#Gambia: Are we serious about development?

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It is without any modicum of doubt that no nation wakes up in the morning and realizes that it has been transformed or metamorphosed into a Utopia. In order to transition from underdeveloped to developed, a nation must put herself on the path to development. Thus, a development problem must be solved using a development formula. Almost three years into our new dispensation, with an administration that we believe will give chance to freedom, rule of law and democracy to grow their tentacles. The message we keep hearing from the current administration is its desire to put us on a bus that is development-bound. The fundamental question to ask is do we have a government that is serious about developing The Gambia or one that is just playing lip service or talk the talk but not walk the walk?

Do our women continue to die at childbirth in public hospitals from some unknown complications, or culpable negligence that we seem unable or unwilling to fix? Are families still being asked to come forward to donate blood for their dying loved ones because we do not have blood banks in our hospitals? Are sick patients still getting one prescription drug and being asked to go buy the other two from private pharmacies because the public hospitals do not have adequate supplies? Are patients who need surgery performed on them still being forced to wait for days if not weeks because the doctor or specialist to perform the surgery is not available? Are hospital referrals getting the emergency treatment that they deserve to save lives? Is the government putting enough financial resources in the health sector to ensure we have the required equipment to conduct tests, give proper diagnosis and treat patients in a timely manner?

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Do we want to be food self-sufficient? How do we want to get there? Do we just give fertilizers to farmers and encourage private citizens to import farming implements with no import duties, or should we set up enterprises that will create employment for our youths by making them work on the farms (rice fields especially) throughout the year on decent monthly salaries? Do we want to issue licenses to fish mills for the meagre revenues to the government and have those factories export our aquatic resources in addition to polluting the water when the average family is unable to afford palatable fish due to its high price?

Do we want to continue to import poultry products or invest in our local producers to enable them produce enough to meet the domestic demand and maybe export the excess produce? Should we have large vegetable gardens and solar power operated cold stores throughout the country to not only help meet the demand but also manage the supply to ensure we do not have shortages by preserving the perishables and even processing the ones that can be processed?

Is the current administration prioritizing its spending to address burning issues or is it a spendthrift government? Is the Finance Ministry constantly monitoring our budget on a monthly or quarterly basis, and doing variance analysis by looking at year-to-date planned/projected versus actual, and doing projections to see where we would be at year end, and introducing austerity measures if need be to curb feckless spending? Is the Auditor General’s department conducting annual audits and recommending control measures that would deter corruption and embezzlement of state funds? Is the Accountant General’s department accounting for every butut earned and spent by the government? Is it reasonable or does is make sense to them that $32,000 was spent on a former VP’s (and entourage) two-week trip to New York, out of which $18,000 or $21,000 was spent on car rentals? Did they get receipts and breakdown of the car rental expenditures? Who is approving these kinds of expenses? Are they able and willing to question expenses that are out of the ordinary without any reprisal?

Finally, do we have the laws in place to fight against corruption? If not, are we putting those laws in place and enforcing them? Do we have the political will to fight against corruption and nepotism? Do we have the presidential will as well? Are we holding our elected officials and heads of departments and institutions accountable or are we going to continue to praise-sing, worship, and regard them as the infallible impeccable exemplary characters who deserve everything and are at liberty to trample on us to get what they want while we continue to be in a state of destitution? Are we challenging them enough to get the best out of them, and make them transform their institutions into strong, viable, effective and efficient institutions that would create enduring values for our society? Shouldn’t we identify what kind of healthcare system, agricultural sector and education system that we want, design policies and formulate strategies on how to get there? Shouldn’t we be monitoring our progress regularly and making necessary adjustments to keep us on track to the desired destination; a developed Gambia?

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The government argues that a lot has been achieved because we went from one month import cover to five months import cover, the economy is expected to grow by six percentage points in 2019, salaries have been increased by fifty percent, interest rates have been sliced, there is congestion at the port due to the number of ships arriving at our seaport and the volume of business activities in the country, and that investors have confidence doing business in The Gambia. What is the average hardworking Gambian’s take on this progress report by their government? Is there a reduction in the cost of living, or an improvement in the standard of living? Do we need to wait a few more years before we see and feel the effect of this reported progress by the government?

I am of the view that we do not just elect or appoint people in positions and rely wholly and solely on their benevolence to get us desired results or optimal solutions. There must be a system, policy or law that guides, checks and measures their performance.

The writer, Dibba Chaku, is based in the United States.

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