By Alagi Yorro Jallow
It’s not every invitation from another government that President Adama Barrow must accept. There’s need for the President to rationalize his travel expenditures.
“President Adama Barrow, accompanied by a high-power delegation, will on Monday, 4th June 2018, travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as part of ongoing preparations for the forthcoming Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit. The next OIC Summit will be hosted in The Gambia in 2019.
While in Saudi Arabia, the President will use the opportunity to perform Umrah in Mecca.” According to a press release from the office of the President.
Every day senior Gambia government officials must travel and claim per diem payment while others travel with imprest funds and paid per diem, the President at any time he travels aboard the plane with over 50 people accompanying him with hefty allowances. The Gambia is rich, it’s just mismanagement by our political leaders and greedy civil servants. In Tanzania, President Magufuli has only left the country less than three times this year, while President Adama Barrow has done 18 foreign trips since he became President in less than three years spending huge and massive amounts of money.
In a poor country where presidential extravagance, wastefulness has been a central political issue for several years, the mockery has struck a chord with a public displeasure at the lavish foreign trips, lifestyles of President Adama Barrow and his minions. Gambians have been trading jokes online that portray President Barrow and his cabinet ministers, senior civil servants are always waiting for invitations, opportunities to earn some travel allowances. It sometimes feels as if the president Barrow and some of his ministers are more comfortable away than being in the country.
When President Barrow travels, his delegations usually include quite several joy riders, people who really don’t have a role. President Barrow’s jet-setting ways are being compared with the cost-cutting measures being undertaken by the President of Tanzania, John Magufuli, who since taking office has restricted official travel. Foreign trips are not just trips. They are significantly more than that. Typically, when a president visits another country, it is the highest track. It sends out a message that the country is important to them. It is not a regular vacation visit like the ones we take to go and enjoy ourselves.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is supposed to decide which countries are important to the Gambia. Countries may be important due to local geopolitics, international politics, resources or just as “friends” who may be useful in times of crisis and based on our foreign policy. All these visits must, in fact, be according to an aim that has been properly planned to take into consideration the views of bureaucrats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For a President and ministers, travel costs a lot of money and time. And therefore, we have ambassadors, a minister of foreign affairs, a vice-president and other government officials to help in dealing with international relations.
Surprisingly, the people President Barrow takes on these very expensive trips tell a big story about their nature and importance. And we can learn something valuable from how the United States deals with the President’s foreign travel. For security and other reasons, for example, the United States president, vice-president, and first lady use military aircraft when they travel. The White House generally categorizes the trips as fulfilling either official or political functions. Often, a trip involves both official and political, or unofficial, activities. When a trip is for an official function, the government pays all costs, including per diem (food and lodging), car rentals, and other incidental expenses. When a trip is for political or unofficial purposes, those involved must pay for their own food and lodging and other related expenses, and they must also reimburse the government with the equivalent of the airfare that they would have paid had they used a commercial airline.
When a trip involves both official and political activities, a formula determines the amount to be reimbursed for that part of the trip involving political activities. Whether a trip is for official or political purposes, the Air Force pays all operational and other costs incurred using the aircraft. While the travel policies of specific administrations concerning the reimbursement of expenses for unofficial travel generally are not publicly available, it appears that policy guidelines developed by the Reagan White House have served as a basis for the travel policies of subsequent administrations.
President Adama Barrow should not forget or ignore the fact that he came to power on an election campaign that was based, among other issues, on criticism of Yahya Jammeh’s excessive travel expenditure.