By Madi Jobarteh
It is indeed very concerning to once again see a Gambian president publicly hand over fat envelopes full of money to communities at political events. The news that Pres. Barrow donated an envelope full of money to women in Jarra Soma is indeed unfortunate and unbecoming of a president expected to bring about system change in a country that is coming out of decades of poor leadership and bad governance.
We need not be told that it is very dangerous to infuse customary cultural practices into public policy and national governance processes. This can only serve to undermine good governance and perpetrate poor political culture.
Not only is this act unsustainable but it also serves to engender personality cult around leaders hence create the environment for rivalry between groups and communities competing for the largesse of a leader. When a society drops to such attitudes it then means the standards of transparency and accountability will be compromised because no one cares anymore about the source of the money, rather everyone rushes to invite the president just to get money. But we also know that the president cannot give envelopes of money to each and every community or group; hence the question is what is the reason why Community A or Group B should have and not Community C or Group D?
A cash donation from a president directly to communities is an act of political patronage that undermines the capacity of the people to demand transparency and accountability. The president has no mandate or authority to give cash donations to any citizen, community, group or institution unless if such donation is coming out of the salary of the president himself. In that case, information must be shared that such donation is directly from the president’s salary. Other than his salary, a president has no other income because the Constitution clearly states that the president must not engage in any other business or work other than serve as the president. And a president has no other income other than his salary which is why the salary of the president is too high with no tax. Hence when the president hands out cash the question must be asked where did the president obtain such money from?
It is reported that the 2018 budget unfortunately allocated D20 million for donations by the president. This is indeed a very unhelpful decision because it means by law we are promoting political patronage through cash donations. What is expected of a president is to have programs and projects through which goods and services will be delivered and facilities and opportunities will be created to serve the needs of all citizens.
What the women of LRR or Soma need is what the women of URR or NBR or CRR or WCR or KM or Banjul also need. Therefore Pres. Barrow cannot just go to each community to hand over an envelope full of money. That would only promote corruption within those groups while the very immediate and strategic needs of the women will not be met in full. Therefore what we expect is that there will be a government program though which goods, services and facilities will be provided or created such that all women of the Gambia will have equal opportunity to access those goods, services and facilities.
We had seen during the abominable tenure of Yaya Jammeh how he had used money and other resources to distribute based on his whims and caprices just for political gain regardless of the impact of such actions on those communities and the country at large. Through these donations, Yaya Jammeh had succeeded in fomenting rivalries, enmity, corruption and violations with impunity in our society. In many cases individuals and communities felt grateful to him just because he donated money to them for their gardens, mosques, markets, schools or pilgrimage among others. In this way he had succeeded in shutting the mouths of beneficiaries hence they cannot hold him to account. Thus to now see Pres. Barrow adopt the same act is indeed a major cause for concern.
The political culture in the Gambia has been long been corrupt, backward and exploitative while political awareness is low. This is why citizens largely do not trust politicians or become disinterested in politics. It is because of this poor political culture that we had Jawara rule this country for 30 years only to produce more poverty and deprivation in our society. It is because of this poor political culture that Yaya Jammeh ruled for 22 years only to unleash terror on citizens with impunity. Hence when we succeeded to weed out dictatorship which was due to poor political culture, we expected therefore Barrow will be the president to cleanse our political space and practices to become decent and progressive. We do not therefore expect that a Gambian president coming after Jawara and Jammeh to repeat the same bad actions of those leaders.
Pres. Barrow must understand that he, more than anyone else has the biggest duty and the power to change the political culture in this society. He has the greatest responsibility to promote and strengthen transparency band accountability and to stand against political patronage which is the mother of corruption, abuse and inefficiency in any society. Hence what we expect Pres. Barrow to do is to engage communities to understand their issues and channel solutions to those issues through his national development programs. But we cannot have a National Development Plan (NDP) yet at the same time we have a president acting like a benevolent king amidst poor subjects. It is through the implementation of the NDP that the needs and challenges of women are to be solved and not through cash donations!
In this regard, I want to ask the President to declare to Gambians where is the source of the money he donated to the women in Soma. I want the President to tell us what measures has he taken to ensure that the money given will be put into good use. I want the President to tell Gambians how will he ensure that the money is accounted for and serves the purpose for which it was given. Failure to address these concerns means the president is perpetrating political patronage hence undermining democracy and good governance in the Gambia.
I wish the women in Soma have the necessary political awareness to realise that they must return the money back to Pres. Barrow and rather demand that the Government creates robust social and economic programs and projects that will produce and provide efficient goods, services and facilities for the good of the community.
For the Gambia Our Homeland