100 DAYS IN OFFICE: The milestones, challenges and the way forward

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

It is now 100 days since President Adama Barrow was sworn in as President of The Gambia in Dakar, Senegal, on 19 January 2017. He assumed Presidential duties in Banjul on 30 January 2017.

Based on accepted norms of good governance, it is incumbent on us to take stock of his first 100 days in office, to ascertain whether he is on course to attain the targets that embody the aspirations of Gambians.

Although 100 days is a short period in the mandate of a Head of State, it must be stated that President Adama Barrow came to power to lead a nation that had been subjected to 22 years of tyranny, abuse of power and economic mismanagement.

The expectations were therefore high from the beginning because Gambians yearned for freedom, justice, improvement in their lives and the healing of the nation, which is polarized and fractured.

The immediate release of political prisoners was therefore a welcome move. It heralded the end of impunity and gave hope that human rights would be respected. 

Another decisive step the Barrow administration took was the re-opening of all radio stations and newspapers that were arbitrarily closed by the Jammeh dictatorship. This was a positive sign that press freedom and freedom of expression, a fundamental human right, had been restored.

Another move was on judicial reform. The restoration of the credibility of the justice system, although on-going, has seen the appointment of six Gambian legal luminaries as superior judges, thereby ending the country’s dependence on foreign legal experts.

On the economic front, we have seen and welcomed the bold moves by the ministry of Finance to put the finances of the nation in order, by re-establishing cooperation with strategic development partners like the European Union, IMF and the World Bank. 

The successful meeting between the Minister of Fisheries and his Senegalese opposite number, which culminated in the signing of an agreement to improve the management and exploitation of the fishing sector, is one of the major steps taken to boost the Gambian economy.

Another milestone which should be highlighted is the restoration of the policy of good neighborliness, which has removed tension and anxiety in our relationship with Senegal. The Senegalo-Gambian Secretariat has resumed work and economic and social activities between our two countries have been normalised.

Although security remains a challenge, the holding of successful negotiations to retain some elements and military assets of ECOMIG is a wise decision, which will guarantee stability and facilitate the restructuring of the security forces. The Barrow administration has also taken two bold initiatives to rehabilitate The Gambia’s image abroad.

The rescinding of our withdrawal from the International Criminal Court and our application to rejoin the Commonwealth of Nations has served to end our isolation and changed our reputation as a pariah state.

The achievements listed should not be trivialized because they are indicators of efforts made to restore the country to a fully-fledged and functioning democracy.

However, the Government should now understand that after 100 days in office, “the honeymoon” is over. Gambians generally have demonstrated patience and understanding because of the realization that rebuilding the nation is a herculean task. But given that all ministers have now been appointed, the National Assembly fully-constituted, the judiciary functional and the civil service revamped, the President must now move decisively to address the key issues of nation building.

First and foremost, the President should take steps to appoint a Vice President as prescribed in the Constitution. This will mitigate what is already an untidy vacuum in the government. 

The most important and urgent need of the population is the resolution of the energy crisis in the country. Now that the Minister of Energy has been appointed, all efforts should be directed at re-inventing NAWEC as a viable entity that can provide the population with consistent and reliable electricity and water supplies.

Solving the energy problem will not only enhance respect for President Barrow and his credibility but will place him in the annals of Gambian  history, as the man who resolved a most intractable problem in our development agenda.

We also wish to urge the President to ensure that the civil service is de-politicized with meritocracy as the only yardstick for advancement and promotion.

The reform of the security services with the possibility of de-mobbing police and soldiers should be undertaken with prudence to avoid having men and women, whose only training is in arms and ammunition, being unemployed. Experience in other countries shows that this can lead to increased banditry and violence. On the home front, we wish to urge the President to be more vocal in calling for national unity.

The nation is in need of healing and reconciliation. However, Government must take clear, unambiguous and urgent action to address and redress the injustices of the past regime. 

Families are still waiting for justice on murdered relatives. Many citizens are waiting for justice on properties that were seized or confiscated illegally.

The general perception is that the machinery is too slow and that they may be forgotten. We understand that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be set up, but when?

Outside our borders, it is clear that The Gambia is enjoying the goodwill of the International Community. We therefore wish to advise that The Ministry of Foreign Affairs be properly organized and staffed with men and women of knowledge and competence to undertake the important task of   re-branding the country. 

We should combine diplomacy with international cooperation to attract investment, mount robust resource mobilization campaigns and forge strategic partnerships. Only a competent body of professional diplomats can undertake such an ambitious and crucial task.

One major lacuna in the first 100 days of the Barrow administration has been the lack of a free flow of information.  There is need for the population to be informed about government policies and activities to avoid rumour mongering, speculation and conjecture.  Government should therefore identify a spokesperson, such as the Minister of Information, to conduct regular press briefings.

In addition, we urge Government to consider the appointment of Press Officers in ministries for the consistent dissemination of information to the population and indeed the outside world.

For democracy to thrive and flourish in The Gambia the Government should also facilitate the development of the private press. The repealing and abrogation of draconian laws which were promulgated to muzzle the press and frustrate free speech and expression should be expedited.

The excruciating financial burden on media houses should also be ameliorated by removing the annual D60,000 education levy, and reducing corporate tax and VAT.

Indeed many African  countries have not only waived taxes on newspapers, but have adopted the policy of granting media houses an annual subvention to facilitate their effective participation in the education and enlightenment of the population. 

Another point of significance is for the Government to endeavour  at all times to promptly settle its bills with media houses when they advertise in the papers in order not to compromise their  financial integrity.  It often takes months for government institutions to settle their bills.

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning”
Benjamin Franklin