Monday, December 16, 2013

Open letter to the Government and People of Taiwan

We are normally not in the business of writing open letters. We prefer a face to face dialogue with government officials to communicate our concerns about our country - a country we watch helplessly drifting into ethnic strife, fueled, in part, by the ability of the dictatorship to convert or transform foreign assistance into a potent source of financing of self-perpetuation schemes of a very corrupt and inept regime that continues to divide a once culturally and ethnically cohesive country.

In the main, the regime in Banjul has used, and continues to use development assistance programs in a preferential way that benefit areas and peoples the dictator perceive as supporters.  The regime also uses development aid as a cudgel by withholding it from communities on the opposing side of the political spectrum at the direction of the "idiosyncratic leader", as your own Foreign Ministry officials now describe Yaya Jammeh. This targeted form of development has become the hallmark of the regime that is proudly touted publicly, and in political campaigns as a means of punishing the non-supporters and their respective communities.

We are forced by distance to use this form of communicating with the Government and People of the Republic of China (ROC), and prompted by an article we read in the respected "Taipei Times" entitled "MOFA rejects most allies' projects" published in the December 17th 2013 edition.  In the piece, we learned for the first time that the Jammeh regime has benefited from vegetable and fruit plantation projects since 1996 when diplomatic relations were established between Taipei and Banjul. What is startling, though not surprising, is that "only 3.6 hectares of farmland has since been developed, benefiting only 90 farmers", despite the fact that more than US$ 1 million was pumped into the project in the past three years alone.  One wonders how much more was spent in the previous fifteen?  We will appreciate answers from the Government of Taiwan.

In a country where 70% of its 1.8 million inhabitants are engaged in agriculture, a sector that is also the single biggest foreign exchange earner, bringing only 3.6 hectares under cultivation and impacting the lives of only 90 farmers is a disappointingly low outcome of an 18-year project.  We think an explanation is in order here too, from the two governments.  Given that the Gambia government is a dictatorship where transparency is in short supply, I hope that the Government of Taiwan will help respond positively to our requests for details of not only this specific project but all projects funded by Taiwan since 1996.

Taiwan has over its 18-year relations with The Gambia provided generous assistance to the people of the Gambia covering a broad areas of intervention that included but not necessarily limited to the security, education and health sectors.  We will be forever grateful for both your financial assistance, and especially your friendship over the years.  Many of us had made and maintained friendships with Taiwanese diplomats and development experts over the years, relationships we intend to keep and cherish.

The personal friendships notwithstanding, it still does not obviate the fact the Gambian people are in the dark on many of your country's foreign aid program with The Gambia.  As we have shown in the past, the Taiwan aid was a closely-guarded, centrally-administered program from the Office of The President.  What the public saw was the handing-over ceremonies of checks and gifts from the Government and People of Taiwan to the Gambian dictator.  What the dictator does with these monies is what we, Gambians, are demanding answers to.  With the cooperation of the Government of Taiwan and in the interest of transparency in its foreign aid policy, the Gambian people will be better informed of how and where the aid given in their name was utilized.

We look forward to your cooperation in our quest for transparency and accountability not only in the contracting of these foreign assistance programs but it their implementation during the entire 18-year period of diplomatic relations with The Gambia.

Thank you

薩內 甘比亞