May 30, 2012, 1:38 PM
The year 2012 is behind us. The year 2013 has commenced its historical recordings. We have a right to act as we wish. History has the duty to record our actions and posterity shall be the judge. It is now time to take stock. 2012 has been a most dramatic year. It is full of complexities and uncertainties. Never in the history of the country since the coup days have Gambians been exposed to more unsettling and disturbing news than the ones which came to their notice in 2012. The reaction to the uncertainties had been varied.
By mid-year many Gambians sat at the edge of their seat as operation Bull dozer was unleashed leading to raids that resulted in the arbitrary arrest, detention, and degrading treatment of many youths and non Gambians alike, from Banjul to Koina, provoking some to leave the Gambia for safer Haven elsewhere. Many poor people and non Gambians were outraged and we came to their aid by exposing the unconstitutionality of the operation and its potential to ignite the flight of investment.
Interestingly enough at the very instance when Operation Bull Dozer was being promoted as a mechanism for fighting crime, on Tuesday 7 August, 2012 some armed men on board two military jeeps without number plates and dressed in combat gears and war style masks stormed the Village of Karunorr, in the FoniKansala District of Western Region, summoned villagers to a meeting, identified Wuyeh Colley and Enor Colley and immediately whisked them away towards the Casamance side of the border. After some time gun shots were heard and when the villagers crossed the border they were found dead in a pool of blood. We did not hesitate to expose such a heinous act but Operation Bull Dozer never caught the murderers. We questioned how much protection the people of Foni have, being situated just three kilometres from the Casamance border. We called for greater protection of the lives and security of the people near the border and the arrest of the murderers.
One could also recall the dragging of company owners, lawyers, doctors, accountants and consultants before the tax commission and to police stations. We indicated that the country needed a tax review commission before the establishment of a tax recovery commission. We argued that many businesses are run on a hand to mouth basis and would go under water if forced to carry a heavy tax burden. We indicated that the absence of unemployment benefits and other state sponsored welfare services have compelled many poor family members to depend on the profits of enterprises for survival. Needless to say, many businesses are now closing down or reduced to one person operations to avoid overhead cost such as rent, secretarial services, watchmen, messengers, phone bills, electricity and water supply. There is evidence of divestiture of private enterprises and the relocation of some to Guinea Bissau. There is also flight of capital that had impacted on the economy in the form of the depreciation of the dalasi against the major currencies of the world and the concomitant increases in prices, reduction of charitable initiatives and the growth of poverty.
The dust was yet to settle when the President swore to execute death row prisoners after a moratorium on the death penalty lasting for 31 years. Reports of execution of nine death row prisoners led to international inquiry and its confirmation outraged the sensibilities of many and gave rise to a thunderous international and National outcry. We did not hesitate to expose the lapses in procedure and the lack of adherence to the standards of best practice in the treatment of Death row prisoners. We visited the families and amplified the concerns expressed that they had no contact with the prisoners to get their last will and testament before their execution and had no opportunity to carry out traditional and religious rites associated with the burial and moaning of the dead. We argued that the outcome of the sufferance of punishment is the restoration of innocence. Hence those killed deserve respect and serenity in the conduct of their burials.
We also explained why we were opposed to the death penalty. We made it very clear how inhumane we would make an individual by assigning him or her no other job but to be a killer for the state. We concluded that a humane society will have no one employed as a killer for an income. Hence the severest punishment for death row prisoners should be life imprisonment.
We contributed our quota in amplifying the concerns of all human rights defenders regarding the executions. The general outcry, at home and abroad, compelled the government to engage in damage control by welcoming elders in turn to show solidarity as well request for suspension of the killings which was in line with the unequivocal demand of those opposed to the execution. The execution of two Senegalese Nationals despite the appeal of their government led to a diplomatic rift between the government of Senegal and The Gambia which culminated in the opening up of the Senegalese media to Gambian dissidents and political activists of all shades. This gave rise to a proclamation made by The National Transition Council of the Gambia led by ShiekhSidiaBayo aiming at overthrowing the government of the Gambia within weeks. Subsequently, the date to begin armed insurrection was pushed to 10th November 2012. This raised the political temperature in the Gambia as some people anticipated an armed insurrection. November 10th has passed and gone without any armed insurrection but a subtle security alert still remains. We did not become alarmed by the treat nor did we dismiss it. We took it seriously and examined it with realistic lenses. We examined whether NTCG was a government in exile with its Political, Diplomatic and Military wing and with international backers who are ready to break relation with the current Government and give full recognition, arms, ammunition, transports, uniforms, food and other logistical support to enable them to prosecute their threat or was a mere group of dissidents utilising a terrain supportive of Gambian dissidents to issue threats that had no international backing. We did our findings and concluded that the Senegalese Government was not poised to back an armed invasion of the Gambia but would not interfere with the activities of Gambian dissidents as retaliatory measures against the execution of the two Senegalese citizens.
Hence it is not strange for DrSedatJobe and DrAmadouScattredJanneh to use Senegal as a staging ground to call for the security forces to arrest President Jammeh and hand him over to the people as if they have people in the security forces who would implement their call for them.
In our view war requires fighters, weapons, food and logistics such as trucks to transport fighters and a safe Haven to retreat to when the going gets rough. We concluded that only Senegal and the International Community could provide such facilities to NTCG. Since such facilities were not available at the time of issuing the threat we cautioned against false expectation. The only option envisaged was an invasion without any support of any Government or the international community which would amount to adventurism. We cautioned against adventurism to avoid the scenario like the Farafenni and Kartong attacks which may lead to loss of life without effecting any change. History has again proven that we read the situation with accuracy.
In the interim, three months before the end of the financial year Government introduced a Supplementary Appropriation Bill amounting to D470.7 million. The bill revealed expenditure of public funds prior to authorisation by the National Assembly. For example, Taiwan President’s visit approximately did cost 8 Million dalasi which the Government strove to recover through the Supplementary Appropriation Act. The bill allocated 101.6 Million dalasi to the office of President out of which 43 Million was allocated for maintenance cost of state Aircraft for the remaining three months of the year after a sum of 25 Million had already been allocated and consumed within 9 Months. 6 Million Dalasi was allocated for rehabilitation of the old office of the Governor of CRR instead of allocating it to build a new facility. Expenditures like these over the years have caused government to spend beyond its earnings thus leading to domestic borrowing through treasury bills. This is why the domestic debt rose to 10.2 Billion dalasi in 2012 while the external debt stock in 2011 rose to 400 Million dollars or 12 billion dalasi, giving a total debt burden of over 22 Billion dalasi.
It is therefore no surprise that the debt service charges are almost equal to the total salaries and wages of personnel. The estimated budget for wages and Salaries in 2013 stands at One Billion, Eight Hundred and Fifty Million, Seven Hundred and Seven Thousand and Eighty Five Dalasi (D1,850,707,085) while National Debt Service charges amount to One Billion Seven Hundred and one Million four Hundred and thirty seven thousand, four hundred and thirty four dalasi (D1,701,437,434.). The debt burden is preventing any significant increase in wages, salaries and employment. Directors on grade 11 receive approximately 6000 dalasi monthly and the middle income earners receive less than 4000 dalasi monthly which would be consumed if they purchase a bag of rice monthly and are spending 100 dalasi daily for fish and other condiments. They would not be able to afford a kilo of meat. Cost of living is far below the earning capacity of most employees.
The increase in the expenditure on imports without an equivalent increase in earnings from exports has given rise to a worsening of the trade deficits and the depreciation of the dalasi against other international currencies.
Instead of acknowledging the contraction of the domestic economy and create the environment conducive to enlarged investment in the productive base the executive decided to issue an order to determine the value of the currency by executive design. This led to the freezing of the currency market as many foreign exchange dealers refused to buy or sell for fear of losing money. We indicated to the government that its attempt to interfere with the market will lead to the collapse of many enterprises, the contraction of remittances and investments, and the flight of foreign exchange dealers across the Senegalese border, the scarcity of foreign exchange, the reduction of importers, the scarcity of goods and rising in prices. The end result of the attempt of the office of the President to determine the exchange rate of the dalasi against foreign currencies led to an immediate freeze of the exchange market just as we predicted and the contraction of business activities.
The IMF had to intervene to assert that the executive directive has been disruptive to the foreign exchange market and urged the Central Bank to implement a market determined foreign exchange policy. Three days before the IMF made its position known Imam Baba Leigh was arrested and driven to a detention centre.
DEFENDING FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
PDOIS recognises that a Republic is inconceivable without a sovereign citizenry each of whom must have equal power and say in electing representatives and in deciding on major National issues through referendum and debates in the public space. This is why PDOIS considers rights of individuals as inviolable and inalienable. PDOIS has striven to be consistent and constant in combating abuse of authority and impunity. All Gambians have a duty to defend the constitution and the courts are to enforce its provisions. This is clearly stipulated in section 6 subsection (2) of the Constitution which states, among other things, that “All citizens of the Gambia have the right and the duty at all times to defend the Constitution….”
In the case of Imam Baba Leigh section 19 of the constitution states that he should have access to a lawyer within three hours of detention; that he should be charged and taken before a court within 72 hours or be released; that he should be presumed innocent while in custody and by implication, should have access to visitors, food and clothing before being convicted of any crime. We have therefore been contributing our quota in exposing his plight and before that, the case of AlhajiIsmailaManjang and Imam Ba KawsuFofana, so that the state authorities would come to realise that impunity erodes the integrity of a state and is counterproductive and adverse to the attainment of national self–esteem. Public outcry continues to grow and will intensify as long as Imam Baba Leigh is kept under detention without trial. The public and the government should be alert to the fact that violation of Human Rights has its economic cost. Accusing donors of double standards cannot be a substitute to the cancellation of grants meant to promote infrastructural or agricultural development. In 2013 project grants are anticipated to amount to approximately two billion dalasi. Bilateral grants amount to 162 Million Dalasi and Multilateral grants amount to 1.87 billion dalasi. The European Union should engage in its political dialogue with the Gambia Government in January 2013. What explanation will the Government give for Imam Baba Leigh’s disappearance even if he is later found to be in a good state of Health? Gambia therefore stands to lose a great deal if it has a government which is unwilling to adhere to fundamental rights and freedoms and standards of best practice in democratic governance. PDOIS certainly would not be found wanting in showing respect for fundamental rights and adhering to the standards of best practice if it were in a position of leadership.
We therefore hope that the Government will release Imam Baba Leigh and abandon the practice of illegal detention without trial. It should be added that in a mature democracy government should listen to the people or be punished by the people during elections for honouring their concerns with gross disregard. This is the best way of teaching Political leaders the virtues of democratic governance. One could see how political leaders became mindful of the concerns of the people during the debate on the US budget in Congress. Any party which is seen to cause delay that increases the hardship of the people is likely to be punished by the people in subsequent elections. This is a lesson political parties and people in the Gambia should learn to further build participatory democracy.
DEFENDING THE REPUBLIC AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE PEOPLE
PDOIS recognises the importance of having a sovereign people who are empowered to become the architects of their own destiny. This is why it has always been willing to join alliances whose objective is to form a non partisan transitional government aiming to put a president in office who would serve for one term in order to build a democratic constitution, institutions and institutional practices that would free the people from all forms of oppression, coercion and intimidation and further create a level ground for multi party contest without taking sides. We are convinced that a Republic does not deserve a government that is not derived from the consent of an informed and free people ,who freely cast their votes without inducement or intimidation, on the basis of informed opinions and conscience to promote truth and justice; liberty and prosperity. This is why PDOIS did not accept to form a coalition government with the coup makers in 1994. This is why it gave up its National Assembly seats in 2005, instead of exploiting the political advantages it enjoyed in the 2002 National Assembly elections to form NADD and did forgo putting up a Presidential candidate to form the United Front in 2011. It is the same desire to have a National Assembly with more than 14 opposition members to be able to block any negative amendments of the constitution and even have an opposition majority to be able to contain the excesses of the executive and block any negative bill, that led us to join the group of six aimed at effecting electoral reform rather than struggle for few PDOIS seats. The fact that out of just approximately 154 000 voters who participated in the National Assembly elections the ruling party could only poll approximately 80, 000 votes against the 60000 plus polled by Independent candidates confirm that with the restoration of the second round of voting and a level ground for multi party contest free from the use of public resources and public servants and the security apparatus to support the ruling party change through the ballot box is inevitable. This is why PDOIS has joined a coalition of concerned persons comprising opposition parties and Independent candidates to invite Reverend Jesse Jackson to mediate to effect electoral reform.
With the restoration of second round of voting and the elimination of all restriction to the right to elect and be elected a genuine multi party system would be restored and political parties could put up their own candidates without forming alliances until the people decide which two candidates could contest in the second round. This is the way forward and we call on the Government in particular and all other stakeholders in general to give full support to this initiative so that before the 18th of February the mediation efforts would be in full bloom.
TWO STATE ONE PEOPLE
PDOIS advocates for the policy of two states one people in our relation with Senegal. It subscribes to the policy of harmonization of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and ecological instruments, policies, Institutions, plans and programmes between two countries to promote the liberty and prosperity of the people. We have made it clear that cross border trade is already taking place at the formal and informal level through the weekly markets known as “lumo.” This trade and other economic activities should be complemented by the building of SeneGambian Air road, sea and ports networks and infrastructure. In short, it is not strategic to merely builda bridge across the Gambia river. PDOIS has said that this should be linked to the transformation of the project into a bridge/ports project so that the Southern part of Senegal and beyond will be served by the main port in Banjul and another at YelliTenda/BambaTenda crossing. Casamance is rich in natural and mineral resources which are yet to be fully harnessed with international support and cooperation. The area should be transformed into a zone of peace, liberty and prosperity.
We welcome the handing over of captured Senegalese soldiers by MFDC under MrSalifuSarjo and his call for “the international community to get together to assist them to find a definitive end to the suffering of their people rather than continuing to be silent on this matter.”
We intend to play our role to see a definitive end to the conflict which has been blooming since 1982.
We have listened MrSalifuSarjo very carefully and have come to the conclusion that the MFDC under him is yet to be a fully fledged National Liberation movement. MFDC is still functioning as an armed opposition rather than a Government waiting to be recognized. A liberation movement must have a cabinet and must start delivering services like a state in the areas they have liberated. It must have a Political Bureau that conducts political and diplomatic relations and a Military wing that is subjected to political control. The political bureau must serve like a Cabinet of Ministers aiming to render services to the people.
In our view, African Countries have already agreed to accept the colonial borders as the borders of Independent African States. The argument of Reverend DiamacouneSenghoreand the MFDC is that Casamance fell under a different colonial experience from Northern Senegal and therefore has a right to self determination and Independence. Some historians who have examined the issue maintain that the agreement between France and the UK which established the borders of the Gambia also established the boundaries of Senegal in relation to the Gambia. We will deal with this issue in a statement on Casamance. At this point, the Government of Senegal and SalifuSarjo should agree on a peace and development plan which would lead to autonomous administration of Casamance for a period of ten years while historical records are properly consulted to get to the facts about the colonial history of the region. If after ten years of peace and development the historical facts favours Reverend Diamacoune’ s argument a federal system would be instituted. If research favours the current status quo that Casamance is an integral part of Senegal then the autonomous region concept would remain. This is the way forward.
PDOIS AS AN ALTERNATIVE
PDOIS has emphasised that the lack of development of the productive base of the Gambian economy and the lack of consolidation of the sovereignty of the people have resulted in the dwarfing of the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and ecological development of the country giving rise to deficits in liberty and prosperity.
We have given convincing arguments that the starting point of reversing the downward trend is to accumulate sovereign National Wealth by harnessing the wealth that could be derived from mines like those in Sanyang and any natural gas or oil deposits to provide social services, infrastructural development and public sector investment.
We have also shown that over 1.5 Billion dollars is traded annually in our foreign exchange market and over 1.7 Billion dalasi come in as remittances. Hence there is great potential for private sector and public/private investments. The same goes with cooperative micro-financial institutions and their potential for financial, producer and consumer cooperatives. Such institutions could help purchase the produce of the farmers at near world market price rates to eradicate rural poverty. The weekly cross border market activities could also be supported to address rural poverty. This is how we intend to win the battle against poverty to ensure prosperity.
Unemployment is now a social menace. Remittances are not a substitute for self determined development. The 227,668 children in our lower basic schools, the 75000 students in our upper Basic Schools and the 36 000 students in our High Schools n add up to over 338000 young people who are put in the street for employment every 12 years . Many of them are getting desperate and are taking the back way in search of greener pastures. We recently had to publicise the plight of some of them who were tortured and subjected to ill treatment in Libya to draw the attention of Amnesty International and other right defenders to facilitate their protection and repatriation. Development is a priority to save our young people from death , degradation, dehumanization and privation.
In the area of liberty, we stand for the creation of a Human Rights Commission and an Independent Electoral Commission whose members are appointed by a Special Service Commission on the basis of merit and subjected to confirmation by the National Assembly. Such people could only be removed by a tribunal headed by a retired Judge.
We will empower Unions, Civic associations of the differently able, youth, women and other Associations of Human Right defenders to help shape public policy and defend rights. The state media shall be utilised to promote civic education. A term limit of two four year terms shall be introduced for the Presidency, Speaker of the National Assembly, Mayors of Municipalities, Members of Commissions and Councils and Board members to prevent any building of empires.
We will introduce village Councils, District Councils and Regional Councils to be responsible for the development of each jurisdiction. Governors would be replaced by Regional Permanent Secretaries responsible for coordinating relation between central government and regional, district and village administration. The role of customary leadership would be restricted to alternative dispute resolution activities, recording of births and deaths and membership in advisory committees for the area.
All service men and women would be loyal to the Republic and the Sovereign people and would be trained to be protectors of lives, rights and properties.
Since its birth in the first Republic PDOIS has at least succeeded in communicating a simple message to the Gambian people that the wellbeing of their homes and families, their liberty and prosperity are connected with, dependent on and determined by the ways and means the world outside their compound gates is managed and who is assigned the responsibility of managing it. We have also made it unequivocally clear that it is the sovereign right and authority of the people to decide who should manage the affairs of their country. Once this lesson is lost to any Gambian such a person should see himself or herself as an alien in his or her own country, instead of a free sovereign citizen of an Independent homeland.
In short, we have spared no effort in repeating, like a broken record, that it is the world outside the homes which provides a source of income and the essential services and facilities which bring about liberty and prosperity to each. This world requires its policy makers, planners, managers, administrators and public trustees who are to be assigned the responsibility of mobilising the requisite resources to build the necessary instruments, institutions and infrastructure to bring about self determined development. This should be the fundamental objective of a state borne out of the struggle of African colonies for self determination and Independence. PDOIS has left no stone unturned in conducting civic education to explain the nature of the sovereign Republic which the struggle for self determination and Independence engendered comprising a community of sovereign citizens in whom the sovereignty of the state resides, to whom power belongs, from whom power is derived, in whose interest and for whose liberty and prosperity power is exercised by political trustees. The Gambia, therefore, should be in the hands of the Gambian people. A person or group could only usurp their power if thepeople abdicate their responsibilities as sovereign citizens. We could only be subjugated as a people if we are our own enemies, if we fail to unite as one people into a sovereign community of equal, free , conscious and indomitable citizens who know their rights and national and civic duties as citizens.
Three decades of civic education should be enough enlightenment and people do tell us that now there is no need for civic education, arguing that that if the people still do not understand then they are deliberately unwilling to learn very simple and clear lessons in order to take charge of their destiny.
Despite the temptation to accept such a premise and abandon the people to be strangulated by the arms of blind destiny we in PDOIS could hear the silent voices crying of powerlessness and helplessness. That is what continues to remind us that the right of our people to a dignified existence in liberty and prosperity, which we have struggled for all our lives and for which we have committed ourselves to go to prison and die for, has not been attained since the declaration of Independence.
Hence as we enter a New year, we have the duty to take stock how far we have gone in building the sovereign Community of sovereign and empowered citizens whose rights are respected and whose prosperity is ensured.
During 2012 PDOIS had tried to exercise its duty to scrutinise,criticise, restrain and rectify or reverse any abuse of power, on one hand and advance alternatives to the existing instruments, policies, plans and programmes, on the other hand, to convince the people that it could provide better leadership in managing the affairs of the country. We therefore hope that the Gambian people will take stock of what was done by the ruling party and those aiming to unseat it in 2012 and then lay bare demands and expectations for 2013.
Another year of battle for liberty and prosperity has started. PDOIS will not rest on its laurels. We will be among the people at the forefront to clear the scrubs and thorns to facilitate the onward march for unrestrained liberty, unparalleled dignity and sustained prosperity.
In this New Year PDOIS calls on all to Keep Hope Alive and give solidarity for ever to create an oppression and impunity free world.