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Ministerial Town Hall: Mansa Kunda – About Open and Honest Government

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Madi Jobarteh is a Gambian rights activist

Under the ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ in the Constitution, Section 214 states that “The Government, with due regard to the principles of an open and democratic society, shall foster accountability and transparency at all levels of government.” Hence, I welcome the ‘Ministerial Town Hall’ called Mansa Kunda established by the Minister of Information Dr. Ismaila Ceesay as a platform to bring the Government face to face with citizens. 

Indeed, the Government has a duty to inform citizens of its decisions and actions in the performance of its functions. Therefore, it is good that this platform exists where Ministers come to report on the activities of their ministries. As we listen to them, it is pertinent citizens pay attention to not only what these ministers and their technocrats say but also what they are not saying. Ministers should not only be open but also, they must provide honest information in full. In other words, there should be no distortions, deflections, diversions and disinformation. 

For example, in the last press conference, Minister Hamat Bah decided to attack DA Jawo for the radio/TV licenses given to QTV and Africell which he said was contrary to Cabinet decision. But Hamat has not said why Cabinet did not come to correct that anomaly nor hold DA accountable if what he said was indeed true. Secondly, he spoke about the Kamalo issue, but his Ministry has failed to release the full report for public consumption. If indeed the Mansa Kunda press briefing is to promote transparency in Government, why is his Ministry not sharing the full investigation report with the public? 

Talking about land issues in fact, we must remember that Hamat Bah himself is a person of interest by the National Assembly Public Petitions Committee. In its report, the Committee found several issues of conflict of interest, interference, arbitrary decisions in land allocations and self-serving decisions and actions by Hamat Bah as the Minister of Tourism at the time. I hope when the Minister of Tourism comes to Mansa Kunda Town Hall he will speak about that petition report. The fact is the tourism sector is weak thanks to the poor leadership of Hamat Bah.

In his turn at the Town Hall, the Minister responsible for road construction Ebrima Silah listed several roads being built around the country. What is apparent is that after 4 years, the quality, design and delays in the road works raise a number of concerns. For example, the main road from the airport junction to Sting Corner is not user-friendly, which does not affect only motorists and pedestrians but also makes most of the businesses along the road inaccessible. Apart from the roads, other agencies under Sillah’s purview such as the Ferries remain poorly managed and inefficient thereby causing untold suffering for users of their services. 

One of the most dramatic ministries is Foreign Affairs. On a constant basis, Gambian embassies continue to produce one scandal after another ranging from smuggling, fighting, sexual harassment, corruption, and indecent behaviours by officials. Yet the Minister, Muhammadou Tangara has not only failed to bring sanity and professionalism in the foreign service but has also not provided a clear and effective foreign policy direction for the country. When he comes to the Town Hall, Tangara should tell Gambians why his foreign service is in shambles. 

Meantime, since assuming leadership at the Ministry of Health, Ahmadou Lamin Samateh has not yet overcome the perennial problems of poor service delivery, inefficiency, and corruption in his ministry. After having publicly lamented about corruption in his ministry on the floor of the parliament in 2019, we have witnessed the AKI deaths, the misuse of COVID funds, the grounding of the newly procured ambulances and now the corruption unfolding in the EFSTH. These are the issues that Samateh must address when he comes to the Town Hall, honestly. 

Similarly, it is unacceptable that an entire nation would have no stadium such that it has to play its matches abroad for which the country continues to spend millions when that money could have been used to further develop other sporting sectors.  After spending millions of dalasi on the renovation of the Independence Stadium with serious delays, the Minister Bakary Badji must address these shortcomings. Furthermore, the high unemployment and limited opportunities for the youth which is also fueling the ‘Backway’ require his ministry’s attention. 

A scan of the Gambian environment looks like there is no ministry for the environment in this country. Visit our forests to see how they are being depleted. Meantime community forests have become dumping grounds, while the rate of encroachments, pollution and destruction of our lands and waters by individuals and businesses is such that within the next decade no forests will exist again in this country. Therefore, Minster Rohey John Manjang should address the lack of enforcement of environmental laws in this country.  

In 2019, a huge fire burnt down the entire building of the Ministry of Fisheries. The Police said there was no foul play rather blamed electrical surge. The Ministry said all confidential files were burnt including files containing contracts between the Government and companies including the EU. Until now, the full investigation report has not been released to the public. Therefore, the Minister Musa Drammeh should release this report as well as speak to the operations of fishmeal factories which are destroying our marine resources.

The Ministerial Town Hall should not be a talk shop. It should not be a platform just to show how busy ministries and their officials are. To be busy is not the same as to be effective. To spend millions on a product does not mean that the product will be of quality and useful. The Town Hall should not be a place for ministers to bombard citizens with excuses for delays, deny failures and poor performance just to dodge responsibility while blaming others. It should not be a place to beat one’s chest and then cover up corruption and incompetence while engaging in high sounding slogans. So far, these are what we have been hearing: Excuses, Blaming and Self-Promotion. 

Citizens want a government that is not only transparent and accountable, but also effective and efficient. That is, a Government that will judiciously manage the wealth of the people to invest it appropriately to provide goods and services that will indeed change lives. After all, the building of roads, bridges, hospitals, schools and markets does not in themselves change lives and develop a society. If so, the Gambia would have been well developed since a decade ago because Dictator Yaya Jammeh indeed built a lot of these infrastructure. But he left the Gambia poorer and more indebted! 

Therefore, what will make these infrastructure developments meaningful and impactful is for Government to stop and punish corruption, make institutions strong and competent to ensure effective and efficient service delivery, stop political interference, and create progressive fiscal and economic policies that will create tangible opportunities to enable entrepreneurship, investments, and businesses to flourish and individuals to prosper. The Town Hall is not a favour. Rather it is a duty of the Government to be open and honest with citizens. 

For the Gambia Our Homeland

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