It is important that Gambians remind ourselves that after all this country is 49 years old today since we gained Independent in 1970. In 2016 the Gambia Bureau of Statistics released figures to indicate that poverty increased in the country from 48.1% in 2010 to 48.6% in 2015. The United Nations Development Programme in its human development index 2018 report ranked the Gambia as the 174th poorest country in the world with more than 60% of the population living below the poverty line.
One does not need to refer to any study to realise that more than half of the Gambian population cannot read or write with widespread unemployment. The fact that thousands of Gambians have to find their way out of the country and the money they send back amount to more than 20% of our GDP manifest that indeed this country has very little opportunity and capacity to grow. I need not tell anyone that not only taxes are high in this country but cost of living is equally so high while the country’s debt takes much of the taxes we generate. Paradoxically the more loans the Government takes the more impoverished the country becomes such that we cannot even pay back our loans!
It is obvious that the vast majority of the homes, villages and towns in the Gambia do not enjoy basic social amenities such as water and electricity supply which remain largely erratic and expensive. One can count on your fingers the number of tarred roads in Banjul or Kanifing Municipality or Brikama or Farafeni or Basse which are among the biggest towns in the Gambia! Even those tarred roads are poor quality without drainage and streetlights or even adequate road signs!
In 1920 Edward Francis Small fought the colonialists that Gambians must have a say in how our tax money was spent and by who when he cried, ‘No Taxation Without Representation’. In those days Gambians do not elect individuals to serve as representatives of the country. Rather a foreign power constituted a government by itself and without our consent and then imposed taxes on the people without giving back to the people any social services or economic opportunities.
Exactly one hundred years later in 2019, Gambians now have the independence to elect their own representatives as President, National Assembly Members, Mayors, Area councillors and Chairpersons. We pay taxes to them and in our name, they take loans and receive grants from around the world. Despite paying taxes to these representatives who are in charge of our institutions of governance and development our people receive only very limited and usually very poor, expensive and erratic social services. Where is our tax money then? Where are the loans? Where are the grants? In 2019 the Gambia’s national budget is 25 billion dalasi and we are only 2 million people. Where is this money?
According to the Local Government Act and the Finance and Audit Act the area councils are expected to share their budget estimates with residents by pasting them in each and every ward for public scrutiny. The law said 60% of all the revenue of the local government area must be spent on development projects and only 40% should be spent on operational costs. Furthermore, the law said the Central Government should give 25% of the development budget (i.e. 60%) to the local government areas to add to their development budget. Is this been done? Never!
Who has ever seen the published budget estimates of BCC or KMC or BAC or Basse or Janjanbureh or Kerewan or Kuntaur or Mansa Konko area council? I have never seen them publish their budget estimates in each and every ward for public scrutiny as required by law? Did anyone of us ever hear a mayor or chairperson or governor publicly announce how much money his or her local government area or city or municipality collected in a month or in a year? Yet one will always hear these area council officials complain that lot of residents don’t pay compound rates or that the rates are not enough. But they never tell us how much they collected from compound rates?
Therefore, the path that #OccupyBAC is pursuing is the path each and every Gambian must pursue if we wish to see real change and development in our lives in our lifetime. Our local government areas are our primary agencies of development. We cannot take the majority of our people our of poverty and create high standard of living so long as our area councils are not transparent, efficient and accountable.
There is so much money in the Gambia being generated by our central and local governments, yet our people live in subhuman conditions. Go to any community in the Gambia – from Banjul to Fatoto – to realise the immense poverty, underdevelopment and disorganization in which we live. For how long?
Those of us insulting protesters are not helping ourselves and our country. Let us rise above tribal, party and other sectarian biases to realise the high stakes. The state of affairs in this country after almost five decades of independence is disgraceful. This is not what we deserve, and we must rise up to ensure that our lives change for the better during our lifetime.
In a democracy one of the most effective weapons for change and progress in the hands of citizens are demonstrations. This is what we see in every democratic society of the world where there is progress. For example, in these recent weeks we saw citizens of Hong Kong protest until their government backed down from making a law that will allow them to extradite anyone to China. These past 10 days we also saw how people in Puerto Rico force their governor to resign just for saying some unpleasant words. We also saw how Pres. Macron of France was forced to abandon some economic measures because of the protests by citizens in yellow shirts. The examples are many around the world. Why therefore should the Gambia be different?
I don’t know about you, but I am fed up! We cannot continue to have central and local governments to whom we pay tax and they take expensive loans and fat grants in our name only for the majority of our people to continue to live in poverty and still paying back that loan. Why? There are numerous communities in this country which live in such appalling conditions that you would think that they do not belong to the Gambia.
We must all occupy our area councils to demand meaningful development. We must demand transparency and accountability. We must demand efficient delivery of quality, affordable and consistent social services that must be accessible and available to all. In 2019 no Gambian community or home should exist without 24 hours uninterrupted water and electricity supply and high-quality roads. If so, either our central and local governments are corrupt, inefficient and lacking vision or that our citizens are dormant, uninformed and equally corrupt or that both our governments and citizens are all corrupt and lazy without vision.
For the Gambia Our Homeland