From the onset, we expressed solidarity with our people and advocated for the nation’s resources to be mobilized for the fight to decisively win thisdo-or-die war. To date, we hold to the same conviction, even where we remain keenly aware that, as a country, we areill-equipped with a low level of preparedness. Hence we still face a very real risk of a large scale outbreak that can easily overwhelm us, in its rapid spread through the contagion effect.
Gambia for All lost no time in expressing support for the prevention and containment measures announced by the public authorities, while we called on the Government to urgently review the national budget with a view to redefining priorities and freeing up state resources, ahead of any help expected from the general public, as well as from abroad. Ever since, we have witnessed an outpouring of a spirit of solidarity expressed through generous support provided by Gambians at home and abroad as well as by our many foreigner friends, a development we applaud.
Today, we welcome the Government’s decision to provide support to households. If handled properly, this will bring much needed relief to the communities. Similarly, we applaud the hardworking frontline medical personnel, the security officersand all those working tirelessly to stop the spread of the disease. We admire them for their hard work and sacrifice. We sympathise with all victims of the covid-19.
But our situation remains extremely difficult and pre-occupying; we are still not yet out of the woods. To say so is to admit reality, and not to seek to cause undue alarm. The nature of the beast is such that we need to maintain our sights on the medium to the long term for coming out of the tunnel. Experiences around us, and elsewhere in the world, should edify us.
That is why we find it necessary to renew our call for a comprehensive and coherent response plan to address the menace, away from thead hocry and the improvisation we are, for now, witnessing. We expect the Government to set out a battle plan to address the challenges in the immediate, short and medium term. This will help identify priority actions, as well as give clear operational directions, in order to provide a framework to guide interventions by Gambians and all others willing to support us.It is never too late to take this suggestion on-board.Concretely, we call for a coherent Response Plancontaining, and clearly outlining,the following elements:
- Public Health: Emergency actions to be carried out in order to broaden and strengthen the protective measures in place, substantially step up our national capacity for care and treatment and generally improve the health care system
- Social Protection: Well-coordinated and effective actions to help the population cope with the risk of extreme poverty and hardship; immediate food assistance to vulnerable households for sure, but also help with utility and medical bills etc.
- Economy: With a view to short to medium-term recovery, concrete measures are called for in order to support business generally; tax breaks readily come to mind, together with foreign exchange cover through the Central Bank and facilitation of access to concessional credit schemes operated by multilateral and other regional financing institutions. In particular, the most productive sectors of tourism, SMEs and agriculture deserve singling out for robust and meaningful support to ensure their viability and ability to preserve employment opportunities when the situation improves. For instance, assurance given by the President of fertilizer availability needs is welcome; but, availability of seeds for farmersis an equally imperative requirement because, in the present a situation,we should expect that farmers will fall back on their seeds to meet urgent food needs.
- Solidarity:For its material as well as symbolic value, a National Solidarity Fund, with clearly defined operational guidelines, should be established, [distinct from the special accounts already announced for holding virements and other budgetary allocations], to receive donations, in cash or kind, from citizens and other members of the publicas mark of solidarity. The facility should, incidentally, induce the President and other national leaders to demonstrate leadership by personal example through donating generously to the Fund, side by side with business operators and ordinary members of the public.
Operating under the supervision of a body to include members of the public, the Fund should serve as the dedicated reception point for donations in order to ensure transparency, discourage the deplorable practice of partisan or politically-motivated manipulation which we are presently witnessing up and down the country. Additionally, such a mechanism can only help enhance coordination and effectiveness generally.
- Effective Engagement: It is imperative that the Government engages, and continues to engage, all the sections of society. Such engagement should include religious and traditional leaders, political parties, trade unions, private sector and civil society to promote wider understanding of, and support for the Response Plan. This will ensure a wider mobilization of the community effort. These segments of society include, in their midst, important opinion leaders who can effectively articulate the needs of their communities as well as advise on actions likely to prove most beneficial.
- Transparency: We continue to express the need for transparency and accountability in the use of funds for COVID-19.The source of D500 million initially provided to fight the epidemic was not explained from the onset, leading to much speculation which is not healthy in a situation where the state badly needs the confidence of the public. Again, the public legitimately wants to know the source of the D734 million announced for funding Covid-19 Food Aid programme. Or, if the amount was raised through virement, then we need to know the budgetary provisions likely to be affected. Again, has the contract for the supply been awarded and to whom, and at what price? We are told the $10 million World Bank assistance was bringing in equipment from Turkey. When was this tendered and what is the contract price? For, notwithstanding the emergency, in order to avoid mismanagement and abuse of funds, under the pretext of exigency. It is important to ensure scrupulous respect for procurement practices that best help protect the public interest.
In point of fact, we make bold here and contend that the management of the emergency operations called for by the situation requires a consensual approach. In handling the crisis, we urge the Government to associate other active national forces, such as civil society and political parties, through the institution of a steering mechanism with extensive oversight responsibilities.
Gambia For All