Bakary Bunja Darboe Leader of Gambia For All Party
In the face of the unprecedented aggression of our country by the deadly coronavirus, the position of our party has remained steadfast. From the onset, we expressed solidarity with our people and advocated for the nation’s resources to be mobilised for the fight to decisively win the do-or-die war. To date, we hold to the same conviction, even where we remain keenly aware of the ill-equipped state of our preparedness, as a country, in the face of the real risk of a rapid spread, through the contagion effect, which could easily develop into a large scale outbreak that can overwhelm us.
Gambia for All lost no time in expressing support for the prevention and containment measures announced by the public authorities, while we called on the Government to urgently review the national budget with a view to redefining priorities and freeing up resources ahead of any help expected from the general public, as well as from abroad. Ever since, we have witnessed an outpouring of a spirit of solidarity expressed through generous support provided by Gambians at home and abroad as well as by our many foreigner friends, a development we applaud.
Today, we welcome the Government’s decision to provide support to households; if handled properly, this will bring much needed relief to the communities. Similarly, we applaud the hardworking frontline medical personnel, the security officers and all those working tirelessly to stop the spread of the disease. We admire them for their hard work and sacrifice. We sympathise with all victims of the COVID-19.
But our situation remains extremely difficult and pre-occupying; we are still not yet out of the woods. To say so is to admit reality and not to seek to cause undue alarm. The nature of the beast is such that we need to maintain our sights on the medium to the long term for coming out of the tunnel. Experiences around us and elsewhere in the world should edify us.
That is why we find it necessary to renew our call for a comprehensive and coherent response plan to address the menace, away from ad hocry and improvisation. We expect the Government to set out a battle plan to address the challenges in the immediate, short and medium term. This will identify priority actions and give a clear idea to Gambians, as well as those willing to support us, plus a framework to guide interventions. It is never too late to take this suggestion on-board.
Concretely, we call for a coherent Response Plan containing, and clearly outlining, the following elements:
Public Health: Emergency actions to be carried out in order to broaden and strengthen the protective measures in place, substantially step up our national capacity for care and treatment and generally improve the health care system
Social Protection: Well-coordinated and effective actions to help the population cope with the risk of extreme poverty and hardship; immediate food assistance to vulnerable households for sure, but also help with utility and medical bills etc.
Economy: With a view to short to medium-term recovery, concrete measures are called for in order to support business generally; tax breaks readily come to mind, together with foreign exchange cover through the Central Bank and facilitation of access to concessional credit schemes operated by multilateral and other regional financing institutions. In particular, the most productive sectors of tourism, SMEs and agriculture deserve singling out for robust and meaningful support to ensure their viability and their ability to preserve employment opportunities when the situation improves. For instance, assurance given by the President of fertilizer availability needs is not enough; availability of seeds for farmers is an equally imperative requirement; in the present situation we should expect that farmers will fall back on their seeds to meet urgent food needs.
Solidarity: For its material as well as symbolic value, a National Solidarity Fund, with clearly defined operational guidelines, should be established, [distinct from the special accounts already announced for holding virements and other budgetary allocations], to receive donations, in cash or kind, from citizens and other members of the public as mark of solidarity. The facility should, incidentally, induce the President and other national leaders to demonstrate leadership by personal example through donating generously to the Fund, side by side with business operators and ordinary members of the public.
Operating under the supervision of a body to include members of the public, the Fund should serve as the dedicated reception point for donations in order to ensure transparency, discourage partisan or politically-motivated manipulation we are witnessing presently, and generally enhance coordination and effectiveness.
Effective Engagement: It is imperative that the Government engages, and continues to engage, all the sections of society. Such engagement should include religious and traditional leaders, political parties, local government authorities, trade unions, private sector and civil society to promote wider understanding of, and support for the Response Plan. This will ensure a wider mobilization of the community effort. These segments of society have important opinion leaders who can not only articulate the needs of their communities but also advise on the actions that can have greater benefit for the communities.
Transparency: We continue to express the need for transparency and accountability in the use of funds for COVID-19. The source of D500M initially provided to fight COVID-19 was never explained from the onset leading to much speculation about the source. We will want to know the votes in the budget where the D734 million COVID-19 Food Aid amount was vired from. Has the contract for the supply been awarded and to whom and at what price? We are told the $10 million World Bank assistance was bringing in equipment from Turkey. When was this tendered and what is the contract price? It is important to respect the procurement procedures to avoid mismanagement and abuse of funds in the name of exigency.
In fact, we are making bold here to contend that the management of the emergency operations called for here requires a consensual approach; in handling the crisis, we urge the Government to associate other national forces vives, such as civil society and political parties, through the institution of a steering mechanism with extensive oversight responsibilities.
Gambia For All,
Ma-Jonka Hous, Block 6a
April 30, 2020