Opinion Politics

President Barrow Consider Appoint Competently, Meritious & Loyal Cabinet & Appoint an ICT Czar

In addition, consider Slash and Merging other Departments and Ministries, mainly the Information, Communication, and Infrastructure and Others.

President Barrow

Mamudu: I have asked this fundamental matter of life and death question before, “Do the Gambia Government and President Adama Barrow’s government today ever need a Minister responsible for the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure, the Department of Information Serves, and the Offices of Government Spokesperson as well Director of Press and Public Relations in his government (function overloading/ duplicate)? I was also lamenting whether President Adama Barrow also needs to have a Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, a Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Special Adviser on Digital and New Media, and New Media and Special Assistant on Social Media? I teach and research new media for a living and know for a fact that “social media” is just a component, the most significant component these days, of “new media,” which is synonymous with “digital” or “emerging” media.

So who knows if President Barrow’s next appointment will not be “Special Personal Assistant on Emerging Media and Barrow Youth Media Empowerment”? It is not bad enough that President Barrow has two people “advising” and “especially assisting” him on media and publicity; he also now has three people “specially” and “personally” “assisting” him on precisely the same thing: new/digital/social media. Therefore, I advised President Barrow to appoint an Information, Communication, and Technology Czar instead of a Ministry of Propaganda disguised as information. An ICT Czar who would manage government technology policy with respect to matters like cybersecurity, data protection, privacy, and Internet policies–basically securing government networks and keeping government agencies on the cutting edge of communications technology, bringing government into the 21st century.

Mamudu: President Adama Barrow should slash and merge some departments and ministries with similar departments and ministries with operational responsibilities realizing the value of the proper operating models with efficiency and integration; for example, the Ministry of Trade and Industry be combined with the Ministry of Finance; and Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Information Communication and Infrastructure combine with the Ministry of Higher Education with Science and Technology and the Ministry of Environment Forestry and Fisheries merge wit the Ministry of Agriculture. Suppose we are to make adequate progress in building the Gambia we all yearn for and the Gambia we all want. In that case, we must deploy into positions of responsibility people who are committed, capable people and people who have integrity.

Mamudu: One of the critical issues we must look at is the Ministry of Information Communication and Infrastructure and the Department of Information Services. Of what importance is the Information (Propaganda) Ministry in a democracy? As a state-sponsored noise and propaganda machine, the Information Communication and Infrastructure Ministry is part of the makeup of authoritarian rule of former President Yahya Jammeh inherited from the corrupt PPP administration, which should have been disbanded along with the ridiculous Department of Information Services.

After the end of the Second World War, all the occupied countries of Western Europe immediately disbanded the Ministries of Propaganda set up by chief propagandist for the Nazi Party Joseph Goebbels as part of the German occupation. The Ministry of Information, set up in Britain as part of the war effort, was disbanded within weeks of the war’s end. The Netherlands expressly forbids the setting up of any agency that might be (mis)construed as resembling a Ministry of Information. Their Constitutional Courts will rule any such thing as ultra vires.

Nevertheless, the Information Department and Ministry issue are beyond a transient monkey marionette; the structure and concept of a Ministry of Information are incompatible with democracy. It should be scrapped! The stultifying effects of the Department and Ministry of Information do not only pose a threat to constitutional government, freedom of thought, etc., as the Ministry is destructively showing but it also is not needed to manage information in an age where advances in technology are woven hand-in-glove with openness, access to and the encouragement of the free exchange of information and ideas, leading to innovation and the protection of intellectual property. China, for example, has made tremendous progress in science and technology.

However, it has to decide on the space it will give to the innovation of science, information, and technology to leap forward. Without this, it will be stomped. There is a clear limit to how much Silicon Valley-type innovation and German-type precision engineering can be achieved within an authoritarian state. This is the make or gets stalled issue that now confronts China in what will be, for the country, an influential decade ahead.

Mamudu: What lesson is in that for the Gambia? Unfortunately, for the Gambia, we are not even in the game. Faced with an anti-production “1997 Constitution” – the bugbear of a rentier state and profoundly disturbing “State Capture” (the subordination of the superstructure of the form to the group and individual interests, as opposed to the overriding common good), the Gambia is hamstrung by “diseconomies of scale.” The irony here is profound because the main attraction, as the foundation for the independent sovereign Gambia was being laid during the constitutional conferences in the 1950s and 1960s, was that an extensive configuration combining population, landmass, and so forth has the “economies of scale” to weave the synergy for dramatic transformation and emerge over time as the Gambia the African Pride.

However, sadly, events starting with the abrogation of the 1970 republican constitution in 1994, the turning of the civil and political liberties windfall into a squandered opportunity for an advance, the abandonment of development plans, destruction of the public service, and so forth have turned the perceived benefits of the economies of scale into a mirage.

Mamudu: The Department and Ministry of Information, Communication, and Infrastructure are not the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) and the Gambia Telecommunication Company Limited (GAMTEL). The Gambia government does not get it, so an antediluvian mindset is particularly grating. We are not in 1979 or the years before the information revolution when we were passive readers of newspapers and magazines and passive listeners of radio programs. Before this era, we read and listened and decided on what to believe or discard without getting involved beyond making those choices. We put whatever we read or listened to at arm’s length. That PPP-era administration of Information Ministers with the Department of Information Servies engaged and propagated the policy and ideas of more systematic information management. Why have participatory propaganda, information management strategies, and propaganda business techniques been more straightforward because they were the subjects of the PPP and Yahya Jammeh’s APRC propaganda machine that were never removed from it?

Mamudu: Today, most Gambians are engaged in citizen journalism and active participants in social media narratives. We all experience the issues as they unfold; we write, tag, comment, and share. In this era and time, the difference is that we are cognitively and emotionally invested in the narratives the government is trying too hard to control. Those narratives are part of our lived experiences, and no government or its agents alone can shape them. Information flow in the age of mobile telephony involves a fundamental shift in how human beings interact with information, knowledge, power, and authority. In the age of social media, people participate in information processing and knowledge formation in ways never done before; posting, commenting, liking, sharing, and searching.

This critical shift for the people as actors in their information consumption is what the government must learn. It is here to stay; the power of molding the narrative has been democratized. The government needs an Information Communication Technology ( ICT) Authority or Agency headed by an ICT Czar with a holistic vision for renewing E-Government Governance for the Knowledge Age who will make all government services to the citizens of the Gambia via electronic media. We need an agency and appoint an ICT Czar to expand and diversify E-Governance’s valuable and practical knowledge and application and establish a transparent, responsive. Creating a responsible ICT agency with competent and skilled personnel to develop social equity ensures the cost-effective delivery of services through a public-private partnership.

Furthermore, an ICT agency may provide an enhanced opportunity for education to achieve a vibrant technology-enabled youthful demographics to trigger the creative effervescence required for a breakthrough in science and technology to achieve a breakthrough in socio-economic and political consequences. The economic fallout, anti-investor consequences, and stalling opportunities for youth employment and job creation are no financial consequences. However, this area has shown tremendous potential to attract investment in information and communication science and technology. A vibrant technology-driven sector can create high-quality, well-paying jobs and deconstruct the present stultification and a threat to the cozy arrangements into economic prominence.

Mamudu: Using propaganda to stymie information, communication, science, and technology is a lost battle. While the struggle lasts, there is an opportunity cost. Lost investments are mounting in a country starved of jobs. The price of an antediluvian public policy influencer is horrendous. Civil society and vital components such as the organized business sector had better speak out of self-interest now. The informal sector, which has become so dependent on the new technologies, is a clear existential threat (plumbers, myriad artisans, and traders now consider belonging to WhatsApp groups, Twitter, etc., as de rigor).

Mamudu: President Adama Barrow has to slash and merge his many departments and ministries with constitutional powers. I, therefore, cannot rate the performance one way or the other. However, I published memoranda and proposals to eliminate the Department and Ministry of Information. The NPP/APRC-led coalition campaigned on the platform of change. The public service has a vital role in designing and implementing a comprehensive change program. To succeed, the public service has to realign its structure, re-engineer its processes, develop performance benchmarks and the appropriate monitoring and evaluation instruments, and link its service-delivery mechanisms with citizens’ preferences and priorities.

President Adama Barrow and his government should try to slash the number of departments and ministries and even the number of cabinet ministers by combining some departments in the process of reconfiguring the state and improving public sector efficiency challenges and opportunities, whereas President Barrow’s new government seen as an integral part of his administration to attempts to tackle the legacy of having more extraordinary powers after merging with the many numbers of departments and ministries to reduce the size of government and Cabinet ministers. This is a significant move toward downscaling the size of government. Many believe a government meant to serve 2 million people should not be bloated, which is agreed upon by a consensus. Of course, President Barrow must immediately reconfigure and slash the size of his cabinet in an ideal. However, we also see it as a process that should finally lead us to the blueprint type of government we all seek.

Mamudu: If the NPP wants to burnish its change credentials (and prove that it is genuinely committed to change), the public service ought to have been its priority. President Barrow needs to move decisively and take control of the situation fast. Appointment of competent, merit and loyalist Cabinet Ministers (as I earlier recommended) is a good starting point. With the NPP Administration getting ready for the second lap of its first-year race (with time and opponents), President Barrow’s well-wishers must prevail upon him to act fast.

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