News Politics

Why Were You Elected to the Hallowed Chamber? Parliamentarian Asking GMD 100,000 of Taxpayers’ Money for “Clothing Allowances.”

Part III.

The author, Alagi Yoro Jallow

Fatoumatta: Suppose the news story trending on social media and in the national papers that the Gambia’s National Assembly members have agreed to be paid a whopping sum of GMD 100,000, known as the “Clothing Allowance,” from the budget for every ‘Honorable’ member, in addition claiming to hefty personal car loans and constituency allowances with a plot of land allocation with an additional an attractive retirement and pension benefits and phony emoluments to each of the fifty-eight ‘Honorables’ members added on top of their monthly payments. Nevertheless, has the budget been signed into law by President Adama Barrow?

As a result, the Gambia is humiliated and impoverished. Democratic forms remain, but democracy is, in effect, dead or dying. This country is in deep trouble and sinking. Tremendous responsibility rests on the shoulders of President Adama Barrow’s leadership. True leadership cannot be defined as just being comfortable in familiar territory. Outstanding leadership shines in times of crises, sober leadership does the unexpected to soothe a nation, and negotiation does not mean one is weak.

Fatoumatta: Sitting in an office changes nothing as it only amplifies one’s sense of entitlement. Everything else rises or falls, not by being in a chair but by providing robust and pragmatic leadership while in the chair. The Executive and the Legislature must be beyond juvenile rhetoric around “Taf Yengal” and the mechanical application of our Constitution and Fiscal policy while not being true to its spirit—this is not leadership. Such activities can only be defined as politics anchored in charlatanism.

The question to be asked of the Gambian National Assembly members is: Why were you elected?

The National Assembly, as usual, has needlessly increased its member’s allowances and expenditure services. As media reports attributed the legislators allegedly enhancing their overhead cost by millions, subsumed in dubious “wardrobe allowances” and other services expenses entitlements such as a plot of land and vehicle loans and constituency and travel allowances from the National treasury as part of their pay for just being National Assembly members and ‘Honorable Representatives’ were genuine. In that case, I think the Gambian voters will have their job of citizen participation, and a democratic watchdog cut out for them. However, on the other hand, suppose these “Honorable Members” get away with this scandalous fleecing of our national wealth at the inception of the Sixth Legislature in this era of change. In that case, they will get away with every other scandal or political corruption hereafter. Therefore, now is the time to draw the line by collectively resisting this daylight robbery from the “Honorable Members.” This is neither the ruling National People’s Party (NPP) nor the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP). It is about recovering our nation back from the hands of these avaricious and greedy rascals pretending to be leaders.

Fatoumatta: Some essential hospitals and health care facilities are poorly equipped with medical consumables and equipment countrywide. Moreover, there is a shortage of medical consumables and medical types of equipment, and doctors’ and nurses’ overtime allowances are unpaid on time. The last time I checked, there was no cancer specialist, a trained hematologist, or a Gambian-trained oncologist in the Gambia. However, there is no premier cancer-treatment hospital in the Gambia; other first-class cancer treatment centers are unavailable. There are schools without fully furnished libraries with books. There are schools in the urban and rural Gambia without affordable public transportation for students, and there are disadvantaged students who need a little scholarship to pull through their studies.

Fatoumatta: The question to be asked of the Gambian National Assembly members is: Why were you elected? The answer is to solve problems like a leader, not to solve issues in the quick-fix style be greed and selfishness ‘Honorables.’ You were elected primarily for one purpose: deep thinking. Having taken the oath of office, it is your job to do critical, creative, empowering, and visionary thinking and then translate your thoughts into plans and actions that transform your people’s lives.

Most of you are well-educated with international experience. Now you have the power and platform to push for significant economic and political reforms and end the money-pit traditions that enforce a cycle of poverty. So do all this!

How can you agree to be paid for a wardrobe allowance from the National Budget? Is this exactly why you were elected? Let Gambian voters get angry and hate you for being insensitive to the plight of the poor, as you are clearly showing them with your irresponsible attitude. You must think and rectify the budget so that the electorate begins to value voting for candidates with better plans.

Nobody knows where we are headed without a leadership worth its name to guide or direct us. The social contract between our political leaders and their followers has collapsed. Fundamental issues of far-reaching significance are churning beneath the placid surface of life. The Adama Barrow government is a vacuum presiding over chaos, and politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If the politicians do not get their act together quickly, we shudder to think about what might rush into this void. Revolution is a gamble involving impossibilities. It occurs when an administration breaks down. For example, years of anarchy followed the breakdown of the administration that dethroned former president Yahya Jammeh.

Fatoumatta: In this atmosphere of gloom and doom, there are new waves of changes around us. We are a country in a decline that is not terminal or irreversible but is still a decline. Unfortunately, our political system, dominated by a handful of power-hungry, corrupt leaders, seems incapable of producing long-range answers to our problems. Unless we soon pull down the evil, decrepit, dilapidated superstructure, the ultimate disaster of chaos is inescapable. I would say to those who govern that it is not their job to be liked. As for the “Honorable” members, Oh, it is your job to check and scrutinize the executives, as you already know. It is your job to fight against small thinking and show tough love and love!

However, the Gambia’s Debt is well over a billion dalasis and takes up 50% of the revenue for debt servicing. As people’s representatives, your job is to figure out how to increase national wealth and not how to be continuing acting like a walking social welfare ATM.

Fatoumatta: What is expected of the Gambia’s lawmakers, whose only need is just legislation that will make their potential realizable? It is pretty funny how these lawmakers determine what their people want. For example, some communities only need a functional borehole to provide clean water. How much does it cost to sink a borehole? Some require a couple of antibiotics, mosquito-treated nets, and some analgesics in their primary health centers to survive… However, they do not cost much.

Folks, our representatives need to be up and doing. Most do not know why the people even elected them in the first instance. They are there to feather their own financial nest, and when it is election time, you see them bringing some crumbs to you as returns…If you vote them in again, you have shrunk your capacity for self-growth and development for the next four years. Be vigilant!

Fatoumatta: Over the years, our parliament has acquired notoriety for such predilection, triggering avoidable stand-off between the Legislature and the Executive. The country cannot continue to tread this crooked path. The action is tantamount to selfishness and abuse of legislative powers. How can the National Assembly ask for an extra GMD100,000 as “clothing allowances” instead of asking for constituency projects?

Regardless of the spurious wardrobe allowance claim to its legality, we know that such phony allowances and ideas in the Gambia are steeped in obscene corruption. Since President Adama Barrow came to power in January 2017, our scandal-plagued Legislature has held President Barrow hostage over budget implementation, especially on travel and wardrobe allowances, personal loans, and projects. The Yahya Jammeh Presidency, as gritty as it was, almost crashed for failing to do the lawmakers’ bidding in this regard.

‘Wardrobe allowance’ idea is one of the evils weakening the country’s structure. How can the “Honorable” parliamentarians be involved in asking for plots of land, personal loans, and loans for vehicles in millions affected is not a 100,000-Dalasi.

Instead of stirring up controversy yearly with hefty loans, plots of land, and attractive retirement pensions benefits, lawmakers’ interests would be best served by making the government and local government areas work through legislative activism or engineering. Unfortunately, however, the so-called “wardrobe allowance” idea falls within the greed and selfishness of lawmakers of political corruption.

Fatoumatta: This is daylight robbery of the people by their so-called elected leaders in a so-called democracy such as ours! This unblushing selfishness and rapacity are unconscionable. Is any National Assembly member currently leading the efforts seeking a cut on their payments? I do not know of any opposition or independent lawmakers in the National Assembly that kicked against the unreasonable and outrageous pay cheques our hedonistic legislators are collecting. I would have expected opposition lawmakers from UDP and PDOIS to rise in unison to reject these undeserving rewards at the expense of the people. If they never did. Morally, they are tarred with the same brush as other legislators.

Regarding greed and selfishness, parliamentarians cannot claim superior morality over executive salaries and compensations. The salaries and allowances of our political office holders are notoriously manifested in the hefty pay cheques of our lawmakers. They are inconsistent with the principle of selfless service. It is absurd that a Gambian legislator is rewarded twice higher as a High Court judge! One great thinker said: “If you’re deriving advantage at the expense of those you’re serving, you are no longer serving them.” Nothing can be further from the truth.

Fatoumatta: This is not the only area where the National Assembly has consistently failed the nation. Since 2017 when The Gambia returned to democracy, it has been unable to truly exercise its function of maintaining checks and balances in government, especially in curbing public sector corruption. Its story, instead, has been a harvest of criminal corruption scandals – the bribe-for-budget scam, alleged padding of the budget and deals in budgetary slacks, etc. Nowhere is the fact that our lawmakers are corrupt and ineffective more evident than in the COVID-19 fund scandal and the non-transparent sale of former President Yahya Jammeh’s assets and property. However, despite the breadth of evidence of corruption in the audit reports and the handling of the Janneh Commission report recommendations, some people still sit pretty in the “hallowed” chamber without the audacity to call for investigations on alleged public sector corruption in the government. This is deplorable. Our Legislature may soon be turned into a gallery of rogues if nothing is done.

However, the National Assembly has a long and sordid history of dishonorable acts from some “Honorable members” who, during the previous Legislature, received brand new vehicles from a faceless donor or allegedly from the Executive without due procedure. In addition, some National Assembly members have been accused of a history of corruption and waste. Without putting its oversight powers into a compelling use for the common good, the National Assembly has watched conspiratorially as the country’s natural resources, such as a rapacious cabal is despoiling gas and sand mining wealth; it neither knows how much is made from the sand mining industry nor ensures that what is produced is transparently accounted for by managers of the economy.

The only thing our gobbling lawmakers do well is fattening their paycheques by awarding themselves outrageous allowances. As a result, Gambian parliamentarians are the highest-paid in the Gambia, earning more than even those in the private sector for doing too little.

It is a shame, a big one for that matter, that our legislators collect hefty allowances and live in luxury without qualms in a country where the minimum wage is less than $100 per month, and basic infrastructure and service delivery are alien to good governance.

Fatoumatta: It is a travesty that the National Assembly has not thought it fit to review some archaic laws that allow corrupt officials to escape justice with a slap on the wrist. The reforms and good policies promised by the government can make a difference in the economy if they have passed the law. Instead, though the national assembly has oversight powers, the country’s businesses are unconscious, just as the seaport metamorphosed into a “Bermuda Triangle” as ships are plucked from the River Gambia due to the cutting of corners in the ports sector; our road networks have become death traps, while electricity has become a rarity. Therefore, the National Assembly has failed Gambians; nothing provides an eloquent testament to this other than the infrastructural ruins that blotch our national landscape.

However, we see no evidence that national Assembly Speaker Fabakary Tombong Jatta is ready to use his leadership position to reverse the ugly trend. Like the stunning failures of its predecessors, the Sixth Legislature has little to be proud of. Though it is said that every legislative session ends with notable achievements and glaring disappointments, the Gambia’s parliament always ends in shame. This legislative session will also be remembered more for its failures.

However, Gambians must be ready to end this aberration. First, we need a complete systemic transformation of the legislative arm of government. As the arm of government that defines democracy, the people themselves should ensure that the Legislature is made effective and responsive. It is time the leadership of the National Assembly is told that the country would no longer continue to bear the raft of waste that the emoluments of 58 lawmakers symbolize. This kind of self-indulgence has inspired calls from some quarters for the country to adopt a part-time unicameral legislature.

Fatoumatta: Since public sector corruption is the Gambia’s most significant and enduring challenge, our parliament must be genuinely seen as a hallowed chamber, peopled by men and women of integrity. This is a sure way to win the battle against the raging sleaze. However, is the exceedingly high cost of democracy in the Gambia worth it? How long will Gambians continue to shut their eyes to this callous reality? Lest we forget the definition of marginality, which is “the loss of rights through self-inflicted underdevelopment” What the Gambia urgently needs is a fundamental overhaul in the distribution of “democracy dividends” The restructuring our nation requires is in the political system that perpetuates a skewed reward system. This facilitates massive corruption in the public sector by what a famous musician describes as “Vagabonds in Power,” creating the enabling environment for underdevelopment and poverty to thrive continuously. Moreover, as we continue to fight over the shadow of ethnicity and religion, the substance of the land has been steadily eaten by a parasitic few.

Fatoumatta: Let us be reminded: a few Gambians want to benefit from “welfare, settlement,” or “connections” from politics and politicians who entrench a system that further enslaves us and our future generations.

“In the realm of power, everything must be judged by its cost. What is offered free is dangerous – it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation” read 48 Laws of Power.

However, some of our political leaders and senior civil servants involved in decision-making are smart. However, some appear to live in a very rarefied environment and rarely meet ordinary citizens. As the Americans say, you need to monitor the daily pulse of the people face to face. How can you afford to be passive spectators of events? You cannot fail to see the rising spectra of a fragile Gambia helplessly stumbling into a catastrophe. It is not enough to sit back and let history evolve slowly. To settle back into your cold-hearted acceptance of the status quo is no longer an option for the ordinary Gambian.

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