Human Rights, Opinion

Has the National Assembly Approved the D500 Million?

by Madi  Jobarteh

On Thursday March 19 the President announced a package of D500 million as response to the Coronavirus. This is indeed a laudable initiative. However, it is now more than 72 hours since that announcement was made and there is no emergency sitting of the National Assembly to approve this money. Barrow’s advisors must tell him that he has no power to take money from our national coffers unless it is approved by the National Assembly.

Section 151 of the Constitution has stipulated that no withdrawal can be made out of the ‘Consolidated or Other Funds’ except if the expenditure is already stipulated in the Constitution or approved by an Act of the National Assembly. Section 154 went further to provide for the establishment of a Contingencies Fund but noted that no funds can be withdrawn from it unless by an Act of the National Assembly.

Therefore, let the advisors tell Barrow to abide by the rule of law by requesting the Speaker to convene an extraordinary session of the National Assembly to approve his proposal. The Constitution has made all necessary safeguards to protect public finances hence the President must comply. Failure to seek National Assembly approval for his Government to spend this D500 million dalasi means Pres. Barrow would be violating the Constitution. That is an impeachable offence.

Secondly Members of the National Assembly must demand to know how this money will be spent. The Minister of Health must provide them in detail how they intend to use this money to effectively empower the country to contain and scale down this virus.

In my view this money, if approved, should be used to provide testing kits to all public and private health facilities within the country. It should create well equipped centres for quarantine, isolation and treatment in all major health facilities including military hospitals as well as increase the number of ICUs in our major hospitals. With this money hand washing materials and hand sanitizers should be placed in strategic points within communities such as bantaba in our villages and towns as well as public places like mosques and churches, hotels, restaurants, petrol stations, supermarkets, markets, car parks, ferry terminals, police and military barracks and quarters and indeed any other place where lot of people converge or pass through.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Health must judiciously use this money bearing in mind that already several public and private institutions, CSOs, political parties, local government authorities, mosques and churches and even individuals and families are already providing materials for hand washing, sanitizers and raising public awareness. Therefore, the Ministry must factor all these complementary contributions so that this money is used in such a way as to create the necessary results and impact. The Ministry must be strategic and results-oriented in using this money.

In addition to the above the Government must also factor in the issue of the availability of food, water, electricity, healthcare and other basic needs. As the country is moving closer by the day towards lockdown there will come a time when many service outlets for basic needs will be closed. The Government must therefore consider that most Gambians cannot afford daily meals for days without going out to fend for money. Therefore, this money must also be used to secure those basic survival needs of the population. When China locked down Wuhan the Government was practically delivering food to households! Our Government need to think about that.

For the rest of Gambians, while we continue to contribute to the fight against Coronavirus at individual, family, community and organization level we must also watch this money in how it is spent. Let us recall the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in 2013. At the end of the day millions of dollars secured by the Government for the fight against the disease went missing. In fact, in Sierra Leone Ebola survivors ended up taking their Government to court for mismanaging the Ebola funds.

Therefore, while the Government allocates half a billion to respond to Coronavirus and surely will receive many millions more from the citizens and the international community we must realize that without vigilance all of that money could disappear instead of serving its purpose. So let citizens be vigilant and raise critical questions. We must realize that sometimes the best contribution is not to give a butut but to open your eyes, analyze properly what you see and raise the pertinent questions to ensure transparency and accountability.

For the Gambia Our Homeland.

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