By Madi Jobarteh
On April 3 the National Assembly approved a 45-day state of public emergency proposed by the Government. This is now 12 days ago. Before April 3, Pres. Barrow had first unconstitutionally declared a state of public emergency on March 18. He never sought any extension from the National Assembly after 7 days which should have been on March 24 but had the audacity to extend it on his own with a national address on March 27. This was a clear violation of the Constitution which is an impeachable offense.
Meantime on 19 March 2020 the same President declared that he is providing 500 million dalasi to the fight against Coronavirus. Yet until today no one knows where this money is coming from and what and where it is to be spent. But the Minister of Finance said the entire money was for health? Why?
The appropriate thing to do in terms of accessing and spending that money, in line with the Constitution, was to submit an appropriation bill before the National Assembly for approval. Alternatively, the Government could have created a Contingencies Fund in line with the Constitution to access this money. Interestingly none of the above was done until today.
Even though the National Assembly has set up a committee to oversee the implementation of the state of public emergency they are yet to receive any information on the resources allocated for the fight against the pandemic. The news that World Bank and IMF had provided millions of dollars in grants and loans are yet to be explained to Gambians how the Government intends to use the money.
We also know that the Government had banned foreign travels since March 13 which means additional money available to the Government. It is also true that Jack Ma Foundation has provided thousands of materials for the fight against Corona while political parties, businesses, individual citizens and groups continue to raise awareness and providing food and hand washing materials to families, communities and institutions. All of these are resources and opportunities to enable the Government to judiciously and effectively use its own resources in other areas in better combating this virus.
But what is the agenda of this Government? Yes, Coronavirus is a health issue but it’s impact far surpasses health. The state of public emergency declared by the President imposes regulations that strict movement, closes down businesses and greatly reduces opportunities and source of livelihood for thousands of Gambians as in any other country around the world. This is why every other government around the world is making frantic efforts to address life and livelihood needs of their citizens. Yet it is now 12 days since the declaration of a public emergency and the Gambia Government is yet to address the impact of the disease on Gambians.
In neighboring Senegal and beyond, we see how governments are giving food and paychecks and other forms of compensation, tax breaks and concessions to individuals, families, communities, businesses and institutions. Why is the Gambia Government not doing the same? Is it that Pres. Barrow is not aware that Gambians are facing severe circumstances due to his state of public emergency? Why is the National Assembly still waiting on the President to fulfill his urgent duties under the circumstances? How could you tell Gambians to stay home and limit most of their livelihoods yet you leave them helpless!
It is clear that the opposition parties are demonstrating better and stronger leadership in this time of national crisis than the President himself. In Senegal the President even had to invite political party and religious leaders to the Presidential Palace to discuss concerted efforts to combat this disease. In Ghana we see how the entire Government are in the forefront in the fight against the pandemic. Everyday series of Cabinet ministers with their technocrats would converge in the Ministry of Information to tell Ghanaians how they are addressing the situation in order to make life less stressful.
But in the Gambia the entire Government left the whole fight with only the Minister of Health. No one hears or sees anymore the Vice President or Ministers while the President spoke only three times since this pandemic broke out in the world! May we ask what is the agenda of Pres. Adama Barrow really? How can any responsible government wash off its hands from its citizens in the most trying time in the life of the country?!
Citizens must rise up to demand their NAMs and the Government to show leadership, transparency and efficiency in the fight against Coronavirus. Their efforts so far are hugely inadequate. We need to know where the monies are coming from, how much and on what it is to be spent. Once again let us not let our complacency, partisanship and indifference harm us.