By Kebba Jeffang
The Gambian President, Adama Barrow has assured the consideration of salary adjustment next year as he addressed journalists at a presidential press conference at State House on Tuesday, 14th August.
He also commented on several other pertinent issues including the intensifying land conflicts, the telecommunication gateway, and angry response to Dr. Ismaila Ceesay.
You can read verbatim responses of the president below on some of the issues discussed.
According to former Minister of Information, Communications and Infrastructure, Demba Ali Jawo, the country was losing D800,000 as a result of gateway failure. This was since the government decided to terminate the contract of the MGI and handed it to the country’s telecommunications institution, Gamtel.
Barrow’s response: There is a lot of history attached to the gate. Since we came to power, it was a big issue, it becomes everybody’s business. Everybody was coming to President’s office to make suggestions, discussions about the gateway. It was a very difficult situation but as president, I make sure I make the right decisions. In making the right decision, I needed advice. I called my team and the advice was to set up an inquiry. We set up the inquiry with people we feel have knowledge about technology; that’s Bakary Nyang, Kebbeh and others. The inquiry was set up and there were recommendations. The recommendation is let us terminate the gateway contract and Gamtel will manage it for six months then we tender it. That process is on, the tender process is on. We realised very well that The Gambia is losing. But it is a very difficult situation and very technical but as at now, the tender process is going on and I have discussed with the Minister of Information to partner with other companies that have capacity to build the capacity of the institution. That is the process that is going on so that we can stop the leakages and to ascertain what the losses are as far as the gateway is concerned.
Consultation with Coalition partners on term extension
I think I don’t need to discuss with anybody. I don’t need to discuss with coalition members about three years or five years. When we said transition period there are things we wanted to do. I don’t think we should go for elections just for the sake of elections. We are here to correct the system and in correcting that system we have to follow the process. That process is we needed to review the Constitution. That’s one. We needed to set up a Commission of Inquiry and it is going on, we need to set up other commissions also. That is the TRRC (Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission), that is also going on.
I think these are processes we need to follow before everybody is jumping saying we should go into elections after three years. That’s not the issue, the issue is let us correct the system first. We put good laws first, reform the process, level the playing field then we go into elections. We have credible elections, I think that is the most important thing but the three years, five years is not important thing. What is important is to reform the process to make sure we rectify the system.
For twenty-one years the system was polluted, we have to correct that and I want all Gambians to be part of that that process. Let us join together to make sure we support that process so that we get a very good system in place and we can proceed with elections.
Since the incident happened, my Secretary General has been engaging Social Security and also with my team to see how best we can solve this problem. We wanted the board to handle the situation. There were complaints that part of the board is bias. Now we have set an independent inquiry to look into it and make a decision.
Crisis in GFF
I think this football problem has been going on for long with the former and the new minister. Our stance as a government we want to be on the same wave-length with FIFA. We don’t want to be suspended. We will work with FIFA to solve the problem. This is not a government issue alone. FIFA must be involved. There were other problems in other countries. During Jawara’s time there were problems and Gambia was suspended. We don’t want to involve in such things. We want to make sure we are together with FIFA to solve this problem.
UN Advice on Mile 2 Prisons?
I don’t think, there is body, there is no institution; there is no organization that will dictate government to close Mile 2 prisons. We are very concerned about Mile 2, that’s why when I came to power we decongested the prisons. And we made proposals to build a new prison for a correction center.
The plan is ready but we want funding. People will say the prison is very bad but we want funding. We are trying to get funds for the past six months we have been doing this and as I speak now, there is no pledge about the prisons. This is the situation and the government doesn’t have the money to do that but we are more than willing because the political will is there to build a new prison, a standard prison for that matter.
The process is ongoing. We have a security adviser who is working on this security sector reform. Security sector is a very important area for this government. It is an institution that is very important and the system was polluted for twenty-two years. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes. We want to make the right decisions.
We are waiting for the team that is working on it and we are waiting for the white paper. If we get the white paper that is the time we will know what is going to be our next move. The process has started, we started the training and also with the military we have started checking the records. This is the process that is going on and it is all part of the security reform. But we need finance also because we need to reduce the size of the army.
When I mentioned this people were making a lot of analysis about Banjul-Barra bridge. There are a lot of investors around the world who are very innovative, they are creative and they know how to make money. And those investors want to partner with Gambia government to build the bridge and they are taking all expenses. This is a model that we call BOT (Build Operate and Transfer).
This is not for Gambia government bringing their money but it is investors. And I think every genuine Gambian should support this project. This should be a land mark project for Gambia. This should connect Banjul and Barra. Barra will be an extension of Banjul. Even people who work here coming from Baddibu and other places can travel from Baddibu to come to work in Banjul.
Reaction to Dr. Ismaila Ceesay
I don’t want to talk about a personality especially Dr. Ismaila Ceesay. He has been a critique of this government. But I have asked a lot of people this question and I am still waiting for the answer. There was a system here for twenty-two years, the system was so bad that a lot of people had to leave this country to live in exile. A lot of people lost their lives. A lot of people were incarcerated because of the system. People were afraid to come out and challenge the system.
When our leader Ousainou Darboe was jailed, we opened an application, we advertised for the position. Let people apply especially intellectuals. Apply to contest against Yahya Jammeh. Where were they? You know how many applications we received? Three applications, one nurse from MRC and one Bou Jarju. I was not an applicant by the way but people came to me, for me to apply because they trusted me; because I was in that party and I was an executive member. I was managing their finances and they have trust in me.
I used to live in Europe myself, I came back from Europe to establish my own business. I established my business in 2006, I was bringing a lot of money. But there are a lot of intellectuals who were stacked in the system, they folded their hands, they became beggars because they were not innovative. They couldn’t create anything for themselves. Yes I am a high school graduate but I was able to create something for myself.
I was able to create employment for Gambians in this country and I was successful. That’s why people trusted me to contest the elections. I was brave enough. I contributed more than Dr. Ceesay as far as this change is concerned.
My tour with the UDP, our bill was 1.5 million Dalasis, I contributed 80 percent of the bill to make sure we go on that tour and that tour made the change in this country. And I was brave enough to stand against Yahya Jammeh. But it is very easy to stand at your corner and criticize. It’s cheap. They want cheap popularity.
But today, it is because we stood up against Yahya Jammeh, against dictatorship until we were able to make change, that is why some of them now have the platform to go and sit down in a corner and criticize and talk about intellectuals, PhD holders. Where were they? When we needed them, where? This is the question we should ask ourselves. Where were they? What did they create? What was there success? What did they do at that time? When I talk about this I lose my temper, I get irritated. Where was he? Dr. Ismaila, when we open that door for everybody. But my friend, it was difficult at that time. It was a matter of now or never, it was a matter of dead or alive. We were on the line to make sure we change the system that was here. Indeed we changed the system and we now want to correct that system. That is what we are doing.
When I was coming back here, I didn’t seek for any job. I didn’t seek for any employment. I created my own thing. Where was Dr. Ceesay by then? Where was he? What did he do for this country? Now that the platform is open for everybody, you can just sit at your corner and say anything. But when things were like that, when Yahya Jammeh was threatening to attack my camp, where were they? When Yahya Jammeh was on TV to say he had rejected the results, where were they? We are ready to defend this change to make sure we change the laws, we bring in good laws in this country and we open the platform for everybody. One thing they cannot take from me, I am the one who made the change. Nobody will tell you I sponsored Adama Barrow. There is nobody in this country that will tell you I gave him money. No!
Even with the Coalition, when we were crossing Barra, I paid to cross the vehicles because we did not have money to cross. And throughout the tour wherever, we have financial problems they come to me, I was the one solving the problem. After the elections, people wanted to take us to police I gave the money to solve the problem. Where was Dr. Ceesay? But now he has the mouth to talk. You said you are a doctor, you are a political analyst, and what were you doing? Where was he, Dr. Ceesay? That’s what I want to know. It is very unfortunate that we have Gambians who are conniving to confuse everybody, you call yourself intellectuals. If you are an intellectual, create your own thing, we see you doing it and succeed in it.
It was very unfortunate that when I came into government, these big positions Permanent Secretaries, Director Generals, if you look at the salary, it didn’t match at all. This has been stagnant for years but it is unfortunate that when we came we have less than one month import cover in our coffers. We have to build our economy and as at now we are getting stronger because we have up to four months import cover. I think by next year, we will consider increasing salaries. Definitely!
I will find out from the Minister of Agriculture but as far as I am concerned fertilizer is available. I don’t know where you are getting your information from. It is available as at now because we get the stock in place. When we were on tour the supply was going on so it should be available. But I will find out.
Land Commission will be instituted very soon. But all of these things we need finance because political will is there to do it. We have identified where the problems are and we are going to establish the commission very soon to solve the problems once and for all.
Criticizing the Media
I think we have created the environment for journalists. The opportunity you are given today that was not here for the past twenty-two years. We want constructive criticism. People criticize us and we understand that. Don’t just go to the corner and start criticizing us for the sake of criticism only. There are positive things that we are doing. Yesterday, I asked this question: I have not seen any journalists who are reporting about the road construction that is going on between Laminkoto and Passamas and this is a big project 120 kilometres. The Jambanjelly road is ready now. Nobody is reporting about it. A land mark project; that is the bridge and no journalist is writing positively about that bridge. These are big projects. 100 million dollars two bridges and 50 kilometre roads. Are you talking about that? We have to be constructive, we have to balance. If you criticize, please it is good sometimes to be positive. That is the only way we can take this country forward. It is not by polluting the peoples’ minds because there are people who feel that they want to be president. There are people who feel that they are over-qualified to be president. It doesn’t benefit anybody, it doesn’t benefit the president and it doesn’t benefit the citizens of this country.
Fate of Ex CDS Badjie
We have now appointed him as a military attaché to China. That has already been confirmed and endorse, he will soon leave for China,” the Gambian leader said.