Monday, February 19, 2018

The rigged electoral calendar and President Barrow's 3-year term limit need to be revisited

This blog post is exactly a year old, but the issues raised therein are are pertinent today as they were then.  In fact, they have become more urgent as we approach the 3-year term of the Transition Government of Adama Barrow.  A reprint of the February 19th 2017 issue. 
President Barrow taking the Oath of Office 

Gambia's electoral calendar was tailor-made for Jammeh at his request, to benefit him and him alone.  The recently concluded presidential elections, the results of which were announced in favor of candidate Adama Barrow, took another seven weeks or 51 days before the incumbent vacated State House.  And he did so under threat of ECOMIG forces who were left with no option but to deliver their ultimatum: leave now or else we'll forcibly remove from from State House and into Mile II prisons.

The parliamentary elections are yet to be held. They are schedule to take place a clear four months (in April) after the presidential elections were conducted that transformed an opposition candidate as the new president who must inherit a parliamentary majority of the party that dominated Gambian politics for 22 years.  The new president is not only inheriting a hostile parliament but he is saddled with a budget that was prepared, approved and executed for, at least, the first two months of the new administration, by the outgoing regime.  It could be legitimately argued that budget execution is still in the hands of those whose allegiance is to the defeated Jammeh regime.  At least, until he departed on 21st January 2017, Jammeh has full control of and directing the levers of power, including the ability to execute the budget to his advantage.  A supplementary budget can be submitted to address some of these issues.

Realigning the electoral calendar to address the unacceptable gap between the presidential and parliamentary elections is an urgent issue that must be addressed.  The conduct of the presidential and parliamentary elections must be on the same day based on solid financial grounds.  Every effort must be made to utilize scare financial resources scrupulously.  Gambia couldn't afford it then and, certainly. it cannot afford it now, to conduct separate elections for the Presidency and  the National Assembly. Of course, adopting same day elections will also remove the undesirable gap between the expiration of the presidential term and that of the National Assembly to prevent a repeat of what Gambians were put through between December 1st of last year and January 21st of this year.

This brings us to the 3-year term of President Barrow as called for in the MOU of the Opposition Coalition 2016, which are a set of conditions agreed to by the seven opposition political parties plus one independent presidential candidate that made it possible for the candidature of Adama Barrow as the Coalition's presidential flag bearer.  We have no doubt that all aspects of the MOU - including every clause - that support the strategic objectives of the Coalition are negotiated in good faith and with every intention of being honored by all parties.

However, the extraordinary circumstances confronting the Coalition of Adama Barrow warrant a revisit of the terms of the MOU, particularly as it relates to presidential term.  As it stands presently, President Barrow is required to vacate the presidency in January 2020, two years before the end of term of the National Assembly that will be elected in April of this year.  If the 3-year term limit is maintained as well as the 5-year term for the National Assembly, it will create a nightmare scenario that will prove impossible to manage and will make programming of development funds almost impossible.  Government must bring its budgetary programming schedule/cycle in line with both domestic and external actors by ensuring that the lives of both the presidency and national assembly are in sync.

Of course, reducing the term of the incoming National Assembly members to correspond with that of President Barrow's is an option but it will not address the programming issue that a shortened term for the Coalition presidency will pose for Gambia's domestic partners.  It is, therefore, neater and easier to extend the term of President Adama Barrow by 2 years to 2022 instead of 2020.      

Sunday, February 18, 2018

53rd Independence Speech by President Barrow

Fellow Gambians,

As we celebrate yet another Independence day, we must reflect on the state of our nation over the past 53 years, and hence the theme of my address focuses on THE ‘NEW GAMBIA’ FOR REFLECTION AND SOUL-SEARCHING FOR INCLUSIVE NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

My fellow Gambians, 

Together, we have ushered the New Gambia into a world of hope - while we shall jealously guard to preserve the freedom and dignity of our people.   We should continue to nurture the spirit of unity to build the New Gambia that we want and deserve.  Peace is priceless, that is why my government will tirelessly work towards safeguarding this peace to be able to set our development agenda on the right path.  

We can only continue to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere if we embrace our diversity, and as citizens selflessly contribute to making The Gambia the best it can be. We will always have our differences but we must learn to respect those differences.  There is no one correct perspective but let us remember that despite our political, ethnic, economic, gender difference, we have one thing in common –we have one Gambia and we are all Gambians.

We can only impact positive change in our institutions and society if we realise that the ultimate responsibility to bring effective systems in place lies with all of us, state and non-state actors. We all have specific responsibilities that we cannot neglect. 

In this regard we must take responsibilities bestowed on us and be accountable to the citizens. No matter what position you hold in my government, or profession you practice, or be you an opinion shaper, or a politician, we are in it together for the success of this country.

We have won the war against dictatorship, which is the easy part, maintaining the peace for our democracy to thrive will be our utmost challenge.  This will require patience, tolerance, and even mistakes will be made but we will correct them as we work towards perfecting the New Gambia.  In this journey we are not alone, the world has opened its arms and shows us a lot of goodwill in this experiment of democracy, and we must make good use of this opportunity.  The Gambia has been re-admitted to the Commonwealth of Nations because of our strife to promote democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

My fellow Gambians,

In shaping the New Gambia, my government has begun the task of steadily reforming the government machinery.  The reforms will put in place the instruments for best practices we formulate in governance through the policies and practices in the execution of our duties. This will also include cultural and attitudinal change in the timely execution and delivery of our work.  In this regard my administration will focus not only on service delivery but also on the quality of work expected of public servants. 

Under my administration, every artificial barrier that will prevent the application of creativity, innovation and service delivery system will be completely removed.

It is one year into my administration, and yet we have remove one of the major huddles – Management by Fear – by creating an enabling environment that encourages critical thinking, collaboration, positive engagement, guided by a clear vision in our quest to build the New Gambia. This vision is captured in our National Development Plan 2018-2021. 

This plan is our National blueprint that would ensure the New Gambia is put on a firm footing to deliver good governance and accountability, social cohesion and national reconciliation and above all to revitalise and transform the economy for the wellbeing of all Gambians. 

My priorities which are in line with the NDP is to fix the energy problem, improve health and agricultural sub-sectors, youth empowerment, and education and tourism.  

To this end, the office of the President and Ministry of finance will work in tandem to ensure that a robust monitoring and delivery system is put in place so that I will be personally briefed on a quarterly basis on the status of implementation of the NDP. 

Fellow Gambians, 2017 was a challenging period in starting the transformation process because we inherited a structure and a system that was dysfunctional, with coordinated policies, and in some instances no records for my government to immediately continue governance. We have also recognized the impatience from fellow Gambians and in some cases frustrations in the speed with which they want to see things happen. 

In spite of all these challenges, my government has registered modest but profound improvements in tax reforms which has significantly benefited companies and individuals, improved macroeconomic performance by improving our import cover from one month to four months, improved fiscal discipline by cutting on our expenses and reduced borrowing. We will also implement the vehicle policy that will reduce the overall government spending in maintenance and fuel cost.

Similarly we have improved the power supply across the nation, where in some places fellow citizens are enjoying 20-24 hours of steady supply.

Fellow Gambians,

On Justice and Judicial reforms, a Constitutional Review Commission, Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission and the Human Rights Commission have been enacted.  The Executive Secretary of the TRRC has also been appointment.  At this junction, I will use this opportunity to declare a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in The Gambia, as a first step towards abolition.

Similarly the Security Sector Reform assessment has been completed and it will guide the programme design and implementation. 

On Works and Infrastructure, we have secured $75Million grant from the Chinese to construct roads and bridges in the Upper River Region.

Fellow Gambians,

The Gambia is open for business and we have taken steps to facilitate trade and provide incentives for investment in the country.  We now have a country that will benefit from greater openness through international trade.  Many investors are exploring the Gambian market and opportunities.

We have formulated several policies to enhance our trade relations and to better integrate The Gambia in to the multilateral trading system.  The Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) has been ratified.  The Gambia was successfully reinstated into the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which provides duty free market access to the United States.

The Ministry of Youth and Sports is partnering with Ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment on the EU funded Youth Empowerment Project working closely with the International Organisation for Migration. 

Fellow Gambians

The price of groundnut at the seccos has increased from D16,850 last year to D18,800 per ton this year.  Also, the Islamic Development Bank provided my government with $25million to support farmers with groundnut seeds and fertilizers. The Agriculture and Natural Resources policy 2017-2026 has been reviewed to boost and add value to agriculture.
The Ministry of Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters and the Ministry of Justice reviewed the fisheries regulations 2008 to make it more relevant to our current realities.

My government has signed an agreement with the FTI tour operators to boost the tourism industry and build the capacity of young people in the sector, all aimed at making tourism an all year round activity.

Fellow Gambians,

My government has put in place the right policies and programmes to protect our environment and combat the effects of climate change and has benefitted from $20.5million from the ECO system based adaptation climate change project to restore and build The Gambia natural resource base.

To improve health delivery, we have obtained mobility for Village Health Workers and Community Health Nurses across the country. 

Fellow Gambians,

In one year, MRC Holland Foundation has supported the construction of 477 new classrooms in 50 schools, renovation of 318 classrooms, 520 toilets and 28 staff quarters built, 28 schools and staff quarters solarised and 29 boreholes dug in 29 schools.

The curriculum review process is ongoing and with support from the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education, we are building on existing programmes to enhance access to quality basic education, including early childhood education.
To enhance capacity in the education sector, 75 Teachers in various disciplines are undergoing their graduate studies at the University of The Gambia.

To further strengthen the freedom of the media, my government is preparing an Information Bill and a committee on Media Law Reform has been set up to review the existing media laws to support the drafting of a Media Law that is in line with the developments in media and communication technologies. 

The first Private television station has been licensed and all the radio stations that have been illegally shut down have been re-opened. 

In one year, I held three bi-annual press conferences with both local and international press all aimed at informing the Gambian and development partners on the state of affairs of the nation.  We will continue to pursue our communication strategies. 

Fellow Gambians,

May I now turn my attention to the students. We have begun a journey that will usher in democratic change and this comes with respect for human rights and the rule of law.  However, it equally calls for responsible citizenship, and to this end, I want to encourage you to be steadfast in your education and learning to become future teachers, nurses, engineers, technicians, doctors, journalists, politicians and business people to name a few on whose shoulders the New Gambia will be carried into the future.  We need these professions to thrive as a modern nation that is successful.  Success can only be built through hardwork; there is no short cut to success. Those countries that have advanced placed country before self, show respect for rule of law and have positive attitude towards nation building. 

Therefore, I am calling on both parents and teachers to redouble their efforts to instill discipline, hardwork, truthfulness, self-reliance and love for nation before self.  It is such values that can make The Gambia great again.

I cannot conclude my statement without thanking our partners who stood by us when it was difficult and continue to stand by us as we strive to realise our national development plan. Each one of them took strategic decision to support us because of our common belief in nurturing democracy, rule of law, freedom and equality of all citizens.

On that note I thank you for your kind attention and wish you a happy celebration.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Gambia's media laws violate human rights of journalists, says ECOWAS court

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional court has ruled that the Gambia's draconian media laws violate the human rights of journalists.

Amnesty International (AI) declared that today's ruling is "an historic day for Gambia's journalists and human rights defenders who, for decades, have suffered torture, imprisonment or exile just for exercising their right to freedom of expression."

The ruling should mark a new beginning in the relations between the new transition government of Adama Barrow and Gambian journalists at home and abroad.

We join Amnesty International in encouraging the government of Adama Barrow to waste no time in repealing these draconian laws that inhibit free flow of information and thus deny the news consuming public unfettered access so that they become better informed citizens.

A repeal of these laws, among other draconian laws that are vestiges of the colonial era such as the Public Order Act of 1955 that severely restricts the citizens' right to assembly, will bring The Gambia in line with its international and regional responsibilities as a member of the international in good standing.

The case was filed by the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) in December 2015 on behalf of four exiled Gambian journalists during the brutal and repressive regime of Yaya Jammeh.  They argued that their rights to freedom of expression had been violated by the Jammeh regime through the enforcement of laws criminalizing libel, sedition and false news.   

Thursday, February 8, 2018

President and Adviser of Barrow's Youth for National Development resign

President Adama Barrow 
The president and adviser of the recently formed Adama Barrow's Youth for Development have resigned from their respective posts. 

Both resignations take effect today.  It is unclear whether the decisions of the two officers were coordinated.

In her resignation letter addressed to the executive members and advisors of the President Barrow Youth for National Development (PBYND) dated February 8th, 2018, the president of PBYND, Ndey Fatima Jammeh said she was selected to lead the movement "on a transparent basis and on the promise that we will be loyal to each other."  She continued, "[H]owever, (the) spirit faded away because of few individual's personal interest and that is not the agenda we wanted."

She assured Gambians that she "wouldn't be part of anything that will be a threat or to jeopardize the peace and democracy of my country."

Lamin K. Saidy, was carried the title of Adviser to the Barrow's Youth for National Development also submitted his resignation citing similar sentiments.  He said in accepting the challenge as adviser to the group, he did so in the spirit of providing his support to the initiative.  "However, over the past months, the nation is divided in opinion about the formation of such a group attributing it to politics." To many, he continued, "it has the potential of undermining democratic principles on which our new found democracy is built on."

In concluding his resignation letter, Mr. Saidy said that although there is no evidence to support the concerns that the PBYND is more political- than development-oriented, his overriding reason for resigning his post has to do with protecting his credibility and that of the civil society organization he works with.  Although personal, his decision to resign is also guided by his professional undertaking. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

It'd be a grave error to misread the national mood

Sidi Sanneh 
The arrest and detention of Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, a political science lecturer at the University of The Gambia, for expressing a personal view that the Barrow administration found unpalatable, is the latest in a series of unforced errors that has refocused the spotlight on the human rights of Gambians.

The furor that accompanied the universal condemnation of the arrest was a strong signal to the government that Gambians cherish their restoration of their inherent freedoms and will resist any attempt to return the country to dictatorial rule.  We've been there once, we are not going  to travel that road again.

It appears that it is because of the strength of the reaction from local and international human rights activists and ordinary citizens that resulted in his release of the University of The Gambia lecturer.  Whether it will result in a lasting change and commitment to democratic norms, the rule of law  and cessation of operational command being conducted from State House instead of from Police Headquarters.

Public reaction to Generals Ansumana Tamba and Umpa Mendy's surreptitious entry into the country has been equally ferocious.  The two military officers, who are closest and among the most trusted of Jammeh's  inner circle, elected to join the ex-dictator into involuntary exile in January of 2017 only to resurface in Banjul without notice or being detected at the port of entry despite being well known military personalities.

This serious security breach, and others before it, of course, raised eyebrows and raised a dust storm, followed by probing questions as to how the two could have slipped into the country unnoticed.  Investigations, we are told, are still ongoing and, we expect, the results and the remedial measures will be shared.  The Gambia people demand it.

Recent security lapses are constant reminders that very little has changed since Gambians voted the transition government to power because administrative/institutional structures built purposely to prop up the 22-year dictatorship and the personnel trained to maintain a repressive and corrupt system  are still intact and discernibly operational.

The appointment of a political operative and convicted drug dealer by President Barrow as his Youth Adviser was, again, so out of touch with the mood of the country that it invited more public scorn and criticism of the continued torn deafness of the government. 

It is this current state of play that probably led the PDOIS (political party) leader to tell an East London audience last October that even though a regime was changed has occurred at last December 1st 2016 presidential elections, there's yet to be a system change; an observation that some found to be an unfair critic of the government. 

Nothing has changed, the sentiment goes, except Gambia replacing Jammeh with Barrow as president.  In a recent BBC interview, the Gambian Information minister was hard pressed to list Barrow's achievements in its first year at the helm.  And when he listed freedom of speech and association, the interviewer retorted that these were inherent rights that Gambians were bound to exercise even if Barrow put both hands in his pockets and did nothing.

Gambians' patience is being tested to the limit by a government that seems more interested in cutting deals and getting entangled in procurement processes that is, in our opinion, beneath the dignity of the highest office in the land.  The focus should be on kick-starting an under performing economy to improve the livelihood of 2 million inhabitants who are among the world's poorest.  The impatient mood with the Barrow administration is not only with Gambians but with our development partners.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Shut the foundations down, Mr. President

Foundations, by definition, are generally nonprofit legal entities, created, typically, to support a good cause by donating funds and support to other organizations or provide the source of funding for its own charitable purposes.

Foundations can also be for wealthy individuals seeking permanence with the preservation of a family legacy. Henry Ford and Bill and Melinda Gates come to mind.  Highly successful businessmen and women, politicians and mega-rich individuals set up foundations, using their own resources exclusively as seed money, or use supplementary funding from various sources to promote a cause.

As the saying goes, the easiest way to fund a cause is to write a personal check.  Setting up of a legal entity requires a structured framework to qualify as a non-profit organization that must conform to the laws, including the tax laws, of the country of incorporation.

The foundation must be appropriately and adequately staffed just like any for-profit entity with executive officers to manage the financial and human resources of the foundation. A foundation and a business enterprise are markedly different in only that the former is a non-profit entity and the latter is not.

Because the foundation requires permanent staff and other recurrent costs, managing it require huge investment outlays in recruitment and retention of professional experts in numerous fields.  In short, to run a foundation is a full time job and thus not an appropriate vocation, especially for a sitting president who is charged with managing an entire country.

If history is a reliable guide, then the country's experience with foundations run by the occupant of State House must serve as a warning to his successors.  The experience has been abysmal, at best, because they served the previous president as a conduit that funnel funds solicited from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries for the private use of the ex-dictator.

It is this sort of abuse that foundations of the kind being proposed by president Barrow are frown upon because they are subject to abuse.  Foundations in Africa have been used by politicians to divert public funds for private use and to launder money.

President Barrow is head of a transition government elected to serve for a period of three years.  It is our view that he should focus the next two years addressing the structural problems created by the previous regime that impede economic growth and development and not managing foundations at the risk of using public funds to run them.  He should also address the problems posed by an inefficient civil service among other institutional bottlenecks.  You can find a detail list of priority areas in this blog post with the review of our Constitution and electoral law reform being among the most urgent.

In conclusion, the CEO of The Gambia and guardian of the State Constitution that declares The Gambia a Secular State should not be seen promoting a religion by building mosques across the country and not propagating one religion over another.  In either case, it would be unconstitutional.  Allow religious leaders to perform their religious leaders to propagate their respective religions while political leaders tend to the affairs of State.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Government agrees to 'restore' SEMLEX contract, throwing in voter's card as sweetener

Semlex HQ in Brussels 
The Interior Ministry has written a letter, dated 25th January 2018 and addressed to the the Chief Executive of Semlex, the family-owned company registered and headquartered in Brussels, conveying the decision of the administration of president Adama Barrow to "restore the June 2016 contract."

The proposed restoration of the contract is "subject to re-negotiations on certain terms of the contract that appear to be unconscionable including the percentage sharing," the letter concluded.

The revenue sharing ratio in the old contract calls for a 70 - 30 revenue sharing formula with Semlex retaining 70% to Gambia Government's 30%.

The letter also expressed government's desire "to explore with Semlex the possibility of expanding the contract to include the production of a combined ID and voter's card."  The duration of the contract will also an issue that government would like to discuss with Semlex "in view of the delay in implementation. 

Semlex has 7 days from the date of receipt of the letter to indicate acceptance or otherwise of the government's proposal.  There is no indication that Semlex has responded to Barrow's proposal.

The letter also, in our view, inappropriately informed Semlex, the composition of government's technical committee that will be involved in the review of the June 2016 contract as well as in the negotiations of related aspects of the contract.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is part of the technical committee but our source has informed us that the Chairman, when contacted by Interior and requested to take part in preliminary meetings, firmly turned down the request, presumably to maintain the independence of the IEC.

The legal ramifications of the decision to "restore" a contract that was terminated by the ex-dictator will reverberate sooner than expected in light of the fact that  both Semlex's offices and the CEO's residence in Brussels were raided earlier this month, according to Reuters, in search of evidence in a bribery and corruption scandals involving the company's operations in Africa.

We reached out to the State House Press Director four days ago to comment on the status of the RSP which had a closing date of Thursday, 4th January reopening the tender for Semlex and Prestine.  We are yet to receive a response.