By Lamin Darboe
Your Excellency, if there are to be new watchwords that should capture the spirit of your leadership, they should be dynamism, radicalism and critical thinking. The whiff of disillusionment is in the air and you need to find fresh impetus, a fresh passion to spark the engine of reform in your government.
I will endeavour to explain what I mean 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.
First my pride if there is any, emanate not from any superficial accolade or certification but my services at the 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 hosting needless departmental meetings dubbed as workshops. Most of the workshops are shenanigans to exploit departmental budgets which as far I know hardly provide resources for prodigious inapt workshops.
Operating with secrecy and hope no one will notice palpable waste in expending government resources is a strategic folly as nothing can be hidden from the wary eyes of the new media-savvy generation. Facebook and Twitter thumpers can hardly wait to authenticate information coming out of your government circles.
What Jammeh got away with, this 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 were grants are the life-line for financing government operations, to be opaque with government spending especially on side of the recurrent expenditure of the presidency is unintelligent and sell defeating.
Mr president, your campaign was premised on human rights, rule of law, transparency, accountability and good governance and these were inspirational. Although many had reservations about the achievability of these noble objectives, nonetheless, they reasoned it was sensible, and with great hope and expectation, gave 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, jaundiced leadership, poor financial discipline and fire-fighting attitude have emblazoned government’s reputation. That is not a characteristic 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 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 a former president whose shade silhouette over-ambition to stay in power and betrayal of his coalition partners or will he be remembered for his wife’s love for power and luxuries like Zineb Souma Jammeh or the wife of President Gbagbo or Mugabe or Biya?
For The Gambia to succeed, it has to implement economic and financial discipline not only by cutting waste across the board but inculcating 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.
Let’s start with wasteful and non-value adding travel to non-value adding conferences just to extract hefty per diem from government coffers. This needs 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.
Secretary general and
civil service reform
These government instruments need revision to instill relevant but standard parametres of behaviour and I call upon my high school sixth form classmate Mr Ebrima Camara, the current secretary general to immediately review these documents.
Let him institute a new Civil service Act that spells out clearly the need to curtail the per diem fishing culture.
New instruments that look beyond archaic Jawara era General Orders, with its rigid and prescriptive dos and don’ts, are not the tool to instill a sense of urgency for operational discipline and effective conveyance of government operations.
He needs to make swift changes to stamp his mark and advice the president with pragmatism in contradistinction giving pleasant advices to the president’s ears.
Let SG Camara tear apart 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 think whatever he did was admissible and he can get away with his excesses. Honest advice to the power is the key and people of The Gambia shall be grateful forever.
I call on the SG to remember the days in Gambia High school in 1987/89 when we used to criticise the Jawara government , with people like the very Edward Singhatey, Amat Kebbeh, Amat Gaye, Sang Mendy, Kawsu Ceasay, Njundu Sanneh now that he is occupying a seat of power so that he will 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 fledging economy and crumbling infrastructures, it is the expediency of having a dynamic Finance Ministry and Mambury Njie, whose appointment was largely greeted with consternation and weariness, must prove his mettle and lead the Finance Ministry by example. He must wean himself off the 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. I am alluding to the revelations from the sitting commission of inquiry where huge amounts of monies are transferred without proper authorisation and documentation.
Need for tax reform
The Finance Minister as a matter of urgency needs to institute a tax reform to broaden the tax base and assert more administrative controls.
Small businesses 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 to pay tax while a farmer who earns D100, 000 from his cashew nut, mango, cassava or orange farm pay no taxes. What about the plethora of artisans, tradesmen and women who earn more than civil servants and who pay no business taxes for the simple reason that government failed to register them for tax.
The same goes for thousands of intricate and informally constituted small businesses owned by people from neighbouring countries who siphon their profits to their countries of origin without due regard to their tax obligation to host country.
How many local bakeries, colanut tables, ngenda-njai whose annual incomes surpass police servicemen’s and women’s income yet are not registered for tax?
How many Ghanaians, Sierra Leoneans and Nigerian teachers give expensive private classes and 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. This is a welcome development but it is not enough. There must be a legal framework that provides bases for compulsory registration, the need for providing annual company accounts or self-assessment returns.
The GRA is also looking on capital gains tax on land sales. Most land sales especially at community level are completed at the alkalo level and the title changes hands without attracting any CGT. It’s only when people want to register their land, title changes reach 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 needs to look into these sales to determine the right amount of tax payable.
There must be a nationwide campaign to sensitise 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 needs to be associated will self- assessment of personal tax.
Sir, take the bull by horn and play the reform tune, encompassing the civil service and parastatals. Some parastatals have the same incompetent board of directors since time immemorial – the same boards that approved wasteful spending during the Jammeh era.
They approved prestigious projects and risky investments. They allowed staff to massacre vital funds of parastatals like the SSHFC, hiding their loot as staff loans which remain unpaid for years. The board of SSHFC needs a complete revamp to bring in new blood of fresh and forward-thinking members.
Diaspora are a source for 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 about the 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 Sidi Sanneh, Bakary Bunja Dabo, ML Sedat Jobe, Dr Nyang, Musa Mbenga to name the few.
BB Dabo’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 and fought for many years are 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 immobilised by archaic communications and trying infrastructural condition.
Let our dear and beloved leaders strive to make a difference in the economy of The Gambia and lives of the people.
Let the president open his eyes to fresh ideas, fresh people who are not tainted with Yahya’s past 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 subsequent articles needs to be reviewed and made fit for this new dispensation. The 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 a civil servant, must remain protected from the vagaries of political office. In other words, it should exemplify continuity and focus of policies.
Mr President, take advantage of the rich reservoir of diasporan expertise scattered in the Western world some of whom are doing jobs that are not consonant with their education and expertise.
I submit finally, that a man’s worth is not how long he leads others, how many properties he leaves behind, rather, 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 except waste and poor governance that has left an indelible scar on our psyche with attendant mistrust of all politicians. The jury is out.
The author, Lamin Darboe, lives and works in the English Midlands city of Leicester.