Lamin Darboe (Leicester)

Your excellency, if there is to be new watchword that should capture the direction of your leadership, dynamism, radicalism and critical thinking most neatly resonate with the criticalness of the socio-economic and political landscape.

Your excellency, I don’t know whether you are aware or not, there is a creeping murmur of disillusionment in the air and you need to find fresh impetus, a fresh passion to spark the engine of reform in your government.

Mr president,  you shoulder huge expectation, aspirations and cries of despair, fatigue and burden of exile of so many in the diaspora, even spirits of some gallant men and women of exemplary sacrifice (Solo Sandeng and November coup plotters) on the eve of the president election, December 2016. On that faithful night, your own spirit bears courage, determination, sacrifice and yearning to break the knot of a diabolical tyranny perpetrated by one of the most vicious dictators of this century.

The country was fully behind you. We supported you with all our resources, even tears and blood because we knew it is easy to move mountains than to uproot a dictatorship. Yaya’s dictatorship is unmatched because he confounded all expectations and succeeded in corrupting even our most elect of God, dazzled the technocrats and controlled state resources in a manner unseen in Gambia’s post-colonial history.

Religious leaders, shameless and nefarious technocrats, local leaders and even Jalibas became force of nefarious utility to usurp the rights of our people, misappropriation and wanton economic prostitution.
With that spirit and hope, Mr president. our wary eye were fixated on your person to see whether you will live up to expectation and become an imitable model or paragon of not only moral virtue but guiding star in the dispensation of justice fairness and stewardship of our meagre resources.

Mr President, we expected radical reforms and dynamism that will transform our economy by putting a brake on wasteful spending, state resource cannibalism, effective service delivery, good heath care and not the least important provide reliable water and power supply.

There is an overwhelming feeling, a murmuring that the directions you took, certain decisions your government took and certain decisions you refused or was slow in taking are signs of an incompetence and fire-fighting strides of a clueless administration, yet to find its bearing. Mr president some of dismissed this criticism as groaning of an ungrateful agitators and bad looser, old alkalos and defeated wrestlers but when we look into periscope with both eyes open and with a perspicacity of realism, we begin to discern that there is a palpable nuance of misadventures and poor judgement.

There has been a series of mishaps leading to one perplexing saga after saga, from unexplained dismissal of a pragmatic interior minister Mai Fatty who gave strong credibility to your nymphic administration, then came the preposterous and wasteful youth movement, Faraba saga, dismissal of vice president and Agriculture minister, your wife’s foundation saga, Gunjur Golden saga etc etc which left an aura resignation and souring disappointment for many of us, your admirers and foot soldiers. Mr President you are us and we are you, your success is our success and your failure, is our failure.

We salute and encouraged you for sense of freedom pervasively palpable in the Gambia air, improved human rights, less arbitrary arrest, no disappearance, some road building especially in Basse area and many that are not yet discernible. Eminent in your achievements is setting strategic National Development Plan Commission of Enquiries and other Commissions which are starting to conduct initial exploratory work.

We thank you for all these accomplishments, yet we are yearning for a more reinforced attitude to reform, institutional reforms that with sharpen the efficacy of service delivery especially utilities and infrastructure that will attract much needed investment.

Your excellency, with zest, we want a refocus of your government’s strategy imbued with a sense dynamism. We ask for re-examination of direction of government to inculcate a sense of Dynamism Radicalism and Critical thinking, for 18 months has passed with not so good utilities, water supply and communication.

I will endeavour to explain what I meant by these terms in my subsequent articles. Please I am neither Dr Ceasay nor the egregious Mr Sabally both of whom I surmise, skate on a wave self-adulation and unmistakable orgy of arrogance.

In case some cynics might insinuate their usual caricature of diasporan, as all talk WhatsApp merchants of doom. I want to obviate that insinuation for the fact that we are doing our individuals contribution as we did during the struggle. I for one, with nostalgia reminisce over my services to my country with pride if there was any thing to be proud of in my life, that pride emanate not from any superficial accolade or certification but my services at Accountant General’s Department for eight consecutive years, from a junior staff to a senior officer; working in different departments; from the Treasury to Systems Unit and Control Unit; most importantly working with other Departments and Ministries.

Mr president, the need for financial discipline is becoming existential. The government cannot afford to spend the massive grants it got from donors and well- wishers on expensive travels and inefficient budgetary expenditures like husting needless departmental meetings dubbed as workshops. Most of the workshops are shenanigans to exploit departmental budget which as far I know hardly provide resources for prodigious and inapt workshops.

Operating with secrecy and hope no one will notice conspicuous waste in expending government resources is close to being a strategic folly as nothing can hardly be hidden from the wary eyes of the new media-savvy generation. Facebook and Twitter thumpers can hardly wait to authenticate information spewed out of your government circles. The WhatsApp generation, a virtual Banta of idea sharing, news, rumours and all the innuendos. What former president Jammeh got away with, your regime cannot; even if it tirelessly tries to provide witty defences.

I admit no democratic government is completely transparent as some issues and transactions are state secrets and governed by state secret laws. However, issues of financial indiscipline at a time of dire financial and economic conditions where grants are the life-line for financing government operations, to be opaque with government spending especially on side of the recurrent expenditure of the of the office of the president is unintelligent and sell defeating.

Mr president, your campaigned was premised on human rights, rule of law, transparency, accountability and good governance were indeed inspirational and unanimously welcomed. Many had some reservations about the achievability of those noble objectives however find it sensible, with great hope and expectation, to give you their backing. Those are the ones who do not hesitate to find plausible excuses to the ensuing scandals and inconsistencies in certain decisions you took.

Since your government’s inception, instances of jaundice leadership, poor financial discipline and a fire fighting attitudes emblazoned government’s reputation. That is not a characterisation consonant with the huge expectation that spurred the yearning for political changes in the country in December 2016. We have given your regime benefit of the doubt to mature into the job but what we are seeing is scandal after scandal.

I hope President Barrow will sit down and reflect on what type of legacy he wants to leave and what of type of Gambia he wants bequeath to his own children. Will he want to be met in the street by the people he governed and be remembered for incompetence, waste, breaking trust with his party, breaking his cardinal trust he swore to defend when he was sworn in.

Will he be an ex- president whose shade silhouette over-ambition to stay in power and betrayal of his coalition partners or will be remembered for his wife’s love for power and luxuries like Zeinab Summa Jammeh or wife of president Gargbo or wife of Mugabe etc.

For Gambia to succeed, it has to implement economic and financial discipline not only envisaging cutting waste across the board but inculcate a sense of pragmatism and financial prudence in all its functionaries. From president to the teachers in the class rooms, waste, mismanagement and thievery of government resources should be accorded with stiff sanctions while mediocre should be detested and weeded out.

You should start with wasteful and non-value adding travel to non-value adding conferences just to extract by stealth, hefty per-diem from government coffers. This need to be given legislative and financial reform priority. The current General Orders and Financial Instructions are deficient administrative instruments to effect changes in the per-diem psyche of our civil service. The role of the Secretary General MR Ebrima Camara and minister of Finance Mr Mamburay Njie, has never been so vitally needed to champion reform.

On Role Of Secretary General and Civil Service Reform.
These government instruments (GO, FI and CSA) need revision to instil relevant but standard parameters of behaviour. I call upon my sixth form classmate Mr Ebrima Camara, the current Secretary General (SG) to immediately review these documents.

Let him institute a new Civil service Act that spell out clearly the need to curtail the per-diem fishing culture.
He should look beyond archaic Jawara era General Orders, with its rigid and prescriptive dos and don’ts, is not an adequate tool in my mind, to instill a sense of urgency for operational discipline and effective conveyance of government operations.

He need to make swift changes to stamp his mark and advice the president with pragmatism in contradistinction to giving pleasant advices to the president’s ears.  Let SG Camara, render the stoic and ignominious Sabally and Njogu Bah philosophy of pandering to the president’s whims and idiosyncrasies, which suspended Jammeh in a bubble of ignoble invincibility and quixotic exuberance of self-adoration. Their ego-massaging made Jammeh to think whatever he did was admissible and could get away with his excesses. Honest advice to the power is the key and people of the Gambia shall be grateful forever.

I recall our days in Gambia High school in 87/89 when we used criticise Jawara government, with people like the very Edward Singhateh, Amat Kebbeh, Amat Gaye, Sang Mendy, Mr Barrow, Kawsu Ceasay, Njundu Sanneh etc, now he occupy a seat of power to effect lasting and meaningful changes, let him not betray our aspirations.

The Finance Minister Should Be A Critical Thinker
If there is a greater demand for a potent antidote to invigorate our fledgling economy and crumbling infrastructures, is the expediency of an dynamic Finance ministry and Mamburay Njie whose appointment was largely greeted with consternation and weariness, must prove his mettle and lead the Finance Ministry by example. He must wane himself off Jammeh regime mentality, a detestation of accountability and disdain for bureaucratic routine.

All government transactions must conform to financial instructions which call for audit trail of all monetary transactions. Clear frailties in ministry of Finance control systems are evident from the revelations at the commission of inquiry where huge amount of monies are transferred without proper authorisation and documentation.

Need For Tax Reform
The Finance Minister as a matter of urgency need to institute a tax reform to broaden the tax base and assert more administrative controls. Small businesses as I protested in my last article must provide a tax cuisine for the government in ways that does not burden them but is fair and proportionate.

How many small businesses ranging from shops to builders, tailors, welders, mechanics earn more than D100,000 per annum yet pay no tax. Is it fair for a teacher who earned less than D36,000 per annum pay tax while a farmer who earn D100, 000 from his cashew nut, mango, cassava, orange farm pay no taxes. What about the plethora of artisans, tradesmen and women who earn more than civil servants pay no business taxes for the simple reasons that govern failed to register them for tax.

The same goes for thousands of intricate and informally constituted small businesses own by people from neighbouring countries who siphon there profits to their countries of origin without due regard to their tax obligation to host country.

How many local bakeries, kolanut tables,”Ngendenjai” whose annual income surpasses police service men’s and women’s income yet are not registered for tax. How many Ghanaians, Sierra Leoneans Nigerians provide expensive private classes gather huge income for many years yet pay no tax to the state.

I saw an advert in which the GRA is encouraging registration for tax, a welcome development but is not enough, there must be a legal framework that provide bases for a compulsory registration, the need for providing annual company accounts or self-assessment returns.

The GRA is also looking on Capital Gains Tax on land sale. Most land sale especially at community level is completed at the Alkali level and the title change hands without attracting any CGT. It’s only when people want to register their land, title changes tea reaches government bureaucracy where CGT can be applied. The last two decades has seen emergence of communal land sale to estate developers which can run into millions. Government need to look into these sales to determine the right amount of tax payable.

What about fishermen who in a day can scoop thousands of dalasis and perhaps hundreds of thousands in a year. Are they properly registered as self-employed or as small businesses.

The ubiquitous taxies that ply the roads, nooks and hooks of Serrekunda, as numerous as birds, what about the kelekeles and truck drivers who bring sand and gravel to construction sites, are they registered for tax with the thousands if not hundreds of thousand they earn in a year. GRA can link annual licence renewals to providing annual accounts or returns for taxation.

There must be a nationwide campaign to sensitize potential tax payers the need for swift registration and the associated sanctions. There must be an IT infrastructure to provide complete and effective Tax administration and online communications just like UK HMRC does.

The current TIN number system is a good attempt and need to be associated will self- assessment of personal tax.
If there a proper tax system that register all small businesses and individuals as self-employed, there is a great job creation potential for Accountants, IT technicians and even new graduates.

Sir, take the bull by horn and play the reform tune, encompassing the civil service and parastatals. Some parastatal have the same incompetent board of directors since time immemorial and that same board approved wasteful spending during Jammeh era.

Approving prestigious projects, risky investments to name the few. They allowed staff to massacre vital funds of parastatal like SSHFC, hiding their loot as staff loans which remain unpaid for years. The board of SSFHC need a complete revamp to bring in new blood of fresh and forward thinking members.

Diaspora Are Source Partners
It is percipient for the President to attune himself to work with honest Gambians in the diaspora especially those who worked selflessly to bring this changes.

They should not be seen as willing saboteurs but partners in development with an immense role to play. Their criticisms should be channelled positively by not concentrating on the form but on the substance. Notably among them are Seedy Sanneh, Bakary Bunja Darboe, Sedat Jobe, Dr Nyang, Musa Mbenga to name the few. Bakary Bunja Darboe’s experience is extremely needed in this transition period and I am perplexed why President Barrow did not tap that wealth of experience.

Some of us lived in the diaspora for over 30 years and want to return to contribute to our quotas once again but cannot do so if the conditions that we aspire for democratic dispensation, fought for many years is still lacking.
We cannot emigrate from order to disorder. From good infrastructure to bad one. You may think this is lack of sacrifice but I contend that it is better to contribute afar than go home only to be immobilized by archaic communications and trying infrastructural condition.

Let our dear and beloveth leader strife to make a difference in the economy of the Gambia and life of the people.
Let him open his eye to fresh ideas, fresh people who are not tainted with Yaya’ s pass escapades and useless economic and financial adventurism, a myopic paradigm premised on prodigious and ill-conceived projects to project power than to institute meaningful changes to better the life of the people.

Sir, the position of the SG which I will deal in subsequently articles need to be reviewed and make fit for this new dispensation. SG position should be apolitical and remain exclusively civil service in breath and reach. The political duties should be assigned to a new portfolio as in UK and USA. You need a chief of staff whose remit of responsibility will encompass the management of state house including overseeing implementation of your policies and other political matters. Regimes come and go but the SG being civil must remain protected from the vagaries of political office. In other words it exemplify continuity and focus of policies.

Mr president, take advantage of the rich reservoir of diasporan expertise scattered in the western world some of who are doing jobs that are not consonant with their education and expertise.

I submit finally, folks, A man’s worth is not how long he lead others, how many properties he left behind, rather, and I state with solemnity that, a man’s worth is what he has contributed to uplift the welfare of his people. We have very little to show for 52 years of independence but waste and poor governance that leave an indelible scar on our psyche with consequential mistrust of all politicians. The jury is out.

Lamin Darboe
Leicester
UK