Monday, February 26, 2024

Rejoinder to the caption: “The next change must be a system change” – Halifa’s stirring London speech

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The richness of leadership is the ability to accommodate, listen and provide advice and guidance to the people who entrust you with the leadership. While Sulayman Bah UK would like to present Honourable Halifa Sallah’s speech to his audience in UK as incredible, it is important to move beyond political canvassing and polemics to provide facts on the realities of the country we all love.
Kindly allow me to shed light on the issues Sulayman Bah UK attributed to Honourable Sallah regarding the situation since December 2016.

It is no secret that in December 2016, over 200,000 Gambians, took practical steps to vote in Adama Barrow as leader of the Coalition. Hundreds of thousands more invested their energy, time and financial resources to ensure we give The Gambia a new beginning. These are people committed to uplift the lives of Gambians with dignity and respect. While the levels of sacrifices differ from one person or group to the other, all the sacrifices must be commended and respected. As a reminder, in case some forgot, the Coalition government until the time of this publication is made of the following:

1. United Democratic Party
2. National Reconciliation Party
3. People Democratic Party for Independent and Socialism
4. The People Progressive party
5. Gambia Moral Congress
6. Gambia People Democratic Party
7. National Convention Party
8. Dr. Isatou Touray -Independent Presidential Aspirant
Therefore all those who were committed to the change, should continue to guard, guide and nurture it.
Government requires teamwork where no one person alone can make a difference but a combination of efforts to change a system. The fact that it was reported in FOROYAA that Honourable Halifa stated that “…Despite defeating Jammeh after 22 years of self-perpetuation …from the Coalition government, nothing seems to have improved the living standard of ordinary Gambians…” needs reflection.

This remark by Hon. Halifa Sallah insinuating that nothing has changed to improve the lives of the people and comparing this government to the former dictatorial regime is a distortion of facts. This is unfair given the efforts that are already in place by this government with the support of Gambians to move away from the difficult era of the former regime.

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It is therefore important to take a good lens to capture those efforts and what has changed since “The Gambia is in the hands of its citizens” to see how the Coalition government is not “reminiscent of the APRC government days”.

The first expression of change that is not “reminiscent of the APRC government days” is that citizens found their voice. They are now free to express their opinion without fear or favour and can go home and not fear that at 3:00 a.m, someone in the name of the government would drag them out of their house and deny their family the right to even know why they are being taken away.

Since the Coalition Government took over, the vehicular traffic at the Gambia Ports Authority bringing basic commodities among others has exceeded the current capacity of the Ports to handle. This increase in economic activity is a result of the conducive business environment created by this government leading to the stability of prices of basic commodities which are in fact generally going down. It is also important to know that government has already taken the decision for the port to operate 24 hours creating more employment and improving timely service delivery.

Furthermore, Barrow government has reduced the price of fuel three times in less than a year with its positive rippling effects on commodity prices and availability across the country.

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The Gambia has moved from regional and global isolation to a state of recognition and respect; and a new dawn of hope for its citizens. Traditional partners have regained confidence to engage the Barrow government in mutual respect and support to garner the desires and hopes of the citizens. This is not symptomatic of “poor policies and poor leadership.”

We now live in a connected and interdependent world where governments/countries collaborate and work in partnership to support each other in the interest of mutual sustainable development. As part of international cooperation, countries acquire grants, loans and other forms of support including foreign direct investment to help grow their economies. No country relies solely on taxation to move its development agenda and to put it bluntly no nation is self-sufficient. The Gambia is no exception and does not accrue enough tax to be able to execute all its development aspirations.

Presenting its policies to partners both within and outside for support as well as fiscal discipline have improved the foreign exchange reserve from its precarious state of less than one month import cover with a debt burden of 120% beyond the recommended 70% debt of any country to 4 months. It is unfortunate that this is interpreted as a nation relying on “charity” for its development.
The performances of some State Owned Enterprises –such as NAWEC, GNPC and GAMTEL/GAMCEL, were low and government had to step in to settle their external obligations, thus putting undue pressure on the Gambian Dalasi and the reserve level.

It is clear that there needs to be a structural change to the budget and prioritization of growth enhancing expenditure such as development projects. Without these measures increasing salaries will be extremely unwise at this time.

In order to improve the economic environment, the Coalition government is engaged in initiating difficult measures to deal with the numerous challenges resulting from poor economic governance of the former regime. These include but are not limited to Public sector restructuring and rationalization plan, implementation of a government vehicle policy and business travel policies.

The change of government has boosted youth confidence and self esteem. The new administration’s policy on youth is to enlighten them on their rights and empower youths to take responsibility to initiate, innovate and contribute to nation building and most are not relying on government to build their lives. The first project signed by the new Government is centered around youth empowerment through funding from the European Union (EU). The 11million Euro Project focuses on youth employment creation in the areas of agribusiness, ICT and Tourism aiming to provide high quality skills training for potential youth entrepreneurs and startups. This project includes a mini grant and loan scheme for youth Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). To effectively respond to the needs of young people not just as a cross cutting issue in our development frameworks as it used to exist in the Gambia, a whole component on youth empowerment and development has been incorporated in the National Development Plan (NDP). Similarly, a specific pillar on youth has also been incorporated in the ongoing development of The Gambia National Agriculture Investment Plan (GNAIP) 2 to comprehensively address the issues of youth in The Gambia.

There has also been an increased space for youth political participation in the new dispensation. The Gambia can today be proud of the democratic space that guarantees freedom of expression. During the last National Assembly Election young people of The Gambia worked with all stakeholders to improve awareness on youth engagement and to increase their number in the political space through the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign. The Gambia is today hailed as having one of the youngest elected members in the National Assembly in the sub region.
This cannot be “reminiscent of APRC government days” when every youth’s desire was to leave the country. Gambians in exile are returning home to contribute to nation building and to nurture the change.

On agriculture, the Coalition government encourages and empowers farmers to work on their own farms to “reap what they sow” and ordinary citizens are not forced to spend valuable time on the President’s farm. It has provided farmers $25 million worth of fertilizer and seeds. This definitely is not “reminiscent of APRC government days”.

On waste management, the new government encourages people to use their conscience and commitment to environment sanitation to clean the environment and manage the domestic waste it produces and not force people and businesses to stop all activities to clean their environment and at the end of the day does not have the mechanism to collect and dispose the waste. The Coalition government has improved daily management of waste at the dump site at Bakoteh and has further committed to waste management through a Public Private Partnership which seeks to provide a comprehensive solution to waste management in The Gambia.

The Coalition government inherited bad institutional policies and practices. To change such a system will require having knowledge of the depth of destruction in our institutions, policies to institutionalize best practices and committed citizens to execute the plan to implement the policies. It requires re-orientation of the workforce and commitment to the nation and not an individual. It is misplaced to state a comparison and conclude that the new regime is “reminiscent of APRC government days”.

The APRC Government had the opportunity to amend the Constitution removing the barriers to enable eligible Gambians in the Diaspora to vote or be voted for. Did they do it? Of course no. It is not the new government that deprived the Diaspora from voting and contesting to be President, National Assembly Member or Councilor. In fact the new government is in the process of drafting a new Constitution that will accommodate all Gambians to take part in the political, economic and social life of the country. The new government recorded the highest number of contestants in the National Assembly election, a demonstration of a vibrant democracy where people feel that they own the nation. This cannot be “reminiscent of APRC government days”, when if it was known that citizens aspired for political positions, their lives were in danger and could result to torture, maiming and even death of citizens.

The judiciary has been “Gambianised” by encouraging our legal luminaries to serve the country with dedication to justice with the appointment of a Gambian as Chief Justice. Gender representation was also given consideration with the appointment of numerous female Judges at the superior courts.

The Coalition government is working to ensure that citizens recognize the damage that has been done to the nation and its organs of management and governance. No sincere person will expect the new government to increase government pay. Instead the government has to further cut on its expenditure. For instance the office of the President had cut expenditure by 75% since the new administration came to power.

The Coalition government under the leadership of President Adama Barrow empowers all citizens to work together to build a country we can all be proud of. That is why Halifa Sallah was offered the opportunity to bring in his “policies” that will not subject the government to rely on others to develop the country. He rejected to take a position that would give him the responsibility to get the nation out of the situation in which it relies on others to give it charity. It is easier for Hon. Sallah to criticize than take responsibility where he can be accountable to the people.

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