OPINION: VOICE OF THE VETERANS (VV)

Friday, December 13, 2019

We open this National Dialogue by a brief interview with Charles Sarr Thomas a retired Civil Servant of The Gambia.

Q. Brieflytell us your experience in National Development, with special reference to The Gambia.

VV. I have served from 1975 to 1998, as a civil servant in Public as well as Development Administration, and in Regional Governance.

Q. How do you see the present Administration, The Government of President Adama Barrow?

VV. when my attention is drawn to President Barrow, two important facts come to mind; firstly, he is the legally elected president of The Gambia, whose tenure in office under the existing constitution is five years, that is one incontrovertible fact as far as our constitutional law goes. Secondly, I feel President Barrow‘s struggle during the pre-election of 2016, during the political impasse and the subsequent transition, have not only been impressive but also highly successful indeed. So, first and foremost I have to congratulate President Barrow, if even belatedly, for a clear election victory; I have to convey appreciation for his selfless dedication to the political struggle that ousted the previous regime. One should not quickly forget his personal sacrifices and achievement that brought about the change that we now want to change, He needs to be commended and appreciated.

Regarding “3-Years Jotna” it is not illegal for the jotna group to vent frustration or disappointment as the case maybe, over the president’s announcement of his intention to complete a 5-year term and even be a runner in the forthcoming elections due in 2021. The group’s position not being illegal, the honest answer as we all know, is for this democratic country to allow for dissent provided always that this is demonstrated in a peaceful and non-violent manner.

On the part of President Barrow, is there any illegality pursuing his political ambitions? Surely, not!

Q. If  President Barrow has broken a promise to the Gambian people as overwhelmingly claimed by his critics, and now opts to complete his term in office and subsequently also stands for the 2021 elections, how do you see his chances of convincing a disappointed electorate; Can he win an election?

W. Having already won one election, who can say he cannot win another? No one knows and there is plenty of time between now and 2021.

On one hand some may have chosen to forget about the promise and proceed to vote for him. On the other hand he may face stiff opposition. We should recognize that the way the new constitution is unfolding, with age limits removed and pardoned convictions not constituting a bar to presidential candidates, we may even see members of the old guard such as UDP leader Mr. Darboe run for president.

We should remember that the UDP is already a very big party in numbers as well as influence.

Q: That may be the case, but do you see the old guard ever being able to make an impression, to make any significant political impact, to do any damageon the electorate field, so to speak?

VV:The “electoral field” you say, whose field is it? The electorate, I presume.It will then be for the electorate to decide.

Q. Let us come back to President Barrow, How well is he faring as the country’s leader, regarding the country’s development and progress?

VV. President Barrow has rolled to the Gambian people a development blue-print called the NDP.Public opinion, if I am correct, seems to be that the plan is a good one, well-conceived, well-articulated, and captures the general aspirations of the Gambian people. What remains however is implementation; efficient and effective implementation.

Q. Is this presently happening? Is the Barrow government implementing efficiently and effectively? Is President Barrow delivering as expected?

VV. Well, I wish public expectations were easy to gauge because expectations may vary and expectations may be polarized. Also people do vary; one man’s meat may be another man’s poison, as the saying goes, But regarding our plan implementation, in terms of its rate and level, it all seems very slow and low to many people who have made public utterances to that effect. One only has to listen to HOT –FM on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and confirm this statement; HOT-FM among other media outlets. This is what some are saying.

Q. Why is this the case in your view?

VV: This is my view: the NDP as we must have realized is a cumbersome document, to say the least. It is so from point of view not only of size but of what it sets out to accomplish. If we say it is reasonable, we would not be saying the truth; in fact it is ponderous and somewhat over-ambitious for a 3 –year period.

In such a case why do we not adapt what most development institutions do; that is to say breaking down the plan into terms – IMMEDIATE, SHORT, MEDIUM AND LONG.?For example just coming out of the situation we have been through, could the first two years not be used as an immediate term for focusing mainly on the important transitional matters such as the CRC, TRRC, sector reforms, and the most urgent and critical matters including the stabilization of our power supply, providing basic needs, transport and communication.Regular projects could thereafter be phased in projections of at least 5 years at            a time. What meaningful development can one achieve in 3 years (i.e 2018-2021)??

TheNDP need to be broken down to not only phases but also into projects and programmes which could be assessed individually and separately. Contrasted to a global plan Yes, I would agree that a plan is just a plan, but I would agree more with the proposition that, first and foremost a plan should be realistic.

A.         What measures should now be put in place in order to avert economic malaise and to put the country on course of economic development and progress. Should the president resign and leave the leadership to others with the capability and the capacity to take this country forward?

VV. what guarantees have we that handing over is the best solution, any solution at all? Why can we not make use of all the human competencies around us. If I were president I would just go straight on and engage those who can deliver; and not even try to show preference to tribe, gender, religion, or political affiliation?

We look around and we can see some Gambian veteran professionals, technicians, development experts, whose expertise could be well utilized in the present stage of our national development. Veteran experts could be engaged on short term of two or three years to serve as counterpart experts or mentors to the present government officials in public service or in State Owned Enterprises. A similar arrangement in the 70’s and 80’s brought about very positive results to our national economic development under reputable international arrangements. That produced among other economic successes the nationally and internationally acclaimed ERP (Economic Recovery Program) of the late 80’s and follow-onPSD(Program for sustainable Development); a steady  annual percentage growth in GDP, very competitive exchange  rate, export earnings from local  manufacturing enterprises, and high revenue from productive sectors, among other results; particularly arrangements under technical and economic cooperation programs among developing countries. This counterpart arrangement is a type of collaborative programming that enables and promotes the transfers of expertise, skills and technology in the most friendly, hands –on working environment. The government must consider employing the experience and know-how of these Veteran Gambian experts to complement government’s development efforts.

Q. What are your parting words, what would you like to advise?

VV. You know,Gambia has been suddenly confronted with a shipwreck; a shipwreck of the “ ship of State”. So we need to call in the shipwrights who constructed the ship, perhaps these can help bring back the situation to normal.

Author: With Charles Sarr Thomas a retired Civil Servant