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Opinion: On The Reconstitution Of Barrow’s Cabinet: A Dangerous Hodgepodge

Hon. Momodou Sabally Former Secretary General & Minister of Presidential Affairs.

Contrary to delusional euphoric expectations, the composition of the new Barrow Cabinet is nothing but a recipe for unprecedented inefficiency and retrogression in government operations.

I must admit that the current set up includes two particular appointments that I find quite apt and exciting. I cannot query the appointment of former utilities czar Abdou Jobe as Energy and Petroleum Minister; and the elevation of Professor Gomez to the higher education portfolio is quite a great move. I hope the duo will not prove me wrong and I pray for their success in their new roles.

However, it is difficult to dig a well when your compatriots are pouring back all the sand you are excavating into the hole you are digging. So the few good ones have been outnumbered by the many rotten potatoes and, therefore, the already beleaguered government machinery is not about to get better any time soon. Things are not working right; as the Wolof would put it ‘dara dohut!’

The signs have already manifested even before he unveiled his new set up; during his recent meeting with the Banjul Muslim Elders, President Barrow could not hide his own frustration about the poor performance of his own government. Perhaps this frustration is what he misdirected at the innocent Madi Jobarteh whose only offense was to point out the very sclerotic nature of Barrow’s government.

Looking at the new Cabinet, two key appointments are the most symptomatic of what this whole facade truly is; and the kind of output one should expect.

I must admit that the new Vice President speaks English language exceptionally well; and that is a big plus given that our President is prone to embarrassing malapropisms. Language is important in leadership and Badara Joof is gifted with the power of words. I deem that very important and commendable.

However, the elevation of the former Higher Education Minister, Badara Joof, to the position of Vice President is a celebration of incompetence and apparent indiscretion in the handling of public institutions and their resources.

During his tenure as minister, the higher education sub-sector witnessed nothing but retrogression with perennial strikes by the staff union of our only public University. This situation had the fingerprint of Badara Joof writ large on it.

He refused to deal with the critical issues affecting the performance and welfare of the university faculty and staff. Instead of working with the leadership to resolve these problems, Badara Joof used his typical manipulative tricks; beguiling some, bullying others, and ‘buying’ the loyalty of one former head of the university staff union who conspired with Badara to deprive his own union members of their requests for welfare enhancement.

It was during his tenure that students of the UTG faced such basic constraints as classroom shortage to the point that lectures had to be conducted under a neem tree. What a bitter lesson! Meanwhile, Mr. Joof went on the drunken adventure of diverting scarce resources into transforming our only functional vocational institute, GTTI, into another Ivory tower called university of science and technology.

There are serious allegations of per diem racketeering at the University of The Gambia; and the roots of this suspected malpractice extend right into the offices of the higher education minister. After 5 years, Badara Joof should have presented us with the keys to a completed UTG Faraba Banta Campus. But what has he achieved?

Rather than berating Madi Jobarteh, President Barrow should attack and clamp down on rent-seeking behaviour in his government; that is what is keeping us backward; and sowing the seeds of discontent and potential social unrest.

Now, let’s shift our focus to the other key awful, and down right malicious appointment: Retaining Dr. Samateh in the health portfolio, amidst the rising rates of maternal mortality and medical malpractice; in addition to the allegation of financial malpractice regarding the COVID 19 millions, is tantamount to disrespecting and spiting the people at the receiving end: women, children and the tax payers.

Dr Samateh has been rewarded for incompetence; and for holding press conferences to accuse the suffering women of this country of protesting for political motives when they are dying daily due to poor health services rendered under Samateh’s watch. I am loath to say this; but I must state that most of the people criticizing Dr Samateh’s poor handling of our health sector, rushed to his defence when I predicted his failure as health minister and asked that he be replaced with a better candidate.

The most important portfolio of Basic and Secondary Education remains in the incompetent and lackadaisical hands of Claudiana Cole, thereby blighting the future of our young ones; after President Barrow’s initial clarion call of overhauling our education sector during his first days as President of our so called New Gambia.

I see a lot of people celebrating the new Cabinet because their friends, family or professional body members were appointed. I will not go into the specifics here; but I can assure all of them that one year from now, they will be seriously disappointed. I know a lil bit about how the government of The Gambia operates. A word to the wise is enough.

Finally, let me dissect the weakest link in President Barrow’s dangerous hodgepodge of a Cabinet chain. The transformation of the position of Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service into two offices is a recipe for disaster. There is no need to appoint a chief of staff under the current dispensation.

The Office of the President is the fulcrum of the government machinery. Therefore, the top role in that office should be sound and coherent. Barrow has, de facto, appointed two captains for one ship. Knowing the personalities involved, I can clearly predict a power power struggle, leading to further dysfunctionality of the entire public service.

Add to these unpleasant realities, the fact that the ambitious Hamat Bah and Musa Drammeh were deprived of the much coveted position of Vice President in favor of a political nonentity; then you have the perfect recipe for the entrenchment of infighting, inefficiency and poor performance of public institutions that can best be described as #Barrowsclerosis.

It is quite evident that the hearts and minds of these new members of the “House of Barrow” will not sync. The malcontents in Cabinet will be aided by the “Barrow 2021 Coalition” partners who will be looking on with bitter scorn.

And the Holy Bible is categorically clear about the consequences of such discord: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”

Momodou Sabally
Former Former Minister of Presidential Affairs,
Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service

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