaHasDecided. The president should cast an eye beyond Senegal look to the region and the world for new ideas & inspiration. But he has been invincible of late, perhaps, ever since assuming office. Yes, there is access to the media in terms of the State House press team, but there appears to be no personal touch with ordinary Gambians looking up to his leadership. Mr President, you have lived in London and witnessed first-hand the functionality of a true democracy. In the United Kingdom, we do not give convoys to our Ministers, and still they are expected to appear before the press & explain government policies; every day. But the President appears shielded away from one-to-one contact with the public or media houses on what his administration is up to. That is unhealthy for a democracy, further eroding public confidence!

Reflecting on Tanzania, and to the legacy of true pan-Africanists like Thomas Sankara, Kwame Nkruma, Dawda Jawara, and few others, having genuine love for country and continent, the President could start by selling all government cars, and for the vice-president and army chief to stop the nonsensical convoys blocking traffic. Only in Africa – corruption remain a cancer on society as if successive leadership never learns. I am not blaming the president per se, hence stealing public funds had been institutionalized. That does not make it right, and it takes wise & decisive leadership to recognise waste and put a stop to it. Today, the fact that callous behaviour continues in public institutions raise serious questions about competence and cruel intent on the part of certain civil servants. The government should look to success stories and development projects happening in Tanzania, and seek to implement best practices & inject efficiency. At this juncture, President Magalufi is heralded as the best head of state in Africa, whereas in Gambia’s case, questions-marks still remain as to core values, decency and oath to uphold and defend the constitution at all times in the pursuit of national interest.

Gibril Saine     Twitter: @gibbysaie

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