Gambia: Purchasing by executive decree. Repeating the mistakes of the Jammeh Era

I wish to congratulate the Barrow government on their sincere efforts to improve the economic well being of all Gambians, of which the port is one such example. However well-meaning it is very easy to do the...

I wish to congratulate the Barrow government on their sincere efforts to improve the economic well being of all Gambians, of which the port is one such example. However well-meaning it is very easy to do the right thing the wrong way and lead to disaster for the country and it’s descendants. Then president Jammeh and the Junta started very well with many worthy projects such as new ferries, rural electrification, the ports, coastal highway etc and it was refreshing to see them begin to materialize – for a few years.

The problem? He would not leave the details to the professionals. He disregarded the experts to recommend exactly what our requirements were, the legal side to negotiate proper and beneficial  contracts, where the loan terms favorable and weighted on our side not the lender? All this is the purpose of a procurement or tender body, or at least the department concerned plus the Ministry of Finance who should have experts in commercial law. At government level it is a highly specialized field, of which former President Jammeh and current Barrow are totally ignorant. Sadly it is the reason for the Gambia’s lack of economic development and commitment to many more years of debt, paying for projects long after they have failed. Political decision making out of ignorance.

If I may comment on a very sensitive issue to almost every Gambian. Why in this day and age can Gambians not have 24 hour reliable electricity? Is it so impossible in the modern age? Jammeh did try to improve it but due to mismanagement, infighting and erratic fuel deliveries it never fully succeeded and now we are back to square one. Jammeh gave up and we’re on the same position. Most of these could be classified as incompetent management, financing, and revenue collection. The government being the main user and biggest debtor to NAWEC.

In terms of policy decisions the mistake has been to rely on old technology. As the Mandinka saying goes “we are dying of thirst with water in our mouth”. We have the biggest  river in the region which could be used to generate hydro-electricity to supply the whole of the Gambia, Senegal, Casamance and another country. It could not only be be very cheap, but  earn serious foreign exchange. The “Five Rivers Project” as I think it was called has been kicking around since independence but never implemented. Over 50 years later we’re in the same position as in the sixties. Why are we even thinking about fuel burning generators when all the world are trying to move away from them? The answer because these same countries are offloading their old machines and technology and we’re stupid enough to buy them. A fisherman will not tell you that his fish is rotten. Or to use an old English legal term “caveat emptor”. Let the buyer beware. 

Th capital investment for a dam is huge, but in the present fear of climate change posed by burning fossil fuels many countries would be willing to finance it and maintain it. The problem of our politicians is that they have no vision and understanding of world trends. All they are interested in is their “mochat” or bribes as they mortgage our future to their petty bribes. This is one of the main reasons for our lack of economic progress. 

Solar power is another easily attainable goal. Gambia has more than enough sunshine to power the whole country by three or four regional facilities. The sun’s rays are “collected” by mirrors and reflected on the steam turbines which generate steam to drive turbines generating electricity. The capital cost is not that high and it requires no fuel. The main running cost is maintaining the turbines/generators and keeping the mirrors clean. This last is labor intensive and provides unskilled jobs. Many countries including Spain and Australia are using this technology right now. Why not Gambia?  The Denton Bridge oil mills generated their own electricity for years burning the groundnut shells which were free. The technology is similar using the sun instead. 

“Ignorance” means not to know. It is not a sin not to know something. The level of knowledge in the world is so great in the modern world that no single individual can grasp even a fraction of 1% of it. The real sin is not to realize that one does not know. Parsifal was called the pure fool, but he was not stupid. He simply did not know,  but was intelligent enough to learn. The Bible says that “even the fool is right in his own eyes”. He is a “fool” because he does not realize his own ignorance and does not seek wisdom. This is a very common Gambian problem. 

On hearing that I came from Gambia, a Japanese man once said to me. “Africa is not poor; it is one of the richest continents on earth. There is no mineral or resource that is not found in Africa. Japan has no natural resources except rice, fish and our people”. How come Japan is in one of the top ten economies in the world? Simple. Leadership, unity and good management.  They have learned to unite,  observe, adapt and manage the knowledge, resources and finances of other nations while maintaining their own culture and interests. Sadly, the exact opposite of so many African countries. Interestingly Senegal have used this strategy successfully and are probably 50 years ahead of us. If we are one people geographically and socio-economically, why the difference? Our leaders and elites need to look at themselves and answer this question. To whom much is given, much is expected.

President Barrow, please take note before you sign the next executive purchase decree. Gambians have very high hopes that you will improve our country. You cannot do this alone, nor can you expect donor nations to favour our interest. As an ex business man you should understand this more than the average citizen. You should understand the need to a be a tough negotiator. As a property developer did you give your buyer any amount the buyer offered? I doubt it or you would not have been successful. Why do it with our country of the one million odd Gambians and generations depending on you? Please allow the proper institutions to use their expertise and do their job. Your job is to decide policy (direction). The job of the parastatals and civil servants is to implement it. Please do your job and let them do theirs.

The captain of a ship is responsible to supervise the navigation and running of the ship on behalf of his employers. He is responsible for the ship, the lives of his crew and passengers, the cargo etc. It is not to get involved with buying new engines etc. That is the responsibility of his engineers and shipyard who will fit them. 

Sorry to be blunt. I believe you mean well and I wish you and your government well. From a personal viewpoint I left Gambia in 1977 because I could not get along with the corruption and mismanagement at every level. Like many of the diaspora I opposed the Jammeh regime in the hope of seeing a better Gambia and planned to return home  in January this year. Sadly I’ve had to delay it until 2019 until I can see real change. Many of us in the diaspora are similar positions. We are retired, have money to invest and contributions to make but why risk all we have in our host countries on a one way ticket to a possible hell? What we are seeing and hearing is not encouraging. Our contribution to the struggle has never been acknowledged. So called “foreign investors” out only for their own interests are favored over us who whose hearts are really committed to the well being and future of the Gambia, including you and your government. 

Your job and that of your government is to create a better Gambia that ALL Gambians at home and abroad can live in and enjoy. It should not be to enrich yourself, your family and a few elites who support you. Gambia is a constitutional democracy, not a kingdom or dictatorship. Bear this in mind and you will be blessed by God and supported by many. If not you may go down the Jammeh route for the same reasons. Your decision, just as it was his. As Shakespeare said the problem is not in our stars, but ourselves. You have great opportunities and much goodwill at home and abroad. Use it wisely  for the people whom God has placed you over. I hope this was your heart and prayer whilst in Mecca. That is certainly God’s wish for His leaders and you will answer to him one day. As will Jammeh and every one of us. 

Written By Boor Sine.

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