Free lunch may be an inducement to get what you want some day

Omar Janneh

My Fellow Gambians, Please let us not allow anyone to fool us that this type of government-enabled migration is no different to people voluntarily migrating to another country for greener pastures. Let’s not listen to those self-serving individuals in the Barrow government who will not send their own sons and daughters or those of their family members to work as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, under very inhumane conditions.

If the notion that it is impossible to get something for nothing is true, why does President Barrow or his government readily accept “gifts”? Could there be any correlation between President Barrow or his government’s love for free lunch, e.g. the so-called anonymous donation of money by a Saudi Philanthropist to Gambian pilgrims and the proposed Gambian government-enabled migration of our youthful population to Saudi Arabia to supposedly work in their hotel industry? I know of no responsible government that promotes the migration of her people to another country the way this government proposes to do it. If Saudi Arabia needs “our expertise”– whatever that means- to work in its tourism sector, they should openly advertise such posts so that suitably qualified individuals can compete for them.

Do we not need the input of our youthful population to help address the long list of priorities or dreams in the National Development Plan 2018-2021? Perhaps the NDP is all part of the Barrow government’s game of telling us what they think we want to hear, but that they have no workable formula to solve any of the issues in the NDP in the specified 3 years. These politicians have not mastered anything when it comes to public service, but have mastered – even before assuming office, the art of telling us what they think we would like to hear. They know/believe that telling us what they think we want to hear shoots down, without effort, all of our problems. If the Barrow government’s aim is to promote the migration of our youthful population to Saudi Arabia, you have to wonder who will be left at home to work on the projects in the NDP. I think the few who have not forgotten about the promises within the NDP may soon come to the realisation that the Consultants that put it together may be the winners, not the Gambian people.

The Tourism and Culture Minister, Mr. Hamat Bah embarked on an aimless trip to Saudi Arabia of no benefit to The Gambia, but of much benefit to himself through per diem payments. Honestly, I do not think Mr. Hamat Bah could tell the difference between an agent looking for domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and a government minister acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia wishing to establish bilateral partnership with The Gambia. It appears that Mr. Bah has foolishly risen to the bait during his trip to Saudi Arabia which no serious and experienced diplomat will consider touching. Does Mr. Bah not know that we have lost enough lives and talent through the back way due to the terrible policies and brutality during the Jammeh years? If nothing else, we should by now know, through the images and stories of the back way travellers, that some of our youthful and exceedingly desperate men and women would jump, even in the face of grave danger, at any perceived promise of a better future. And who can blame them? It should be clear us now that we elected a clueless government that is more preoccupied with feathering their own nests and overstaying than providing opportunities (jobs, good healthcare, education, security, infrastructural development and so on) and hope for the people.

It is totally irresponsible for this government to talk about such targeted migration to any country, especially to Saudi Arabia. It is my view that Mr. Bah deserves to be sacked and crowned the most gullible African Minister for he appears to be behind the proposed memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Saudi Arabia and The Gambia. If Mr. Bah is behind the MOU, then he is clearly very poorly informed; the appalling human rights track record of Saudi Arabia, including the rights abuses of foreign workers, especially of women is well-known. All of what Mr. Bah said when he supposedly cleared the air (- listen to the audio), is much of the dumb things he/they think we want to hear. If we fail to speak against these sorts of rubbish, it may be too late for some of our many desperate folks.

The proposed MOU will never receive the scrutiny it deserves in the National Assembly because I do not think there is sufficient expertise within the Assembly to do that. The only party (PDOIS, the idealistic dreamers) members that – some of the time – talk some sense, which no one seems to either listen to, understand or both, does not have the numbers to make any impact on any government policies. The proposed MOU will address nothing of significance, but targeted migration, heartache and pain as if we have an insatiable appetite for pain and suffering. We have definitely endured enough suffering; we need visionary and innovative leadership, jobs, good healthcare, good education and much more. If this MOU leads to our youthful population leaving for Saudi Arabia, there may be a commission of inquiry- someday- to investigate the rights abuses of Gambians in Saudi Arabia. But then we must ask ourselves what such an exercise would yield. Do we not know enough about the rights abuses of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia to warn us not to encourage our own people to go there as domestic servants? Why do we have to allow the same abuses to happen to our people before we learn lessons? Have any of the countries whose citizens were abused and continue to be abused in Saudi been able to do anything? And have the international community and the negative publicity done anything to help regularise the attitude of Saudis towards migrant workers? Is it clearly not the case that Saudi Arabia is not ready to enhance its labour reforms sufficiently enough to make it a safe place for domestic workers, especially for women? Even if they did, it would be wrong for our government to promote the target and organised migration of our youths when our own country needs them to help fix the widespread decay all over the country. We must also come to the realisation that this clueless government does not have what it would take to influence anything should our people encounter problems in Saudi Arabia.

It is the responsibility of the government to create jobs and provide enabling conditions for public-private partnerships, and private sector investments, but our own is passing the responsibility to Saudi Arabia, a country with repulsive human rights record. If our youths are so uninformed that they do not know that it is the government’s responsibility to find jobs for them in The Gambia, then we have more work in our hands than we realise. Why should it be rocket science to deal with the unemployment problems of a small country like The Gambia to warrant sending the unemployed to another country? Many sectors remain untapped and unregularised which if competently done could be a major coup in solving the unemployment problems in the country.

Now that the government half-heartedly joined the community of nations to condemn the brutal killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi which may have been ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, perhaps it will go much further to change its attitude to the proposed migration of Gambian youths to Saudi Arabia. If Mr. Bah and the Barrow government would wish to provide employment opportunities for the youths, e.g. in the country’s tourism sector – which has huge potential, they have had enough time to put in place noticeable strategies aimed at developing our tourism industry so that the workforce they intend to send to Saudi Arabia can be gainfully employed at home. It should be clear to us by now that this government has no clue and vision about doing anything – they are the “talk much do nothing” lot.

And to make matters worse, the man at the wheel confuses money in the bank with a pledge; he is as dumb as they come; he does not think before he opens his mouth; and he is increasingly losing his mind: He recently said that he is more powerful than Former President, Yahya Jammeh because he (President Barrow) has the police, the army, SIS, and the ECOMIG forces. Is this his way of saying to us that we must be even more afraid of him than we were of Jammeh? Perhaps he is too drunk on power to recall that it is the same Gambian people with the help of the International Community and ECOMIG forces that helped remove Jammeh and sent him on a lonely holiday.

Instead of promoting tourism, they intend to levy $40 on international passengers from January 15, 2019 to supposedly help fund the immigration security and E-visa management services at Banjul International Airport. To plan to introduce such a poorly thought through hiked up levy after the announcement by a German tour operator, FTI to cancel its winter flights for 2018-2019 to The Gambia seems very daft.

Even if the news of this cancellation by FTI is incorrect, any sensible government may consider delaying the introduction of such a levy until the sector, which was badly impacted in the Jammeh, is fully on its feet.  It is highly unlikely that this government will work to create enabling environments for tourists and tour operators which will result in increased weekly flights to The Gambia. It is my view that this government may be inadvertently killing the tourism industry, through its clumsy policy decisions, rather than reviving it. And it seems to me that to make up for their very poor policy decisions, they are working up this dodgy deal of proposing to send our innocent youths to Saudi Arabia to work in the tourism sector, but if it goes ahead, they will be working as domestic slaves. If they are serious about modernising the the security and border control systems at the Airport, they must radically sacrifice on the excessive glitzy travels, introduce some common sense into the per diem payments; stop some Commissions and use the money to care for the victims who sacrificed so much for our liberty; rethink the utility of our army; and stop many other wasteful practices. Such prudent fiscal policies WILL result in real terms savings which can pay for the planned airport upgrade and much, much more – but only under the stewardship of a competent and visionary leader, not Adama Barrow. He does not have what it would take to transform The Gambia.

Only a government that is clueless, irresponsible and without vision would actively seek to send her citizens to help drive the economy of another country when it has supposedly identified a bunch of priority areas (refer to the glossy NDP) needing development. Surely, the actualisation of such development plans would need a vibrant labour force on home soil. As long as I am fit and healthy, I shall not compromise on my principles just because I am poor, hungry and in need of free lunch. Will you?

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