Checks and Balances: The case for an Independent Civil Service      


Checks and Balances: The case for an Independent Civil Service      

The system of checks and balances is an indispensable feature of constitutional democracies. The formula here provides that each of the three arms of government (executive, legislature and Judiciary) can ”check” and ”limit” the power of the other two. Because each branch can “scrutinize” the power of the others, no one organ of government should become too powerful in a true democratic arrangement.

Political leadership, as evidenced by recent times in The Gambia and the region, is lubricated by trust, faith in legitimate authority and believe in the system. Without trust in our government, when the people lose faith in their politicians, it provides a catalyst for disruption of normal processes inviting chaos and instability.

A revisit to the 1970 republican constitution found legal citations, explicit as well as implicit, that the Gambia civil service is a politically neutral body, tasked to implement policy programs of government. That is significant, worth reflection – legally binding on all civil servants across the divide.

An independent civil service is indispensable to the efficacy of government programs. In practical terms, an employee of the civil service is basically employed to implement policy in line with the law. As a result, civil service employees often work in areas that highly impact our everyday lives. These include post office clerks, health professionals, teachers, police, army, quangos [PORTS, NAWEC, GRA, National Audit Office] rank and file civil servants at national & local government tasked with the day to day operation of gov’t.

Being the civilian workforce of the country, entry into the civil service ought therefore be merit-based through a competitive recruitment process. It is incumbent upon the personnel management office (P.M.O), National Audit Office (N.A.O), Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBOs) among others, to stay true to their constitutional privileges, but operate with independence. May I put it to the president that he has no authority to fire the head of the national audit office for merely carrying out its investigative work into compliance, regardless who falls victim, be it the presidency or its ministries. This could perhaps be qualified by an act of parliament – if the constitutional Review Commission (CRC) desires on technicalities.

As for the system of government in The Gambia, the president of the republic is akin to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a company #ProjectGambia. The population who put him in that post are the actual shareholders; thus government-civilian relations ought to be prioritized & nurtured. A smart government therefore is one who puts the welfare of its citizens as priority number one. That may include food security, quality education, affordable healthcare, better infrastructure and job creation thru the revival of domestic industries, and so on. It means a government mindful of wasteful spending – in which every ‘dalasi’ and ‘butut counts – cutting its clothes according to size.

Think about it, is it that politicians really wish for our teachers or police or representatives of the Independent Electoral Commission to also play ‘politics’ in the open? Being loyal to gov’t is one thing – in fact all citizens should be loyal to their government – to hold that same gov’t accountable for the greater good of country is another matter altogether. I do not claim to possess monopoly on Gambia’s problems let alone solutions, but this i know, when our government put self-interest and egos to one side, resolved to design an accountable civil service in the national interest, together, we stand to build a country of envious proportions for the rest of Africa to marvel.

One of the problems found with successive governments is the inability to reflect on failures from previous regimes, perhaps even policy shortfalls the year before. What happen to managing the ”policy cycle”, institutional norms and best practices? Because, unless someone explain otherwise, millions of dalasis’ have poured in from food and agricultural organisation (F.A.O), bilateral agencies, ministerial budget itself, yet Gambia cannot produce enough rice or peanuts to feed itself. So, where are the millions???

An independent civil service means check on waste within the bureaucracy, thus blockade on corruption. It still beg the question – why would any rational thinking leader or government choose to politicize the civil service knowing full well that it goes against the dictates of the law, and definitely not in the country’s best interest? – Again, a point worth reflection.

The politics stops at the minister – permanent secretary downwards should maintain neutral, semblance of independence, in their daily functions.They are the technocrats manning the bureaucracy, but if the permanent secretary also plays ‘politics’, then i’m afraid there is no hope for institutional independence, or democracy for that matter. Civil servants should be beyond reproach, coercion, or influence through corruption. By voting out corrupt politicians as Gambians did in 2016, the population sent clear messages to politicians that the people will not tolerate maladministration; thereby restoring constitutional check and balances on majority rule.

The American historian, William Blum, puts it, ”No matter how paranoid or conspiracy-minded you are, what the government is actually doing is worse than you imagine.” I will say thou that statement is not always true, nonetheless, Gambia and African leaders should resign to the fact that, falsehood will never reign supreme, Truth will eventually shine thru and win the day #TRRC #Gambia #CivilService #Jobs #Environment #SustainableDev

Gibril saine, London.

P.S – When the draft constitution comes to parliament for scrutiny, members of parliament (MP’s) should look to amend the succession time frame post-presidential elections (currently 47 days). That is way too high as it creates an air of uncertainty – semblance of crisis – allowing for an outgoing president to tamper with public finances, even sign (dubious) contracts. A maximum one week transition period is enough. In the United Kingdom, a victorious Prime Minister takes over the reign on the very day results are announced. Given the uncertainties and challenges facing the country, The Gambia should resort to smart measures that restrain greed – one week transition period is more than enough for tiny Gambia, and i recommend it to the ‘House.’

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