Alagi Yorro Jallow
The Gambia needs to urgently to put in pace a sovereign wealth fund to manage her oil revenue before the commencement of crude oil exports. The sovereign fund model will allow the Gambia to invest her oil revenues for the future. The Sovereign Wealth fund must be structured in a transparent way and staffed by Gambian investment professionals of world class repute whose only qualification shall be experience, commitment and merit – not tribe, political affiliation or nepotism.
If we handle gas and oil revenue like we do with loans from foreign governments money, the oil will bring misery to many and wealth to a few well-connected government officials and politicians.
In his very private moments, what does President Adama Barrow think of Gambians? Are we his lovers because we agree with Geoffrey Chaucer, known as the Father of English literature, who said love is blind? Or are we Barrow’s fools because fools don’t see what their eyes see? Or are we both because, with enthusiasm, lovers do foolish things? Barrow sleeps and snores, we hail him; he sits up, we applaud him. We salute him even as he croaks and wheezes. He chose his government’s key men from his ancestral homestead and his political roots, we made excuses for him. Those are the ones he could trust, we bellowed at wailers. We said the appointees were the very best at that point in the geography of our politics. Every democracy has its aristocrats; it is their time, we said. If we handle oil revenue like we do with loans from foreign governments money, the gas and oil will bring misery to many and wealth to a few well-connected government officials and politicians.
President Adama Barrow, Gambians supports the presidency as the symbol of national unity. However, we will not sit back and cheer when the very pillar of nationhood threatens its very sustenance.
Key words are RESPONSIBILITY AND TRANSPARENCY, which are rare commodities in the Gambia’s public governance space. Instead of providing leadership, Adama Barrow and his lieutenants — the Cabinet and senior civil servants, National Assembly — have adopted a default campaign mode of regaling the public with tales of largesse to come. Ask most Gambians what perception they have of our gas and oil resources, and they’ll probably tell you that they have no idea apart from foreign media and social media news bots, is the most straight forward answer you can get. Is the Gambia’s mineral wealth a “get rich quick” scheme for certain privileged people? Exploration of mineral resources in Africa becomes the easy way to “eat” and do business as a tenderpreneur. The Gambia’s brand of politics is a legacy of a regressive patronage and clientelism system. A system where the political and business elite acquire power and access to resources mostly for personal gain and the self-preservation of the same. The people they supposedly represent are beholden to them, notwithstanding that they are constitutional duty bearers who are public servants.
President Barrow, TRANSPARENCY and RESPONSIBILITY is the cure to Africa’s oil curse and surest methodology on the Gambia’s nascent oil and gas industry. If well managed oil could bring the Gambia prosperity and many blessings, but that depends on many variables, some in our control, others which we have no control over like the global price of crude. The global price of crude is not in a good place but expected to improve. The Gambia has also discovered oil when the world is making a transition to a non-carbon economy. That does not mean the demise of oil, but its global consumption as the key energy source may take a slump.
President Barrow, these half-measures are harming the presidency and your authority as the First Citizen of the Gambia besides tormenting Gambians. Among other challenges, President Barrow, you, creates an impression of a reluctant leader, one who enjoys the trappings of office but is not ready to get the work done. Worse, it suggests that you are being held captive by some forces you cannot disentangle yourself from. President Barrow, you swore to uphold the national good, Adama Barrow, what is it that is holding you hostage not being transparent on the national wealth of gas and oil resources about to be explored by foreign companies?
President Barrow, Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea are just a few examples how corruption has led to poverty and misery despite massive oil revenues. In places like Equatorial Guinea, the third largest producer in Africa, oil is the personal asset of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the man who overthrew and killed his uncle Francisco Macías Nguema to ascend to power in 1979. The Obiang dynasty’s murderous history is legendary. His son Teodoro Nguema Obiang, who happens to be Vice President, uses oil money to fund his expensive playboy lifestyle in places like Paris, France while majority of Equatorial Guinea citizens wallow in abject poverty.
With a population of approximately one million people, Equatorial Guinea ranks 138 out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index for social and economic development, despite a per capita gross national income of $21,056 in 2014, one of the highest in Africa. Norway and Qatar provide good models for managing oil revenues. In Norway, oil has changed the fortunes of the country and social security for every citizen. Norway is also realizing the bleak future of oil; her sovereign fund is no longer investing in oil stocks.
Nigeria woke up to this realization a bit too late. It established a wealth fund over five years ago. The country is struggling to restructure Nigeria National Oil Company, whose mismanagement has led to theft of oil revenues. Over forty years of oil money has been squandered. The damage is done. It will take the effort of a generation of recover from the opportunity cost of lost oil revenue. Nigeria’s stolen oil revenues have created an obscene gap between the rich and poor. People say that in Lagos, you are either, “rich-rich” or “poor-poor.”
The tragedy in all this is that Nigeria produces more oil than Norway at 1.9 million barrels per day, compared to Norway’s 1.6 million barrels per day. It is not the quantity of natural resources a country has, but the quality of leadership steering a nation. If countries got rich just by virtue of natural resources found within their territories, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo could have been some of the richest countries on earth!
In Norway, oil revenue finances pensions and social security. Norway’s oil fund has about US$1 trillion in assets, including 1.3% of global stocks and shares, making it the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. To put this in perspective, the Norway Sovereign Fund can pay for the Gambia’s annual budget of $25.1 billion. If Norway wanted, her sovereign wealth fund can finance the Gambia’s latest Eurobond issue, which raised US$251 mill.
President Barrow, hundreds and thousands of Gambians want to change this. They want our politics to serve the people equitably without fear or favor. They maintain the great hope that our new political leaders will anchor a new brand of democracy and promote our ideals and values as a nation. They hope that we have voted in leaders with integrity and respect for public service. They hope that our historical economic, social and political injustices will be addressed. People all up and down the country will be hoping that the choices they made after ending dictatorship will work for us to move things closer to our ideals as a collective.