by Madi Jobarteh
The Gambia Donor Conference in Brussels raised 1.45 billion euros in pledges to fund the NDP. The NDP costs 2.4 billion dollars. This means with this pledge at least 1.6 billion dollars are secured. In today’s official Central Bank exchange rate of D56.6 to 1 euro, the EU pledge will amount to eighty two billion, seventy million dalasi (D82, 070, 000, 000). Given that our 2018 budget is at most nineteen billion dalasi (D19, 000, 000, 000), this means that the EU pledge is 4.3 times more than our annual budget. In population terms, if we distribute this pledge among our population of two million people, each Gambian citizen will get forty one thousand and thirty five dalasi (D41035). To give it another perspective, majority of Gambians live on less than two dollars or D100 a day!
The question now is, will we make the best use of this money or will we squander it when it comes?
History is full of many lessons where countries that came out of conflict or authoritarian rule enjoyed huge international goodwill through the provision of huge loans and grants from around the world. But in that history we also know that many countries ended up squandering such international goodwill beyond imagination. The Gambia itself was one example of such wasted international goodwill following the 1981 coup which the PPP Government squandered with impunity. Another example is Liberia where the former president Helen Johnson Sirleaf also squandered huge resources from the international community such that by the time she left after 12 years in power, Liberia remains an impoverished, unequal and weak society.
Therefore we need to be alert to understand the pitfalls that can come along with such pledges. This is why CSOs and citizens as well as the Government and the National Assembly must all be vigilant to ensure that these monies, when they do come, are put to good use. We must understand that the Gambia is already a highly corrupt society with weak state institutions and processes and a largely dormant population, hence the tendency for public officials and politicians to squander public resources remains high and widespread. We therefore need Pres. Barrow himself to be extra vigilant by following the money like a hunter!
It is important that we understand that this is just a pledge; meaning the money is not physically in our Central Bank account right now. It is common for donors to make pledges only to fail to honour those pledges, either in full or with so much delay. Many factors can cause this. Some of the factors emanate from the donor itself such as its own circumstances that has nothing to do with the Gambia.
But the failure to honour pledges in full or partly or experience delay could also emanate from the Gambia Government. Donors will not easily give their money when they do not see convincing and pragmatic solutions, actions, decisions and generally good behaviour in the Government to indicate to them that their money will be well spent. Hence the Gambia Government must not think that just because a pledge was made therefore the promise will be delivered pronto. No. It is important that the Government begin to place itself on the right path in all ways to ensure that it continues to sustain the trust and confidence of the donors.
To sustain donor confidence and ensure that pledges come in full and on time, it will require therefore that the Gambia Government continue to respect and expand human rights and freedoms, abide by the rule of law, respect the independence and professionalism of state institutions, be seen to combat corruption and abuse of office, adhere to its agreed development objectives as set out in the NDP and practically be reporting to donors regularly on its decisions and actions to convince donors that indeed this is a Government that is serious and committed to its agenda hence they can release their pledges.
It is also important that the Gambia Government reports to the population the truth and avoid making promises and releasing wild statements on account of its pledge. This is because the pledges are not necessarily coming in boxes stacked with euro notes nor are the monies going to flow uninterrupted over the three-year period. Some of the pledges will be in kind while others will require the Gambia Government to contract EU consultants and companies to buy their products and services such that a lot of this money will eventually go back to Europe and other donor countries. Therefore let the Government, i.e. the president and his ministers not use this pledge to score underserved political gains by seeking to play with the minds of citizens.
This pledge comprises grants and loans, for that matter, it needs better management so that we do not squander it and then not only deny future generations a better Gambia, but also force them to pay a loan that they never enjoyed. That would be immoral and criminal on the part of the Gambia Government and Pres. Adama Barrow in particular.
We must bear in mind that while we are poised to receive this pledge at the same time we still have our usual national budget as separate revenue for the Government. Hence the Government will have no excuse not to transform the Gambia within three years because in addition to 80.7 billion dalasi from the EU, we also have at least 19 billion dalasi annually as our national budget.
Finally this pledge is for three years. Therefore at the end of the three years Gambians should expect to see, feel and touch tangible development in their lives, livelihoods, homes and communities. Hence this pledge is a life and death issue. We expect to see our healthcare delivery improved with our hospitals better equipped and the number of Gambians dying from preventable diseases or at childbirth reduce drastically. We expect to see the quality of our education improve with better salaries and conditions of work for teachers. We expect to see better roads and efficient and quality supply of electricity and water as well as efficient provision of other basic social services to most of our citizens.
Therefore fellow citizens, let us follow these monies! It is in these monies that our rights will be protected and our needs fulfilled by the Government. With these monies the Government should equip our state institutions such as the police, hospitals and schools as well as build roads and provide implements to farmers and provide many other goods and services to the people. Failure to equip these institutions means they will not be efficient and effective in protecting our rights and fulfilling our needs hence we will only continue to wallow in abuse, poverty, deprivation and general backwardness as we have experienced since independence.
Follow the Money! For the Gambia Our Homeland.