By Nelson Manneh

Hon. Ousman Sillah, the National Assembly Member (NAM) for Banjul North, on Friday 13 October 2017, formally handed over 150 bags of donated rice from the People’s Republic of China, to the Department of Social Welfare for onward distribution to the vulnerable and needy, residing within his constituency.

“I was informed that there is rice from PR China for the people of the Gambia and that part of this is donated to the people within my constituency. And as the NAM, I was asked to come forward to receive the bags for distribution to those who are in need,” said the Banjul North NAM.

Hon. Sillah said he was told by the National Assembly Member for Banjul Central, Hon. Muhammed Ndow, that he was tasked by the Ministry of Agriculture, to coordinate the collection and distribution of the bags of donated rice to his National Assembly colleagues in Banjul North and South. He said the Banjul Central NAM informed him that 500 bags were given to Banjul and that out of this number, 150 bags were for Banjul North. He said the bags meant for his constituency were stored somewhere and he had to pay for the transportation and labour to collect and deposit them at the Social Welfare Department. “I could have simply given the rice to the people who were part of my campaign team or those who are close to me for them to distribute. This is what has been happening with the Yaye Compins, party chairmen, being involved. I could have done that or even involve myself in the actual distribution,” said the Banjul North NAM. “My conviction is that we want a Gambia where we will not be depending on food aid from anywhere. We want to build a Gambia where every Gambian will be able to work, earn income and buy a bag of rice. But unfortunately, this is not the situation we are living in and that’s the reality,” he said.

Hon. Sillah said he is involved in politics because he wants to see an end to poverty, hunger and destitution. “This is the change we want but since it has not yet materialised, we can receive support from here and there and it is not bad to be involved in it, but if I were to do the distribution and give it to the members of my team, then it may not be equitable or fair and at the end of the day I would be blamed, as you know that the 150 bags of rice given is insufficient,” explained the Banjul North NAM. “How many people in Banjul North are in need of this rice?” he asked. Hon. Sillah said this is one of the considerations that had prompted him to give the rice to Social Welfare for distribution to those who really need it in the constituency.

He said Social Welfare is a Government institution that is purposely created for such issues. “We all know that anybody who complains about difficulties in feeding their families, the education of their children, such as the widows, single parents, the destitute, etc., is directed to the Social Welfare to solve their problems and I know that Social Welfare is in a ministry that is not adequately funded and that within the same ministry, it is the department that is worst off in terms of resource allocation,” said Hon. Sillah.

He said Government should take cue from this by channelling food aid of this nature from henceforth to the department of Social Welfare for a fair and equitable distribution to those who are really in need of such support. “This requires the institution to be adequately resourced, its staff capacitated and the services decentralised with fully functioning offices opened in all the regional centres to enable it to effectively discharge its statutory functions,” he added.

He said the department has the mechanism to identify those who are in need and to facilitate the fair and equitable distribution of the rice to those within Banjul North constituency. “What I’ve also done is to identify two representatives from each of the three Wards in the Constituency to assist the Social Welfare staff in identifying those who satisfy the criteria they have established for eligible recipients,” he added. He concluded that he was not going to eat a single grain of the rice as it is not meant for him.

In receiving the rice on behalf of the Director of Social Welfare, Mr. Sainey Camara thanked the National Assembly Member for Banjul North for the trust and confidence bestowed in the department to the extent of entrusting them with the responsibility of identifying and distributing the donated rice to the needy in his constituency. “As he has said, he could have done the distribution on his own or even give it to his close associates but had instead decided to give it to the institution that is best suited for the purpose, for fair and equitable distribution to the needy in his constituency,” said the Social Welfare Department official.

Mr. Camara assured that they will be working closely with the representatives from the wards in order to ensure that the rice is fairly distributed to those who need it. “We have prepared forms which the identified beneficiaries will be filling out to determine their eligibility and our staff will also be going out to the homes in order to check the conditions,” he said. Mr. Camara noted that the people who are going to be given priority are the orphans, widows, single parent families, the physically challenged and large households.

Reacting to the approach being taken by the Banjul North NAM in distributing the rice, Ismaila Sanneh, one of the beneficiaries, said this is the first of its kind as it has never happened in Banjul North. “In the past, we have been hearing about rice, sugar brought for distribution to the people but we have never received anything because when it comes, it is distributed among party militants,” he said. Mr. Sanneh said the bag of rice he will be receiving is going to help him in feeding his extended family who entirely depend on him. “I have my family and brothers who are not working and this rice will go a long way in supporting us,” he added. “I want to thank Hon. Sillah for distributing the rice this way to ensure that it reaches the needy. He is an exemplary National Assembly Member who really cares for the people and I hope others would emulate his example,” said the happy looking beneficiary. Those who witnessed the presentation included some of the identified beneficiaries and the social welfare officials.

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