By Kebba Jeffang & Aja Musu Bah Daffeh
The president of the republic Mr. Adama Barrow on Saturday, 28th January, 2016 held his first ever face to face interaction with members of the press. This comes after his inauguration as the 3rd president of the Gambia under the second republic.
The press conference was held at his official residence in Brufut that gave both to local and international journalists’ opportunity to pose questions directly to him regarding his plans, possible challenges in rebuilding the economy, human rights, media and the improvement on livelihoods and welfare of Gambians.
He first confirmed that he will be living at his residence until he gets clearance to move to the State House. He also said there is no time set for ECOMIG presence in the Gambia as they are on a mission and they will leave anytime their services are no longer needed in the country.
President Barrow informed that his cabinet will be officially announced on either Monday or Tuesday as they are ready to set the ball rolling. He also informed that on Monday, information will be given on the state of the Gambian economic.
Addressing the controversial appointment of Vice President Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang, the president asserted that the appointment of his number 2 is based on the constitution of the Gambia, noting that if anyone has an objection to that let the person bring authentic document to justify his/her claim.
On the allegation of whether former president Jammeh has actually emptied the state coffers, the president said he is not in a position to say anything on that until they conduct investigation on the matter. He added that the minister of Finance and Economic Affairs under the former government should be the better person to address on that at this point.
Concerning the names of the proposed Think-tank committee members, Barrow promised to release the names of such committee either on Monday or Tuesday when the cabinet list will be released too.
He asserted that they have won the election in the platform of democracy adding that they will make sure they establish stronger democracy in the country whereby everything will be based on and to help to solve all the human problems in the country.
Talking about the Gambia’s greatest challenges, President Barrow said there was a government that served for 22 years thus to change the government after that long period must be characterized by challenges. He however indicated that to remedy the situation, his government will look at the system and make a complete overhaul.
On justice for the victims of the past government “there will be truth and reconciliation commission that will be mandated to do a review and make a report and base on that report there will be recommendations which we will respect. When you get to do anything I think you get to the truth first and then you reconcile. The mandate of this commission is very wide; they will examine everything and make a report then base on that the government will act.”
He reiterated that there will be overhaul and reform of the Constitution in order to return to the principle of democracy immediately.
On whether he will be completely revamping the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) as a state security apparatus that had been carrying out series of arbitrary arrests, detention and inhumane treatment on people during Jammeh’s regime, the new president responded “NIA is a state institution and will remain but its function and the name will be changed to ensure that it works according to law.” He emphasized that the officers of the new intelligent agency will receive requisite training in order to be more professional.
Asked whether his government will be tolerant to its opponents such as the former ruling APRC and the newest political party GDC, he said “we took this country on democratic principle and we will make sure we continue on that line and there will be complete reform on all the democratic processes in this country. And I think if you get that the field will be level for everybody and the truth and reconciliation will unite everybody.”
Responding to a question whether his government will adhere to the verdict of the ECOWAS court in Abuja that ordered the Gambia government to compensate two Gambian journalists in the persons of Chief Ebrima Manneh and Musa Saidykhan, Barrow said his government will consult his experts for advice on that issue before taking any decision.
He thanked Senegal for accommodating thousands of Gambians during the political crisis in the country for what he described as ‘a good-will gesture’ from the sister country of Senegal. He assured that the relationship between the two countries will be very fine as both speak the same languages, have the same lifestyle and shared a lot in common.
Asked whether he will appoint more Gambians to take up jobs at the judiciary, he replied “You will see a lot of Gambians in the judiciary sector but if there is a need for any technical assistance outside I think we will welcome that also”.
President Barrow said with strong democratic institutions and principles in place, corruption will be minimizing, adding “that’s exactly what my government wishes to do.”
On the issue whether he will return the country to ICC, he said the Gambia government will not be removed from the ICC because the international tribunal is based on democratic principle and that is what the Gambia is opting to be.
Mr. Barrow assured the media fraternity a new beginning of freedom of the press in the Gambia. “I think since 1st of December, you have seen a change on that. I think the media is more comfortable now than before and we will look at the media bill so that there will be reform in that areas to make sure people are informed. In a country where people are informed they are enlightened and that is what we need in our society,” he said.
Would his ministers declare their assets before official appointment? “I think all my ministers will declare their assets because even myself when I was contesting I declared my asset. So in the interest of transparency and accountability that will happen,” he assured.
He informed that General Ousman Bargie, the current Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) will remain as the army chief while another position is created for General Massaneh Kinteh as a military aide. He said “Kinteh has a verse experience and knowledge of the military and there is a place where we need him that is why we created that place. This will make sure he advises the government on military issues.”
On the arbitrary closure of the radios and newspapers on the account of mere executive directive by the ex- president, Barrow said “the issue of executive directives in this country is over. There will be no directives, what we will do is we will follow the rule of law because in democracy you have to follow the rule of law. When you say executive directive it always make jobs very difficult for everybody and we don’t want to use our powers.”
Concerning the Gambia’s failure to qualify for continental tournaments, the new president described it as ‘unfortunate’ noting that the Gambia was at a level higher than a lot of countries and now it went below them. He promised the setting up of a committee that will work towards strategizing to ensure dreams for sports particularly football is realized soon.
On Casamance crisis he said, “MFDC is a Casamance issue that has been on for years and I think the Gambia and Senegal are all the same. If there is a problem in the Gambia the same will reflect in Senegal. You can see during the short period of conflict how many people had fled to Senegal. So we will always cooperate with Senegal to resolve the problem in Casamance.”
Also on whether the Gambia Armed Forces will be reoriented to have more professionalism in their dealings with the public, he said reform will affect all sectors of the country including the GAF as they will request from superior countries a lot of technical trainings for the personnel if necessary.
On plans for young people of the Gambia, “my government is committed to that and we want to bring a system that will create jobs. In the creation of jobs we want businesses to open in this country and if that happens that will help. We are looking in the fishing industry because it has not been exploited by the Gambians and this we will work on. We also want the businessmen to go into production (light industry) and selling. Manufacturing will be prioritized because buying is a liability; we want people to go into production and create jobs and compete in the market. The youth will enjoy in this because they are the labour force”.
“We are not coming up with a new Constitution but we will be continuing with the current one with amendments,” said the president.
He said they will revisit the four days working week because from 8am to 6pm is a long period that is hard to bear and before you get home it is late. “I think we will come back to the five days that will be preferable to many Gambians.”
On the importance of tourism in the Gambia’s economy, President Barrow said tourism contributes 20% of the GDP. He said they want to improve the tourism sector so that it can be all year round.
On international relations, he said The Gambia will open up to the global world because the Gambia cannot be left isolated and the government will respect all protocols. He said the Gambia will return to the Commonwealth of Nations as soon as possible.
On his term, he said he will serve for three years in accordance with the coalition agreement depending on whether the job will be finished in 3 years, but that depends on the Coalition. He was responding to a question showing a contradiction between the three years he wishes to serve and the five year term of the Constitution.