OPINION: Things That Matter - Civil Service Reform

Friday, October 13, 2017

For the most part of the ‘Jawara government’, the Gambia’s civil service was regarded as the most organised & professional institution of its kind in Africa. A first-class governmental set-up delivering excellence in day-to-day governance, Jawara was a masterful architect in mapping out a vision for an independent civil service. At a time of extreme poverty on the continent, the PPP government was a lean-mean-machine serving the population, and its farmers and fishermen, underpinned by prudent economic policies with low-bottom prices on transport & markets across the country. Thus, the Gambia was the continental champion and a yardstick upon which democracy indicators are compared & measured. Even though his government had fallen short ensuring uniform prosperity, the genius of ‘Jawara’ was the set-up of public-owned parastatals, like ‘Saaroo’, GUC, GPA, GPTC and others, providing vital social services to the lives of ordinary folks up and down the country.

As a political establishment founded on three (3) distinct pillars of government marked by separation-of-powers, breathing checks and balances into the system, that rule-book was crushed and in need of urgent repair. Although Ministers are political appointees, neutrality and impartiality is expected of every staff from the permanent secretary downwards in the execution of their duties. A message to the civil service stream across the country - governments come and go therefore, politicking should be left to politicians if that indispensable institution is to regain order. As such, the ‘Head of Civil Service’ should be a consummate pro ensuring attitudinal change and best practices are kept. But I fear the current occupant of the office is compromised, tainted by sins of dictatorship and his part enabling it.

Please, let us reassert work-ethics and to take hands-off that which do not belong – I mean public money! The women-folk at work places are our colleagues and equals, yet we continue to harass them for favours of the unwarranted kind. The idea here is not to debate gender politics, but to relay a wider point about ‘work-place-rules’ ‘ethics’, ‘sincerity’, and ‘vision’ in doing away with Jammeh-era style mismanagement. Let it be known that it is the public purse, not president, that pay salaries and therefore the optics need rearrange injecting efficiency back into the system. As such loyalty to country should outweigh sectional interest, and that national interest must override party political interest at all times! Given that the country was compromised for long 22 years - surpassed by many-a-nation, our government and people should work 22 times harder, everyday! We have a lot of catching up to do, and growing up too building trust with one another. But with sincerity & vision, whilst reflecting on yester-years, targets shall be met, eradicating poverty.

In hindsight, what an inspiring decision by PDOIS leadership to contest the parliamentary polls. The public should be grateful because without its presence in that chamber, our law-house would have been a rudimentary unit going about the motions, uninspiring and rubberstamped. Efficiency and scrutiny of legislative proposals through lively debates won the day. And the public appreciate our friends at the Commonwealth Secretariat for the training programs for MP’s in motion as to the art of parliamentary duties.

Progress isn’t about perfection, rather a case of moving from point A to B on a development scale. For instance, a country embarked on rice production tryst for 52 long years, missing targets year on year is not progress. In the same vein a government wrestling with electricity outages for (9) long months faltering each turn is of concern too. The public isn’t asking for perfection, just show us PROGRESS. – and a vision to admire and aspire to:

Whilst we welcome the appointment of five (5) regional Governors in consonance with ‘Devolution Powers Act’, the appointees are the actual power players exercising local government authority over a large stretch of boundary post. Each governor is the extension of the executive branch as the president’s eyes and ears to the needs of everyday people within boundary limits. It is therefore unacceptable for such a governor to be constantly found in air-conditioned offices beautifully fed on tax payer luncheons whilst the people succumb to pains of an empty stomach. Honourable Governor – you tasked is to go out visit local schools, farms, rice-fields, community groups level-up with ordinary people & see for yourself the problems that your office, and ultimately, central government is falling short on – then brief your line-Ministry & the presidency accordingly. Government is about processes, high ethics and protocol in navigating through the bureaucracy. But it is also about accountability, and portfolios in a true democratic arrangement.

 Finally, I call on TANGO, in partnership with EU Banjul office – design a training program for pro-democracy groups in the country so as to strategize, monitor & evaluate the weekly schedules of Ministers, Governors, and Mayors throughout the year in the manner tax payers’ money is being spent at the local level. For a young democracy recovering from the cliff-edge, we must shine a bright light onto the path of our new leaders ensuring ethics are upheld. Any minister, governor, mayor, or civil servant remitted on tax-payer funds & won’t conform to such high standards & scrutiny should resign. The President and his ministers should not fear the ‘Freedom of Information Bill’ under review designed to inject accountability within the beltway. As daylight comes to view, our politicians shall be fact-checked, and honest, thus scrutiny is the new-norm! #NationalInterest

Author: Gibril Saine [@gibbysaine on Twitter]