This is what Pres. Adama Barrow said in speaking about “certain developments that are of concern to the Government and the people of the Gambia”,
“Recently, some people have been taking the law into their own hands to commit violent acts of destruction and attacks on property and individuals. Aside from the Faraba Banat disorder, violent incidents, including arson and murder, have been recorded in the Kombo Berending, Gunjur, Garawol and, most recently, in the Kanifing Municipality. Personal attacks on the government officials fighting crime in the country, such as the Assistant Police Commissioner and Head of the Police Anti-Crime, and arson attacks on his family home, the Bakoteh Police Station and within the Serre Kunda market area are not part of our values.”
May I ask Pres. Adama Barrow whether it is our ‘Values’ to have police officers torture or stab citizens to death? Is it our values to have government agencies sell the natural resources of our communities? Is it part of our values to have public officials abuse their office and fail to address the fundamental social and economic rights and needs of citizens? Is this the understanding of the President or is he forced to say things that are not true and irresponsible?
By making the above statement, i.e. by claiming that some individuals have taken the law into their own hands, it means the President has now directly undermined the delivery of justice. He has served to potentially interfere with the independence and integrity of the Judiciary simply because he is the President talking and not an ordinary citizen talking about an ongoing investigation or trial. This is indeed a serious matter of concern for which the Chief Justice must confront the President for threatening the Judiciary.
To have the President of the Gambia call Faraba Riots a “Disorder” without highlighting the deep undercurrents that gave rise to that ‘Disorder’ is utterly unfortunate, misleading and irresponsible. This was an incident in which Gambians lost their lives because of the failure of the Government in the first place to secure the natural environment and resources of the people. The fact that the National Assembly ordered all mining activities to stop in Faraba and order the revocation of the license of the private company before the ‘Disorder’ speaks to the lack of transparency in the award of that mining contract. The fact that the President himself constituted a commission of inquiry whose report highlighted multiple cases of both central and local government failure including the use of force by the police shows that indeed Faraba Riots were caused by none other than the Government itself. Yet the President ignored the facts!
Therefore, the incidents that the President cited are all cases that touch on the heart of the civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights of citizens for which the Government has the primary duty to protect citizens. While the Government has failed to fulfil its role in all of these cases, yet we now have a President who has the audacity to face Gambians to ridicule, blame and criminalise the people. How can the President only ask citizens to abide by the rule of law yet fail to address public servants and security officers to also abide by the rule of law? This shows that in his mind Pres. Barrow does not seem to understand the concept and nature of protests and riots.
Martin Luther King had said that riot is the language of the unheard. Let me therefore put it to President Adama Barrow that so long as his Government fails to listen, engage and solve the urgent life and death issues of citizens he will be forcing citizens to riot all the time. Therefore, it is misleading to only condemn protests and riots yet fail to identify and acknowledge the issues and concerns that propel such protests and riots in the first place.
It is precisely because of Pres. Barrow’s failure to identify and acknowledge the daily challenges of the country and speak to the urgency of those issues that his address became irrelevant and poor. The State of the Nation address is a constitutional requirement. In that address the Constitution demands the President to speak to the ‘condition of the Gambia, the policies of the Government and the administration of the State’. Did the President fulfil this requirement in this speech? Certainly not. Rather Pres. Barrow chose to ignore the real conditions of the people and only focus on what he considers his achievements.
His speech was hugely inadequate, misleading and utterly irresponsible. It is yet another great opportunity that the president lost in effectively leading this country. To merely list ongoing projects and routine government functions is not what is expected of the State of the Nation Address! Therefore, not only has the President lost a unique opportunity but in addition he has also caused huge waste of public and private resources. This is because both the Government and the independent media as well as individuals have spent so much financial and material resources as well as time to give the day what it deserved only to have an address that falls short of the standards of the day!
The civil, political, social and economic conditions in this country are dire. Only a uninformed President will ignore or downplay these conditions which indeed pose a clear and present danger to the very existence of this country. I was therefore painfully and disappointingly perplexed to hear the President claim that over the past year the only challenge his Government faced was the cancellation of the OIC Summit! Really?
Therefore, let me remind the President that foremost in the issues and concerns of the country is the blatant betrayal of the promise that the President himself made to Gambians. Therefore, why did President Barrow fail to speak about the three-year agreement that he and his Coalition partners made to Gambians in 2016? Instead of addressing this matter which is severely polarising our citizenry and generating fears with potential instability in December, Barrow decided to be completely silent about it. why?
Secondly the high incidence of corruption in his Government since he first took bribes by receiving 57 vehicles and houses in Senegal is a matter that require his explanation. Furthermore, the incidence of numerous anonymous donors continues to undermine public trust and confidence in his leadership which also needs his attention. The lack of transparency and accountability for the various contracts signed by his Government, foremost among which is the ID cards contract to Semlex and the ongoing presence of a Chinese fishmeal factory along the coastline are also urgent matters that citizens need to hear their President address.
Until now the President has not spoken publicly about the fate of the millions of dalasi lodged into his wife’s foundation accounts, yet Barrow decides to ignore that as well. The protests in Brikama as well as the gross failure and inefficiency of his Government to meet the social and economic aspirations of the people require the President to address those. Above all the issue of diplomatic passports, number plates and growing polarisation in the society all require the President to speak about them.
These are among several other factors that are fuelling resentment and disillusionment in most Gambians. The incidence of wastage of public resources on foreign travels, ceremonies and procurement and maintenance of government vehicles coupled with high cost of living are the issues that one would expect the President to recognise, acknowledge and tell citizens how he will address them. But Pres. Barrow decided to ignore those issues completely! He has only succeeded to deliver a speech that failed to inspire, engage, provoke and build the confidence and unity of the people. In effect Pres. Barrow was merely speaking to himself!
It is three years now and until today his Government has failed to put before the National Assembly any bills for the reform of various provisions in the Constitution and other laws since they changed that single provision about age limit in 2017. It is indeed very late that the President would announce that in December 2019 he will put before NAMs the anti-corruption bill. Why was this bill not the first item put before Members since 2017? Is it that Barrow does not care about corruption such that he can make such a bill a non-issue?
I wish to call on NAMs to severely hold the President accountable for this poor, irrelevant and irresponsible address. Why is he coming at the latter part of the legislative year to address the Assembly? Why did he not come between January and March to lay out his policies and plans before the people’s house so that by the end of the year the National Assembly and citizens would be able to assess his performance. That is what will demonstrate responsible and accountable leadership that is committed to the development of this country. But what the President has demonstrated is that he cares less, if any about the progress and future of the Gambia.
For that matter I wish to urge Members to put a motion to demand that the President addresses the National Assembly only within the first quarter of the year. Failure to do so, I urge Members to boycott any address by this President or any other president in future who fails to deliver the State of the Nation Address within the first quarter of the year.
Let us demand open, accountable and responsible leadership and Government if we wish to enjoy the fruits of the Gambia. There cannot be peace and unity in the absence of respect and protection of human rights and delivery of justice. There cannot be peace and unity when the lives and livelihoods of citizens are threatened by the Government itself because of poor decision making and corruption. So far, the Barrow Government is notorious for poor judgment and corruption such that this Government today endangers the Gambia more than any other government since Independence.