Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Restore the 5-day workweek

Gambia is unserious and it shows.  It is both embarrassing and inexplicable for an entire nation to close shop from Thursday to Sunday every week while the rest of the world toils to make life better for mankind. Not to work is unproductive, and an impediment to the development of both the human spirit and the human welfare.

Indeed, all major religions of the world see virtue in work.  There's a local proverb which roughly translate "work" is an integral part of your belief in, and worship of, Allah/God The Almighty. .

Data is not readily available to assess the damage done to the economy but logic dictates that when you take away an entire day from the work week, you should expect a corresponding decrease in the number of work-week hours.  Any reduction in the work hours would necessarily translate into less production which will probably impact economic output or GDP.

We must remember that an entire Saturday morning was taken away every month for neighborhood cleaning exercises locally known as "set-setal " when from dawn to noon every Gambian is confined in his or her compound to clean their living environment.  The monthly exercise has been on for over a decade with no visible evidence of improvement in the environmental sanitation of our neighborhoods.  In fact, it could be said that it has deteriorated in many localities.  During this period, all economic activity is expected to come to a grinding halt.  The economic cost of such an exercise is huge, especially to the petty traders and vegetable garden women to whom this government claim to looking after.  Saturday mornings happen to be one of the busiest and most lucrative days to sell their vegetables which they are forced to miss or run the risk of being taken to the nearest police station, as prescribed by law. 

Gambia is probably the only country in the world that works four days a week and stay idle the next three. The rationale advanced by the Gambian dictator was that Jews have their Sabbath, Christians have Sunday, therefore Muslims must have their Fridays too.  He probably saw this in a dream as he does with other major decisions that affect the daily lives of Gambians.  I think this to be the case because he woke up one day and made it law without consulting his "subjects" or a study of the economic impact of adding an extra day to the weekend of pleasure for Gambians. Jammeh is buried in, and mesmerized by, mysticism which influences his governance style if there was one because he moves from one bizarre policy to the next.   

Within the Jammeh sphere, it is standard to cite the fact that total hours have not been lost because the daily office hours have been extended correspondingly.  What they fail to realize is that the law of diminishing returns kicks in when you put in that many hours at a stretch in one day.  It also poses other problems which makes life more complicated for ordinary people as we have seen this past Month of Ramadan when family members have to rush home to prepare for iftar, and kids stranded well into the night hitching a ride home from schools. 

Work and office hours are usually aligned, as much as feasible, with the business hours of ones major business and trading partners, and influenced also by your neighbors.  History also has an influence on how work and work hours/days are organized.  (I am using work hours and work days interchangeably).  The Gambia's major partners and neighbors all have similar work and business hours to Gambia's until  the change several months ago.

The change had affected the way banks in The Gambia conduct business, especially in the current international business environment where transactions occur almost instantaneously.  Gambian private sector operators dislike the new work hours but are afraid to voice iy for fear of reprisals from the dictatorship.  School children hate it because it keeps them in the streets longer and later than desirable or safe.  An accurate estimate of the true cost to the economy is still not available but what is certain is that government workers also do not like the new arrangement.  As a result of all these reasons, it is therefore wish for the government to restore the 5-day week. 

This piece was triggered by the numerous Gambians and non-Gambians, including an American colleague, stranded in Banjul over the Tabaski holidays because they cannot purchase plane tickets to travel on emergency calls, including medical emergencies, because all the travel agencies have been closed for a week-long public holiday.  Serious countries are not being run this way.  Stop the unseriousness and the nonsense, and allow Gambians to engage in serious work of developing the country. The feeling across Gambia is that there's too much "Futampaf" or celebrations of the most trivial thing and very little work, brought about by a regime that values leisure time more and hard work less.