Saturday, September 30, 2017

National ID cards: It’s SEMLEX all over again!

Gambian Interior Minister, Mai Fatty 
The Interior Minister continues to bring the SEMLEX issue  into the forefront of the political discourse by, yet again, directing his press secretary to issue a press release designed, in our view, to confuse the public into thinking that the delay in the resumption of the issuance of ID cards is neither his fault nor that of his Ministry.  He's putting all the blame on Cabinet.

In other words, the problem in the delay in the resumption of national ID becomes government’s and not the minister's, who, we continue to maintain, created the mess in the first instance by trying to ram his earlier unilateral decision through Cabinet without calling for tenders and the rest of the procurement procedures that should follow.

This approach contravenes standard procurement rules and procedures. The Jammeh-era contract with Prestine Consulting - a Gambian-own company - must be resolved with the Touray brothers, one way or the other, BEFORE the national ID project is put out to tender

The second reason for this oddly-worded press release issued last week by his press officer - whose status within the civil service is unclear – appears to be a means of telegraphing to SEMLEX that everything is being done in the minister’s power to deliver.   

The press release further informed the public that the Interior Minister had "concurred with its own ministerial Task Force recommendation" to award the national ID card project to “an identified competent company” (read SEMLEX) and that his ministry has prepared a Cabinet Paper (CP) to this effect.

As soon as Cabinet arrives at a conclusion, his ministry will resume issuing national IDs to an anxious public, according to the release.  The problem with this method is this:  Cabinet cannot endorse the minister's recommendation without contravening every internationally acceptable procurement standards and procedures for goods and services.  We must start doing things the right way and stop the shenanigans.  

The beneficiary ministry – in this case, Interior – cannot form its own Technical Evaluation Committee, chair its own Task Force (performing the role reserved for the Major Tender Board) and then proceed to recommend that the contract be awarded to a company that the Hon. Minister had publicly and unabashedly supported and defended before television cameras.

In my view, the behavior of the minster alone is grounds for the disqualification of SEMLEX because even where they were to win the contract in a fair and square contest, the public impression will inevitably be that the company was favored.  In this business, perception is as important as reality.

A Task Force of the sort assembled by Interior cannot pass the smell test because it excludes all of the Ministries that matter in the procurement of goods and services. Such task forces are chaired by the Finance Ministry, the line ministry that is procuring goods or service (in this case, Interior),  Works and Infrastructure Ministry, Attorney General's Chambers and Accountant General to form a multi-disciplinary Task Force that will conduct the evaluation and selection of the best proposal prior to a joint CP is prepared to be subsequently referred to cabinet for approval.

In addition to adopting the wrong approach leading to the recommendation to award the contract to SEMLEX, the Interior Ministry compounded its problems by having the minister act as the lead spokesperson for the company thus posing serious conflict of interest and ethical issues.  Ministers must stay away from operational matters.  Procurement of goods and services fall under this category. Permanent Secretaries are the Accounting Officers of their respective ministries as the Lead Counsel to the Surahata Janneh Commission of Inquiry appears to keep reminding civil servants of this fact daily.  

We will repeat the call we’ve made early in the life of the new government that the new administration will have to decide very early in the transition period whether to continue maintaining a corrupt and backward system inherited from the 22-year dictatorship or to earnestly embark on the very difficult journey of adopting a new open, fair and transparent approach to governance including a public procurement process that meets international standards.

The New Gambia cannot afford to be perceived as a continuum of the old order that destroyed lives while staining the reputation of a once proud country with sterling reputation.  To embark on that journey, we must start by doing things openly, fairly and transparently.  If we need to be reminded of the virtues of following the General Orders (GO) and Financial Instructions (FI), please tune in on the sessions of the Commission of Inquiry looking into the abuse of power by Yaya Jammeh.

                                                                      ####

Friday, September 29, 2017

Is President Barrow beginning to flex his muscles?

Gambian President Adama Barrow 
"A leader takes people where they want to go.  A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be" is a quote attributable to Mrs. Rosalynn Carter, America's former First Lady is appropriate to reflect upon during this critical period of Gambia's political transition.

Under normal circumstances, when the government is majority-led, to be a great leader is extremely difficult, much less when the head of government is leading a multiparty coalition of 7 +1 political parties and an unaffiliated independent candidate with different manifestos, programs and agendas, each pulling in different directions requiring a strong-willed head of government to hold the center.

Unfortunately, holding the center alone will not suffice after what continental Africa's smallest country had to undergo over 22 years of our of the world's most violent and corrupt dictatorship the world has ever seen where the country's institutions were willfully dismantled to create a chaotic environment for the military to exercise extrajudicial powers and for corruption to thrive.   It created the perfect environment for both to grow exponentially.

Supporters and critics of the Barrow administration may differ in strategic approaches to solving the myriad of problems facing the country but they all agree of one thing: that solving the systemic and structural problems facing the country will take a generation or two because of the extent of the damage inflicted on the economy and to the national psychic by Jammeh that has shaken the confidence of Gambians to the core.  

The lack of governance experience of the leader only adds to the daunting task facing the new president.  Public and candid admission immediately following his unexpected electoral victory admitting his lack of governance experience served both as a warning and an appeal to Gambians for patience and understanding.  It also concurrently served as a means of managing public expectations.

President Barrow must be aware of criticisms of his government's lack of direction and its apparent lack of the wherewithal to solve the country's chronic electricity and water supply problems.  There are signs during his recent trip to New York to attend the 72nd United Nations General Assembly that the 'humble' president is beginning to flex his muscles by refusing to boycott attending a mosque led by a Gambian Imam considered to be supporter of the previous government of Yaya Jammeh.  

According to those present when he was being advised to select from a list of options, he refused to follow advise of party stalwarts by reasoning that he has prayed behind the Imam of Banjul who was a staunch supporter of Jammeh.  He opined that he was the leader of all Gambians and not of a certain section of the population.  Factionalism is not in Barrow's DNA and he has demonstrated it amply previously and again in New York.

Insignificant as it may seem, the fact that he stood his ground against overwhelming odds in the atmosphere he found himself in New York, is an important development in the evolutionary cycle of the leadership challenges facing President Barrow.  Although he was elected as the head of a coalition ticket of several political parties, he was legitimately elected as the sole and legitimate leader of the Republic of The Gambia.  He must start exerting himself to signal his independence.

We hope his New York trip is the beginning of an era of renewal and vigor in Barrow's leadership. For a start, Gambians are yearning for a leader and that leader is President Barrow to lead us where Gambians want to go.  Ultimately, we hope he'll be a great leader, as defined by Mrs. Rosalynn Carter, to lead us where we may not necessarily want to be, but ought to be.   Gambians who put GAMBIA FIRST will support you in that journey.

                                                               ######

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A clean break from the past is still possible

Sidi Sanneh 
The Barrow administration may be paving the way to disastrous failure if it does not start, immediately, to dismantle, brick by brick, the corrupt and incompetent governance system that was purposefully designed by Jammeh to personally enrich himself and a few of his favored friends by defrauding the Gambian while, concurrently, consolidating his power into the absolute and formidable dictator he had become.   If there were doubts when we made these claims years ago, the Commission of Inquiry into Jammeh’s illicit wealth is slowly etching a much more compelling picture of such claims on the public consciousness.

Signals abound that the Barrow administration is headed the wrong path, led by some of Jammeh’s most loyal and prolific old hands that can be measured in the number of trips they can make in a day to visit the Central Bank to escort bags full of millions of dollars back to their handlers at State House.  Populating the length and breadth of the civil service, these characters have moved quickly to become a formidable bulwark in a very short time to form Jammeh’s 5th column.  Trained to move only when instructed, they can easily be spotted for their lack of initiatives because they’ve been wired to take instructions and therefore cannot think independently and make individual judgments - the hallmark of a good manager.  To these people, the single person that mattered was His Excellency, Sheikh Professor Alhagie, Yaya Jammeh.  Gambians must never let them transform Adama Barrow into another BallilliMansa.

All indications are they are gaining ground.  You can feel it.  The most dreaded phrase invented by Jammeh “executive directive” is slowly creeping back into the administrative lingo.  Thanks to the hangers-on and hold-overs from Jammeh’s rotten regime who have infested the new government of Barrow.  Replicating a totally discredited and reviled system of governance poses a real existential threat to the new government.

More pointers abound that the threat is real.   For example, Foundations of the Jammeh era are being replicated under Barrow with the formation of a Foundation for the new First Lady, ostensibly to help the young, the vulnerable and less fortunate members of society.  As we are witnessing during the Commission hearings confirming our long-held view that these Foundations are vehicles designed to divert public funds and private donations solicited from rich Arab countries that are then diverted to private use.

Knowing what we know now about Foundations operated by the First Family, whoever advised President Adama Barrow to agree to the setting up of a Foundation for the First Lady made the wrong and inappropriate call for the First Lady.   To emulate Zeinab Suma Jammeh is not a good idea. It is a very dumb idea if you ask me.  First Ladies in dirt poor countries like ours can still engage in ‘good works’ in support of the weak and vulnerable in society by being their Advocate-in-Chief and a formidable one at that, in and outside government without creating a Foundation and the attendant administrative structures associated with such ventures that usually end up relying on government for budget support.

These are just a few of the examples that can be cited as disturbing trend that is both unsettling and unnerving because it threatens to roll back the gains the ferocious opposition achieved against the tyrannical and corrupt rule that forced Yaya Jammeh into involuntary exile.  The Gambian people must never allow the Coalition Government to take this destructive path.  We must not allow it to happen.  What we need is a clean break from one of Africa’s most violent and corrupt regime, ever.

The revelations to date at the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of Yaya Jammeh should serve as a warning that embracing the Jammeh’s corrupt system of governance will be suicidal to a new government that is already losing its gloss and luster barely eight months into a 3- to 5-year transition period.  It’s time to make a mid course correction while there is still time.              

Monday, September 25, 2017

How Mohamed Bazzi and Amadou Samba deprived the Central River Region (CRR) of ferry services

Ferry Niani at Barajally Ferry crossing 
The Commission of Inquiry investigating the illicit wealth of Yaya Jammeh revealed how the former Gambian dictator and his business partners - namely Muhammed Bazzi and Amadou Samba - colluded to deprive the people of the Central River Region, of one of their two ferry services for the sole purposes of advancing their own business interests.

Amadou Samba 
Testifying before the Commission, the Managing Director of the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) explained how his agency received a letter from the Office of the President instructing them to 'deliver' the ferry "Barajally" to GAM-PETROLEUM, a company that owned the Mandinari petroleum depot under construction at the time.

GAM-PETROLEUM and EURO-AFRICA Group are two companies among many that list Muhammed Bazzi and Amadou Samba as shareholders.  And like other  Bazzi/Samba companies doing business in The Gambia such as GAMVEG, their corporate identities have been used interchangeably which has caused confusion to the general public as well as some government officials.  Whether it is by design is anyone's guess.                                                                                                                                                
Mohammed Bazzi 
During his testimony, the Managing Director of GPA revealed that they received a letter from the President's Office directing them to "deliver" the ferry "Barajally" to the GAM-PETROLEUM team of Messrs. Bazzi and Samba to be converted to a "work boat" for use in the building of the Mandinari fuel depot - a private venture with controlling shares by private investors.

Although Amadou Samba has sold his 9.9% shares, as far as we can ascertain Mohammed Bazzi (30.8%), Fadi Mazzegi (10.3%) and Premier Investment Group (1%) are still clinging to their shares although Mr. Bazzi and his business partners have lost their monopoly status for the importation of petroleum and petroleum products.

As soon as the "Barajally" was handed over to GAM-PETROLEUM - over the protest of the GPA - the vessel was chopped up to be modified into a "work boat" at the Mandinari terminal according to the Managing Director and could no longer be used for its original purpose of transporting people and vehicles from one half of the country to the other, depriving an entire section of the CRR.  According to an unconfirmed source,  the village of Barajally has been without ferry service since GPA lost it to GAM -PETROLEUM in June 2007.

After losing the battle to retain ownership, GPA valued the vessel at D 16,500,000 before demanding payment from GAM-PETROLEUM on two occasions - both of which were ignored by the owners of the Mandinari fuel depot.  

                                                                          ######  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

While President Barrow is away at the United Nations, the paramilitary is back in action in Kololi




                              All of the photos above were taken yesterday


While the Gambian delegation to the United Nations 72nd General Assembly led by President Adama Barrow is busy attending official business on behalf of the Gambian people, the enemies of democracy and the rule of law are busy exploiting the situation by unleashing the paramilitary, yet again, on the defenseless population of Kololi.  It must be noted that the Interior Minister who is in charge of internal security  is also part of the Gambian delegation.

Yesterday, a contingent of paramilitary officers descended on the Kololi football field where children were playing football, started using force to clear the field.   Cranes and bulldozers were employed, presumably to restart a project that will deprive the community of what was once state land.   The land in question is still being disputed and many questions still linger.  How was the land transferred from government to KMC.  How did the land end up being leased to an Indian company and a what price?  What happened to the proceeds?  Did any of it end up in government coffers?

It appears that whenever the president is away on a foreign trip, the paramilitary jumps into action. Last May, when Barrow made his first official trip to Saudi Arabia to attend the Islamic - America Summit in Riyadh, the paramilitary was unleashed on the same Kololi residents over the same disputed land that the communities of Kololi and surrounding satellite town rightfully claim to belong to them.  Who is pulling the strings?

The manner in which the paramilitary is being manipulated is dangerous and a threat to the State.  Private citizens and business interests should never be allowed to be in a position, much less come close, to issuing command to any section of our national security apparatus.

The military and the rest of the national security agencies must remain under the control of the Commander-in-Chief and no one else.   A dangerous pattern is developing which must be stopped, dead on its tracks.

                                                                   ###

Thursday, September 21, 2017

President Adama Barrow's Statement at the Sustainable Development Goals Meeting

President Adama Barrow at the UN


STATEMENT BY HIS EXCELLENCY, ADAMA BARROW, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE GAMBIA
ON THE
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS MEETING
IN
NEW YORK

72ND UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
SEPTEMBER 2017



Mrs. Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General;
Mr. Achim Steiner, UN Development Group Chair;
Colleague, President of the Kyrgyz Republic;
Your Excellencies 
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea and Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission;
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico;
Minister of Planning of Colombia;

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my privilege to join you on this distinguished panel and I thank you for allowing me to bring The Gambia’s journey into this global conversation.

Ours is a story that is still developing. It was just nine months ago, when we emerged from 22 years of dictatorship. Together, we navigated beyond the brink of conflict and stepped onto a new path of democracy – with the efforts of our people and the support of our partners in Africa and from around the world. Today, my government carries with it the hopes and trust of all Gambians: young and old, women and men, rich and poor, rural and urban. Gambians gave peace a chance and we are  determined to use this chance wisely.

We must prove that—in the fight for freedom, justice and sustainable development —peace is the best path to take. And to sustain peace, we must have a development path that works for all Gambians.

Our people, and indeed the whole world, put faith in our peaceful transition to democracy. We shall live up to that promise, and not to shy away from the weight of high expectations. We are committed and my government has taken steps to reinstate The Gambia  into the global and regional organizations and rejoin the Community of Nations.

Our four year National Development Plan (2018-2021) will be presented to a donor roundtable planned for early next year which will offer us a good opportunity to coordinate critical support for the implementation of this Plan.

We have proudly reaffirmed our commitment to regional and global agendas, including the African Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

My government is providing strong leadership for the achievement of the SDGs linked to our national priorities by ensuring the full participation of all stakeholders and setting up effective coordination and accountability structures.

We want to restore a firm foundation for democratic governance, from the very center, out to every part of our country, especially our local communities. We are restoring confidence in our institutions, investing in our people and upholding human rights and justice. 

The Gambia was once a shining example for democracy and we are resolved to once again hold ourselves up to those high standards and regain our former glory.

But this is not easy, as the challenges that we face are broad and deep-rooted. We need new ways of thinking, rebuilding international partnerships that we had lost along the way, and adopting a coherent framework to guide our social, economic and environmental development. This is what the 2030 Agenda offers The Gambia.

Every public servant in The Gambia, from Cabinet Ministers to front-line healthcare providers, will connect their work to the fulfillment of our National Development Plan for 2021 and our SDG Roadmap to 2030.

My government inherited a state that had failed its people, and its youth most of all. We have a legacy of massive human rights abuses, weak institutions, and a breakdown of public trust in security and public services – and worst of all, a great exodus of young Gambians risking everything to cross the high seas in search of the hope and dignity they could not find at home.

Today, I want to show those young people, and the world, that the New Gambia can offer a new, bright and secure future,  through education, job creation and empowering them to make informed decisions.  Our people will see the steps that we take today, and the full road ahead.

In terms of basic health services, we made gains.  We achieved the target of MDG 4 by significantly reducing child mortality. Although still high, The Gambia has registered a considerable decline of maternal mortality by around 40% over 20 years.

Despite these gains, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Too many mothers still die while bringing life. We will work to tackle maternal mortality, and in line with SDG 3, lead The Gambia to attain maternal mortality ratio of less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030 or sooner

Our goal is universal health coverage. We need to ensure sustainable financing to enable all Gambians, especially our women and young people to get access to quality health services. 

We are tackling hunger. SDG 2 shaped my government’s National Zero Hunger Strategic Review, as well as our path ahead to consolidate gains from the Millennium Development Goals on water and sanitation, and to reach 100 percent access.  We shall address the quality of our education system, and expand opportunities for employment and private enterprise.

Regarding the environment and climate change, The Gambia is among the most vulnerable countries as climate change is affecting our infrastructure, water and arable land.

We need partnerships and technical know-how to improve environmental management, protect our natural resources, and enhance the ability of our coastal and vulnerable communities to recover from natural disasters.
.
As a champion of gender equality, I am proud of the steps taken to ban such practices as female genital mutilation and child marriage in The Gambia.
Women have taken leadership role in the socio-economic and political development of our country. We are committed to fully realizing the rights of all women and girls and promote gender equality on the journey to 2030.   We have constitutional provisions and appropriate legislation to protect women’s rights, protect against gender-based violence, and empower women in our society. My government is committed to the implementation of the laws protecting those rights.   

My government is ready to lead, but we cannot do this alone. I am delighted that the UN Development System is supporting us to develop a SDG Roadmap for The Gambia, mapping our priorities to the 2030 Agenda, as well as the Africa Agenda 2063.

We need our private sector to grow and take a bigger stake in developing The Gambia. We need a vibrant and strong civil society, as well as a free and independent press.

We also want to harness the potential of the Gambian Diaspora to join competent and abled Gambians at home in developing our skills base as well as investing in The Gambia.

We are just getting started. Now we must scale up. We need to ensure that what we put in motion, retain traction and gain momentum.

In closing, let me reiterate that what The Gambia sees in the SDGs is the best opportunity in our history for Gambians to truly own this vision for a better future.

It is our best chance to consolidate the hard work, resources and government leadership that will make this vision a reality for our own future and for generations to come.


Thank you.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

President Adama Barrow's maiden statement at the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly

President Adama Barrow at his first UN General Assembly
STATEMENT BY
HIS EXCELLENCY ADAMA BARROW
THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE GAMBIA

 AT THE 72ND SESSION
OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY

NEW YORK

19TH SEPTEMBER 2017
Mr. President,
Mr. Secretary General,
Your Majesties,
Your Excellencies – Heads of State and Government,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

With warm greetings to you all from the New Gambia, we thank the Almighty God for making this great gathering of global leaders possible once again this year.  Allow me to formally congratulate the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary General of our organization for their leadership and commitment to the values of the United Nations. 

After more than seventy years of existence, the United Nations undoubtedly remains the ultimate international platform for finding solutions to global challenges, as we in The Gambia know all too well.  Today, being my maiden appearance at this great forum of world leaders, let me take this opportunity to re-affirm The Gambia’s firm commitment to the Charter of the United Nations.  My Government fully appreciates the UN’s central role in the pursuit of preventive diplomacy to avert crises around the world.

Mr. President, The recent political crisis that took place in my country created a new democratic beginning and the experience taught us useful lessons that Gambians will not easily forget.  We learnt that will power and national unity, decisive regional intervention as well as undivided and clear support of the international community could produce positive outcomes. Also of importance, was the coordinated international action inspired by our common values of solidarity, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law which was critical in sending the right message to the former President to respect the will of the people and leave without bloodshed. 

During those difficult times, we knew we had friends, ones who came to our aid and who have since kept faith with us.  We therefore would like to seize this great opportunity to thank the leaders of ECOWAS for their timely and firm intervention in bringing peace to The Gambia.  We also thank all our regional and international friends who stood by us in our critical hour of need.  Thanks to your collective efforts, The Gambia is now on a solid path to peace and good governance and ready to take over our traditional role among the champions of human rights and democracy.  Gambians have made an irreversible choice to close a dark chapter in our history and today, our national agenda is one of reform and transformation. 

Like any restored democracy, we are facing enormous challenges in the revival of our economy, a comprehensive reform of our laws,  our administrative and judicial institutions.  The modernization of our security sector,  consolidation of the rule of law and human rights are part of our reform programme.  It is only by overcoming these challenges that we can reinforce our democratic gains and my Government is committed to delivering a New Gambia that is fit for our children to be proud of.

Indeed, young people were all along at the forefront of our democratic transition and addressing youth unemployment, which is a top priority of my government, will no doubt create enormous opportunities.

Mr. President, We also recognize the crucial role of Gambians in the Diaspora in contributing to the transformation of our motherland.  Let me seize this opportunity to sincerely thank our development partners and friends for the invaluable budget and policy support they are providing to the Government to help address the challenges of job creation and youth irregular migration.  My Government is committed to using such resources wisely for sustainable socio-economic development.

Mr. President, We may be a small country but one with huge needs.  As a matter of urgent priority, we have developed a New National Development Plan in line with the transformative agenda of the new Government.

This development blueprint is designed to put the country back on track to economic growth and prosperity following two decades of mismanagement, corruption and widespread human rights violations.  This new plan is built on sound macro-economic and fiscal policies that will lead to stability and economic growth over the medium and long term.  It has also incorporated the Sustainable Development Goals and other commitments contained in Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The Paris agreement is critically relevant for The Gambia because climate change means a lot more in our situation. When land productivity declines and water shortage intensifies, young people from rural areas are often sent away to ease the burden on the family and to find new sources of income. This sadly explains why many young Gambians have been forced to make the long and dangerous journey to Europe.

The journey is so risky that many perish at high seas and never reach their final destination. Countless others disappear into immigration detention centers or vanish in the sands of the Sahara desert.

Those who are able to complete the journey are often dismissed as economic migrants and sent back home. This sense of hopelessness and frustration also provides fertile ground for smugglers and extremist groups to recruit innocent youths into the criminal underworld.

Young people do not deserve this experience, they deserve the chance to enjoy a safe and prosperous future, at home. Creating new employment opportunities that provide young people with sustainable incomes and connect them to a revitalized land, healthy and productive environment is an investment in the future of the nation. This is a key priority in our National Development Plan.

Over the last decade, we lost many of our friends and development partners through wrong policy choices, but since the restoration of democracy and good governance, many of our long-standing partners are all coming back to work with us. We are in the process of rejoining the Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court.  We are also committed to be part of the African Peer Review Mechanism.

We are finalizing plans for a roundtable donors’ conference to mobilize resources for the long-term development of the country.  Your continued support, solidarity and partnership will be critical to the success of that conference.

Mr. President, The Gambia did not go through armed conflict, the political crisis that we experienced came as a result of decades of bad governance, weak state institutions, rule of fear, and growing intolerance.  We were on the brink of political violence and armed conflict. 

We therefore express our deep appreciation to the United Nations Office for West Africa, United Nations Peace Building Commission and the Peace Building Support Office for the initial critical support that they have rendered to my country. 

Your continued support in the areas of transitional justice and security sector reform will certainly go a long way towards entrenching peace, justice and democracy in The Gambia.

Mr. President, There is neither a shortage of ideas nor that of resources to fix the major problems facing the human race.  What has always been scarce is the political will and unless adequate resources are invested, the pace of development will remain slow and minimal impact achieved.

It is against that backdrop that I am calling on the private sector to emulate philanthropists for their generosity towards the most isolated, marginalized and deprived sections of the world, providing safe drinking water, roads, power, health care and education, key to regaining human dignity.

Mr. President, The pursuit of peace and security in Africa and the world will always be a major foreign policy goal for The Gambia.  We will pursue good neighborliness and cooperation with the sister Republic of Senegal and the countries of ECOWAS will remain strategic partners.  West Africa is on the march towards the consolidation of its democratic gains but as a region we are facing serious threats to our peace and security.  Terrorism, extremism, religious intolerance, organized crime and drug-trafficking are seriously undermining our development efforts.  Recent attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote d’lvoire and the Sahel in general underscore the urgent need for greater regional and international cooperation in addressing these challenges. 

Mr. President, The indifference, the injustices, and the indignities in isolated parts of the world create real threats to global peace, prosperity and democracy. We need to take bigger and bolder steps to close the gap between the North and South as the world is too imbalanced.

Mr. President, We remain deeply concerned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still defies resolution.  My Government firmly subscribes to the idea of a two-state solution; for the two peoples to live side by side in peace and harmony. We therefore call on the UN Secretary-General to vigorously pursue this formula in the interest of lasting peace.

Mr. President, In our foreign policy and as part of our historic friendship, we fully recognize the one-China policy. The People’s Republic of China is the sole representative of the Chinese people and a true friend of The Gambia.  Our two countries continue to strengthen cooperation on the basis of a win-win approach built on mutual trust and respect within the framework of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation.

Mr. President, An organization like the United Nations, by virtue of its functions, would always require some level of reform of its management systems.

The inter-governmental character of the mandates entrusted to the Secretariat requires the existence of trust and accountability between member states and the Secretariat.  As you embark on your proposed reforms, we stand ready to give you our full support in the interest of an effective and more relevant world body. 

Lastly but not the least, one of the long-standing issues is the pending question of Security Council reform.  Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan once said that “No reform of the United Nations is complete without reform of the Security Council”.  That remains true today. Africa will not give up its legitimate and historic quest for true representation on the Council and The Gambia fully supports the African Union’s demand for the long overdue reform of the Security Council.

Mr. President, I want to conclude by reaffirming my optimism and confidence in our collective ability to uplift mankind from the clutches of poverty; to institute a global order of peace, firmly held together by justice; loving, caring and tolerating each other. In tune with our National Anthem, we pledge our firm allegiance to these values we hold ever true.

With best wishes from the people of The Gambia – The Smiling Coast of Africa, I wish you all a successful 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

God bless the world, thank you.
                                                           #######

**This speech was checked against delivery 

                                                                


Friday, September 15, 2017

The IMF, the deficit and the National Assembly

For the record
Four years ago today we wrote about the persistent budget deficit caused by Jammeh's fiscal irresponsibility, encouraged by the complicity of the National Assembly and the Fund's inability to encourage the Jammeh regime to be fiscal responsible.
The maintenance of an aircraft that doesn't belong to the government was being operated and maintained using public funds resulting in huge supplementary budget requests, year in, year out.
The issue took four years but it finally came to the fore at the Commission of Inquiry into Jammeh's illicit wealth. And as Nuha Touray said, whether it takes 100 years or 1,000 years, the day of reckoning will come, in response to a question of why he took meticulous notes of the transactions he conducted on behalf of The Gambia dictator.
Read the piece here:
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Gambia's large fiscal deficits that have been plaguing the economy for over a decade did not occur in a vacuum and neither were they accumulated without the endorsement of the National Assembly.   Therefore, members of the Assembly have helped create the mess, they can help clean up the mess by simply voting down the next Supplementary Budget request which is expected to be submitted by the Ministry of Finance in the next fortnight or so.  This is, of course, and as the saying goes, easier said than done.

The fiscal deficit is financed primarily by domestic borrowing.  The borrowing is done by government from the Central Bank to finance its projects, and pay for other government activities.  Domestic borrowing has exploded under this regime, especially since 2000/2001 starting with the then presidential elections.

Last year, a total supplementary budget request by the Finance Ministry amounted to D471 million which was submitted to the National Assembly and approved near unanimous vote.  D102 million of this amount or approximately 25% of the additional monies requested went to the President's Office, of which D43 million was supposedly for the maintenance of "state aircraft."  Why should we be paying for the operation and maintenance of an aircraft or a fleet of aircrafts where official records do not exist showing that they were purchased by the Government of The Gambia.  If we do not own the aircrafts why are we being asked to pay for their operations and maintenance?

I am using this case to illustrate how the budgetary process is being used increasingly by Yaya Jammeh to conceal dubious expenditures now that Allah's Bank has been placed under receivership.  The Office of the President is not an operational agency, and therefore cannot justifiably have a budget that twice the size of the Ministry of Agriculture or the combined budgets of the Judiciary and the National Assembly.  This is exemplifies the Imperial Presidency of Yaya Jammeh where the rest of us are being asked to go eat cake.

My difference with the International Monetary Fund is how to go about getting the deficits under control. Granted, the Fund has over a number of years warned about the problem, about how it slows down economic growth and development, and consistently urged government to reduce the overspending.  Instead, these deficits have been going up and spiraling out of control.  Jammeh is undisciplined and so is his government and therefore cannot restore fiscal sanity without the application of external pressures.

This brings me to the National Assembly which has been an integral part of the deficit problem because all expenditures must be approved by the parliamentary body which has not been spared of the dictatorial tendencies of the regime.  Their role as representatives of the people has been compromised through the application of governing party's rules.  The APRC selects them to stand as candidates.  They can be expelled not only from the party but from the National Assembly as well if they should fall out of party line.  The party is Jammeh.

The Fund, acting in concert with donor agencies, must start addressing these blatant forms of intimidation by the dictatorship that amounts to usurpation of the power of the electorate to elect their members of parliament who should be answerable to them, and not to a political party or an individual.  Donor support and encouragement of the Assembly Members is necessary to allow them to 'break away' from the grip of Yaya Jammeh.  It is only then that National Assembly can begin to act independently, including saying 'no' to the next supplementary budget request that is due before them shortly.

This approach, of course, raises a series of questions of external interference into the political process and the like.  But one could argue that such interferences already exist anyway, and as long as an independent National Assembly contributes to good governance, and good governance is a necessary ingredient in economic progress, it is worth trying this approach.  The leverage exists within the donor community, and it should be used.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Gambia to reform its security apparatus with help from the UN, EU, ECOWAS and AU




Gambia's President, Adama Barrow, has announced the launching of a project aimed at reforming the security apparatus of a country that has just emerged from 22 years of brutal dictatorship which poses a challenge that the EU Ambassador described as "deep-seated" to signal what's ahead for the new administration.

The statement by President Barrow recognizes the fact that he's inherited "a deeply politicized" security apparatus that is "not responsive to the needs of the people."

He expressed the hope that a reformed security force will be "effective and accountable...under democratic control with full respect for human rights, the rule of law and fundamental principles of good governance."

When the reform process is complete and in full implementation phase, he expects the outcome will enable The Gambia to, once more, "take charge of its own security and destiny."

The ECOWAS Ambassador warned the authorities that they cannot afford to fail in the endeavor and that a successful exercise in The Gambia will most certainly be replicated elsewhere in a region has experienced a period of instability in the last couple of decades.

A multidisciplinary task force comprising Defense, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Justice and key reform partners, namely United Nations, African Union, ECOWAS and the European Union.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

A case for the disaggregation of the G.R.A.


The Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) was established in 2004 by an Act of Parliament (National Assembly).  It merged the Customs and Excise and the Income Tax Departments.  In a statement posted on the GRA website, the current Director General claims that his agency collects “about 20% of GDP and 80% of government revenue” thus making it the premier revenue collection agency of the government.

The rationalization of government departments, as well all major restructuring exercise in the private sector, is driven by the primary objective of enhancing efficiency and thus increasing the revenue (profit) streams of the operation.   The same concept generally applies to the private sector as well.

In the case of the GRA, the rationale is no different.  But has centralization increased both efficiency of operations and increased revenue?  The jury is still out on both questions.  And we are being charitable on the efficiency question for lack of tangible evidence resulting from unreliable data in the era of Jammeh.  One this can be said is that the rollout of the Value Added Tax did not inspire confidence in the new GRA and was considered a disaster that left great many businessmen and women, especially the petty traders and small businesses, frustrated, confused and felt cheated. 

We have written numerous blog posts for a number of years on the subject and you can find some of them here and here and here.  The efficiency issue is not specific to GRA but it is a civil service-wide problem that the new administration must respond to, perhaps in conjunction with a total review of the Government Statistics Bureau. 

Back to the efficiency and enhanced revenue collection capacity, centralization always concentrates power in the hands of the few.  In the case of the GRA, as we have seen time and time again, in the ear of Yaya Jammeh, the DG of GRA is the focal point of every budgetary intervention demanded by the Office of The President, whether legal or – mostly – illegal demands on the agency.  Either it is transfer of collected revenue that belongs to the Gambian people to the private business entities of Jammeh or for his private use. 

By centralizing the revenue collection capabilities of an entire government into what we now called the GRA,  Jammeh has created a one-stop-shop to satisfy his insatiable thirst for hard cash by issuing the now infamous Executive Orders (EOs) to one man, as opposed to having to deal with two or more individuals - say the Director General of Customs and Commissioner of Income Tax – which increases the chances of one of them proving to be the bulwark that prevents the type of abuse to the system that is being revealed in the Commission of Inquiry into his illicit wealth.

Reverting to the previous status of having a Director General of Customs and Excise and a Commissioner of Income or Domestic Tax would return competitiveness between the revenue collection centers that made the inter-departmental rivalries good for government’s bottom line.  Those old enough to remember, the most anticipated portion of the Annual Budget Speech of the Finance Minister was the section dealing with the revenue and loss column of the parastatals.   Only the Managing Director of NAWEC would dread having a return of this feature of the annual event.

Finally, it is oxymoron to centralize government revenue collection while in the same breath promoting the decentralization of government services which goes hand and clove with power of the purse strings. It is time the Barrow administration consider disaggregating the GRA into smaller manageable agencies which is more consistent and supportive of government’s long-held policy of devolving power from the center to the provincial areas of the country.     
        




Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Central Bank is a threat to the financial system

This blog post was first published May 13th 2014, raising the alarm on the Central Bank of The Gambia with specific reference to its apparent inability or unwillingness or both to perform one of its most important statutory functions - the supervision of commercial banks to protect depositors by ensuring their solvency.   At the time, we are not aware of the extent of the CBG role in managing 22 illicit accounts on behalf of the Office of the President.  These accounts were operated as they would have under a normal commercial banking operations.

Sidi Sanneh

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Perhaps it is time for the Central Bank The Gambia (CBG) to be "taken over" by a competent set of central bankers because it is under-performing under current and previous managements.  It has been so sloppily managed that it were a commercial bank it would have been declared bankrupt.

Not that central banks don't go broke; they do.  The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, as its central bank is called, went broke with the bank's balance sheet succumbing to Zimbabwe's 100,000 percent hyper inflation.  But bankrupt central banks, however rare, rely of the public national treasury i.e. the tax payer.

We do not expect the CBG to find itself in a Zimbabwe-like situation, but unless prudence and strict adherence for banking principles are observed, the financial system and the economy they were trying to safe, as they claim, that led them to "take over" Access and Keystone Banks, will come crashing down, and with it the hopes, dreams and aspirations of million and a half Gambians.

Last week Monday, we were greeted by the news that two Nigerian-owned banks were being taking over by the Central Bank for reasons that we have covered on several blogs and Facebook posts.  Exactly a week later, we were greeted with yet another press release from CBG informing us that Access Bank has been returned to its owners but not before they paid US$ 15.2 million (D600 million), and a promise to pay another US$ 4.8 million (D198 million).

These payments could not have been for the minimum capital requirement (MCR) that the CBG raised to D200 million, to be paid in two tranches.  This is so because the payments are huge and besides we were assured back in January 2013 that 12 of the 13 banks operating in The Gambia had fulfilled this requirement. Cronyism and weak management aside, the Central Bank has been caught fudging the books and cooking up up numbers that led to IMF sanctions in the past.  It is only reasonable, to be skeptical about any  figure that they brandish and an explanation they give.   Transparency is lacking in the CBG, and it is that lack of transparency that is the bigger enemy than the critics of the regime and CBG management.

In its May 5th, 2014 press release which the official government newspaper refused to carry for reasons only known to the management of the Daily Observer, Gambians were told that the CBG was stepping in to take over Access and Keystone Banks, and in doing so assures respective clients and the public that "the two banks would continue business as usual, and depositors are assured that the banks have ample liquidity to meet current and future obligations. '

We find the first press release very misleading, coined to conceal the real financial health of the two banks and maybe other banks.  There may be ample liquidity to cater to the needs of the current need of clients, but it is highly questionable whether it can address future obligation which is part of the reason why the CBG stepped in in the first instance.

The return of Access Bank to its owner after a week under CBG supervision and why its owners are required to pay US$15.2 million now and an additional US$4.8 million for a total of US$20 million or approximately D800 million to recapitalize the bank.  This figure reveals that Access Bank was operating underwater for an extended period time and yet no signal or red flags were raised by the CBG, thus exposing depositors to unacceptable risk until last week.

One  plausible explanation is the Access Bank was carrying in its books a huge none performing loans.  It is not surprising that the financial system was exposed to this dangerous level because of the weak supervisory capacity at the CBG as evidenced by one IMF report after another warning about this condition.  What we would like to know, what was the cause of the exposure?  Who were Access Bank's clients who accumulated such huge sums, and for what purposes were they contracted.