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The ‘Ex-President Retirement Bill’: An Economic Tragicomedy- A Pantomime of Fiscal Folly

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Justice Minister Dawda Jallow presenting the Bill at the National Assembly.

By Kebeli Demba Nyima, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Once upon a time in The Gambia, a bill was introduced with such audacity that it could make even the most stoic observer of politics burst into uproarious laughter. The “Ex PresidentRetirement Bill” is indeed a masterpiece of satire in the world of economics. In a country grappling with a dire economic state, one might expect the government to tighten its belt and look for ways to cut unnecessary expenses. But no, not in The Gambia, where the art of irony seems to be a core value of governance. 

The bill, which stipulates that “the Government, within six months after a President leaves office, shall furnish and equip the office of a former President to the standard of Cabinet level, and shall employ not fewer than four staff, including a Personal Assistant and Personal Secretary,” reads like the script of a sitcom. Picture this: a nation struggling to provide essential services, facing soaring inflation and unemployment rates, and a government saying, “Hey, let’s make sure our ex-Presidents live in luxury!” 

The comedy doesn’t stop there. The bill also generously offers that “the pensions, gratuities, and allowances of a former President shall be exempt from income tax.” In a country where the tax burden on the average citizen feels like a millstone around their neck, this provision could very well be the punchline of the century. While ordinary Gambians are being squeezed by rising taxes, a former President gets a free pass. How considerate! But let’s not overlook the genius behind this farcical legislation. The architects of this bill must have taken inspiration from Shakespearean comedies where mistaken identities and absurd scenarios reign supreme. 

Justice Minister Dawda Jallow’s presentation of the bill must have been an exercise in verbal gymnastics that only the most highly educated lawmakers could follow. His arguments were not just deeply flawed; they were a blatant attempt to bamboozle the lowly educated members of parliament. He suggested that the bill was necessary because “many Gambians would not want to see their former presidents living the remainder of their lives as destitute.” The Justice Minister’s reasoning seemed designed to insult the intelligence of the Gambian people. While the bill claims to be about the welfare of former presidents, it is essentially an extravagant gift at the expense of the public’s well-being.

It’s essential to note that even in the land of satire, there are heroes who emerge from the chaos. In this case, they are the 17 lawmakers who courageously voted against the bill moving to the third reading, ultimately walking out of the chambers in protest. These lawmakers, representing the UDP, PDOIS, and some independent members, deserve applause for their commitment to the people’s interests over political expediency. They demonstrated the kind of principled leadership that Gambia desperately needs. These lawmakers had the foresight to recognize the absurdity of the bill and the economic realities facing the nation. They understood that providing former presidents with a luxury lifestyle while ordinary Gambians struggle to make ends meet is not just unjust but also irresponsible. 

While the bill did manage to pass following the vote, it’s clear that the 17 dissenting lawmakers were unswayed by the charade and refused to be rubber stamps. They understood that the Gambia needs lawmakers who genuinely represent the interests of the masses, rather than serving the whims and caprices of the elite class. These principled representatives demonstrated that the voice of reason and responsibility can still be heard in the hallowed halls of the Gambian parliament. It’s worth pondering why the bill, with all its absurdity and financial recklessness, was tabled in the first place. Was it an attempt to distract the public from more pressing issues, or was it a misguided notion of what constitutes responsible governance? The timing and logic of this bill in the face of a struggling economy remain an enigma.

The “President Barrow Retirement Bill” saga reminds us that political theater in Gambia can sometimes be more theater than politics. Let’s hope that the nation can learn from this spectacle and in the future prioritize the welfare of the people over the perks of a select few. As for those who walked out in protest, they have shown that principled leadership is not extinct, and that Gambia deserves better than this comedic performance. It’s a wake-up call for all Gambians to demand accountability and responsible governance, rather than being mere spectators to a farcical show. 

As the curtains draw to a close on this uproarious political theater, one can’t help but wonder about the notable absence of vocal critics opposing the bill. Where is ‘Gambia’s Pen,’ our foremost economist, the larger-than-life Commando, Baba La Commando, when we need him the most? We yearn for the wisdom of the Great Momodou Sabally to enlighten our parliamentarians about the nuances of fiscal austerity, or perhaps just a hearty dose of common sense. It appears that in the grand comedy of Gambian politics, some characters prefer to stay backstage, leaving us with the eccentric players on the frontlines. The irony of it all, the wit, and the absurdity are enough to fill volumes of satirical literature. Perhaps in the next act of this farcical drama, the voices of reason will resound, and the echoes of fiscal responsibility will finally reach the ears of those in power.

Until then, dear readers, let’s not forget that in this carnival of politics, satire, and the occasional bout of amnesia, the show must go on. And so, we watch, we laugh, and we hope for a brighter and more sensible act in the unfolding drama of the Gambian political stage.  

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