by Alagi Yorro Jallow.
Fatoumatta: The culture of greed, entitlement, and self-indulgence still maintains its grip on the National Assembly. Despite outrage over their spectacular expense abuses, NAMs continue to show utter disdain for the Gambian electorate with their extravagant ‘political pork barrel’ claims and lavish perks. Our politicians seem impervious to shame, indifferent to the concept of public service.
Fatoumatta: It is difficult not to describe the Gambia as an underworld – a world of vampires. Some of our National Assembly members want a home loan and personal loan amounting to GMD 54,400,000 million, a plot of land also the recipient of a brand new vehicle gift from an anonymous donor three years ago in addition to GMD10,000 monthly ‘political pork barrel’ for President Barrow’s loyal legislators. The majority of lawmakers of all political parties suggested it; our prudent President Barrow endorsed the profligacy.
Fatoumatta: It has been a trying year in The Gambia, one of the worst in decades, as a severe Coronavirus killed and left hundreds with empty stomachs and uncertain futures. Amid such suffering, majority members of the Gambia National Assembly have been roused to action as seldom before, finding common ground on an issue so pressing that they threatened to stonewall the budget until it was addressed: another significant increase in their compensation. The move to reward themselves in a time of crisis infuriated Gambian voters, most of whom scrape out a living on a small fraction of what their elected officials earn. It also reinforced the notion that this was a political drought, one that owed its origins as much to mismanagement in a country that should be able to feed itself as to the vagaries of nature. Those lawmakers are arrogant, greedy souls, and selfish; they are out only for themselves. one of the milder critiques one can read on social media. Their reputation as fat cats did not come out of thin air. After coming into office in 2017 promising to reform an out-of-touch, authoritarian government, they squandered much of the public goodwill with their very first vote: It quadrupled their annual salaries. Then they got to work, voting to give themselves low-interest home loans, generous health insurance, and retirement packages. As for other legislation types, the record has been somewhat mixed, with fewer than a dozen bills becoming laws each year.
Fatoumatta: Just as in Mathematics, it appears citizens value, even in a democracy, is determined by their positions in the public sphere. How can one vote be greater than the possibility of a political community? How can someone with only one vote be of greater importance than social influence and political mobilization development? Alternatively, more directly, how can 58 votes be consequential in the presence of a randomized social influence and political mobilization and a whole community of voters.
Fatoumatta: I saw the solution in the details of the Appropriation Bill submitted to the National Assembly. A direct vote for 58 persons to earn and spend, in opulence and wealth, leaving 2 million other Gambians to fast and pray that the country makes enough for them to earn their miserable salaries and pensions. It is the same in politics and funds allocation – some individual votes are more significant than some combined votes in weight and value. That can be the only explanation for the forever pampering of persons who have always lived off in The Gambia.
Fatoumatta: It should be evident now that the afflicted has run from scammers to swindlers searching for saviors. It is challenging to know whom to trust again. Moreover, here I remember William Astley, who wrote under the pseudonym “Price Warung” a historical tales primarily concerned with the abuses uses ‘Tales of the Early Days’ (1894-1911) and his description of the underworld as that place where “the good man” is the notorious criminal and ” the “bad man” is the one who seeks to act honestly and purely. Our nation is underworld where proper and improper usage of powers and privileges go together like the monk and the hood.
Fatoumatta: Scottish novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson wrote many exciting novels and essays. One of them is Treasure Island – a gripping story of pirates, rum, and blood. I will not use that storyline to describe our National Assembly and what they do with the mandates they hold. At least, not yet. Even R.L. Stevenson did not say legislators were pirates, but in another of his works, he said: “We all know what the National Assembly is, and we are all ashamed of it.” What did he see, know, or smell that made him get ashamed of the parliament of his days? Whatever it was could not be as shameful as what we live with here.
Fatoumatta: Let us start from that figure – GMD 54 million. Someone said, “it is not the lie that annoyed me but the insult to my intelligence.” How was that figure arrived at? I am sure that our lawmakers are surprised we have not asked this question. We stopped asking questions a long time ago because we are a conquered people – and persons in captivity do not query their snatchers. Even if we dare ask any question, we are sure to get no answer because, as said again by Stevenson, “the cruelest lies are often told in silence.”
The underworld has its accounting principles lacking in scruples but precise in its figures. It is not difficult to see that this thirty-five billion Dalasi translates to one billion Dalasi. When you add the 2021 budget to it, the account is balanced. Can you see how the Gambian’s dining table, the powerful, shares the collective meat with his larceny teeth? When my people see this, they say God’s judgment that will deliver justice here.
Fatoumatta, Our borrow government, has voted GMD 54 million for the National Assembly members home loan. That is a vote for 58 big men and women. Our government believes it has been fair; it is expected to raise GMD 35 billion in taxes, non –taxed sources, and loans and grants from donors for 2 million for Gambians for the repair of their roads. Please stop defending this in the name of politics. We cannot insist that the regime is as good as excellent in running its affairs with this debauched profligacy.
According to the Oxford English dictionary, ‘profligate’ means “recklessly extravagant or wasteful in using resources.” That cannot be an edifying description for any leader and leadership. However, the word has another meaning: “licentious; dissolute.” Do not ever think there is a gap between the two meanings. They both denote – and connote awful news. The first will always lead to the second; the wasteful is dissolute.
Fatoumatta: When lousy behavior festers unchallenged, it becomes bold and audacious. Moreover, I am surprised that our lawmakers and their bosses in the State House did not know (and did not ask) how Tortoise got his ugliness. That creature became the carrier of a broken shell because he was a thief who stayed too long and stole too much for the farm owner to meet and smash him against his wall. Our good men, borrowing and misspending the funds, running the country into a sea of debts, risk a future of ugliness. Furthermore, this is not a curse. The legislature should not be a coven of witches holding orgiastic meetings, “where the devil himself is in the full wing.” However, this National Assembly makes it look like it occupies that world above all forms of a moral leash. It makes it look like the previous lawmakers were timid in the perfidy pinned on them; their badness was just not courageous enough to do direct debiting of the public till. The refuge of the timid was in unexecuted or badly executed constituency projects. These new ones are of the 21st century – savvy and bold, and so, they insist they must directly spend GMD 54 million for home and personal loans repairing structure that is not broken.
Fatoumatta: A whirl of a wooly, indirect, and direct assault on the economy has been around the country for some time. The situation gets desperate now. Between an estimated revenue of GMD 12.2 billion and an expenditure budget of GMD35 billion in the 2021 budget signed by approved, a fiscal deficit billion is financed with loans. The GMD 54 million we are talking about is likely to come from borrowed funds from the future money.
The University of the Gambia is the only university taking care of hundreds of students with a mere GMD 224 million allocated. This government will spend GMD 54 million to home loan a building for National Assembly members. There is a name for persons who fall behind others in ideas and progress. They are called laggards. However, it is interesting that laggards love great things; their only problem is that they cannot work to reap what they crave. Every husband is supposed to know that good soups take good money.
Fatoumatta: Can the government tell us why GMD 54 million home loans signed off to 58 lawmakers could not go to the 40 functional health centers countrywide and the Gambia university with their thousands of health workers, doctors, nurses, students and teachers?
Profligacy, excessive borrowing, unsustainably high debt level, and misapplication of funds, earned and unearned, are all the wealthy need to wreck themselves. When a government goes the same way and ignores fiscal rectitude, it destroys the state. That is the point we are at now. However, we are clapping for the wreckers, playing politics, condoning incompetence, their deliberate misdiagnosis of our situation, and the malpractices that define their patriotism.
Fatoumatta: The government’s legislative branch flexes its muscles after years of being sidelined by an all-powerful head of state. In the Gambia, we are witnessing the National Assembly’s rise as a force not to be reckoned with in the governance equation after 22 years of being more of a rubber stamp for the executive president’s gift of vehicles to National Assembly members is the saddest thing to me, and perplexed by how the executive gives a gift to legislative members without due process.
This is not mere banter; where is the morality and ethics we expect from our political leaders. The Executive, LegislativeJudiciary’siary’s independence is well enshrined in our Charter to promote checks and balances. We only see checks being encased, and we are left with the balance as always.
However, the base compensation that legislators earn in monthly salary, tax-free, plus various allowances and perks, can effectively double their take-home pay. That means these public servants earn more than most Gambian corporate executives and also outstrip the salaries of many of their counterparts in the sub-region. They are behaving like we are rich and as if there is no poverty in the country. They want to make as much money as they can. The government should not play inaccurate populist politics just for the expediency of the moment. Other legislators did not work hard for the good of the country and deserve every bit of pay they get.
Fatoumatta: All unjust systems use the weak to subsidize the strong. The poor are made compulsorily to feed and clothe the rich. Why are we doing this to ourselves? Do these people need this money? Do they? Are we not even insulting these men of means with these miserable millions? I imagine each legislator laughs at our folly as we give out to them what should be used to better our lot. Do they know how humongous our wealth is? They would exchange notes with one another and hiss. The law these men made says we must pay them. Yes. However, how about begging the big eleven to donate this big money to, for instance, a university? Alternatively, to sink boreholes for the thirsty millions in men’s men’s birth or residence areas. Won’t it make much sense to channel these billions since we must spend the money productively?