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Opinion: President Barrow defends his “Turning Point” Proclamation

Amid pomp and pageantry, President Adama Barrow delivered his annual State of the Nation Address in which he outlined his government’s performance, legislative agenda, policy concerns and matters of national significance.

It was quite evident that President Barrow is fully aware of the criticisms leveled at him that he’s been increasingly aloof and disconnected from the masses and that his popularity has been in free fall. Therefore, he seized the opportunity to paint a rosy picture of the state of affairs by touting his achievements and staunchly defending his proclamation that the year 2019 would be a “turning point.”

In a marathon speech, the Gambian leader pointed out that the economy has grown from 4.8% in 2017 to 6.5% in 2018, that expenditure and lending have declined, that the dividends of his economic policies are filtering down to every citizen and resident of the Gambia and that the future will be better and brighter. The President referred to the multimillion infrastructural projects currently underway, the 50% salary increase for civil servants, the 100% pension increase, the availability and affordability of food, the consistent provision of electricity and the emergence of new political parties. Mr. Barrow equally credited his Government for upholding values of democracy, justice and independence of the judiciary. In fact, the President described the cancellation of the OIC Summit in 2019 as the only setback for his Government!

On the other hand, critics argued that the President’s speech leaves much to be desired. According to Madi Jobarteh, a leading activist and critic of the Barrow-led Government, the President’s speech was both inadequate and misleading. Mr. Barrow has been accused of deliberately skipping burning national issues, such as the passport saga and the mounting calls on him to step down after three years in power.

Surprisingly, the NDP that the President made a centrepiece of his government’s development agenda was mentioned in the passing without any reference to the challenges scuppering its implementation amid official confirmation of funding constraints. The Standard has recently quoted the director general of the department of strategic policy and delivery at the Office of the President, Alhagie Nyangado, as admitting that the National Development Plan is faced with serious funding problems due to the country’s inability to access new loans.

As a highly indebted nation, the President has failed to tell Gambians about his plans to reduce dependence on foreign loansand grants to pursue development aspirations.

Media has recently reported several alleged corruption cases involving certain government officials. President Barrow promised that an Anti-Corruption Commission bill would be tabled before Parliament by December 2018, but he admitted in his speech that the bill wasn’t brought to Parliament owing to further reviews. The Gambian leader vowed the bill would be tabled in December.

Despite the fact that the agriculture sector accounts for 22% of GDP, the President’s address was short of concrete details as to how to revitalize this key sector of the economy.

On foreign affairs, President Barrow did not make a major foreign policy announcement for he made general reference to bilateral and multilateral relations in addition to the existing partnership with China and the EU, in particular.

Though the youth make up about 65% of the population, the speech did not specify any tangible remedy for the myriad of challenges they are faced with. He also failed to spell out mechanisms to stem the perilous backway immigration.

The past year has witnessed caste-based clashes between the so-called servants and masters but the President chose to sweep this sensitive issue under the carpet.

Admitting that change was the main reason for his election, the President enumerated a catalogue of reforms his Government has instituted and made a particular reference to the creation of Strategy, Policy and Delivery Unit at the Office of the President to coordinate, monitor and implement policies. However, critics argue that change would be elusive as long as the President’smost senior Cabinet positions are held by the men and women of the former regime.

On the Gambian diaspora, the President repeated his characterization of this segment as the country’s 8th region. Two years ago, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ousainou Darboe made a policy announcement that a directorate would be created to engage and cater for the Gambian diaspora. Yet, the Government seems to be paying lip service to this issue. Diaspora is a key component of the Gambian society whose remittances constitute to immensely contribute to the Gambian economy. Besides, the Gambian diaspora played a crucial role in bringing about the change everybody is enjoying today in the Gambia. Notwithstanding, the critics amongst them are being seen as adversaries by some quarters due to their vocal voicesvis a vis the state of affairs back home. As a matter of fact, Barrow has missed so many opportunities in the past to engage members of the diaspora by conspicuously excluding them from his Cabinet and key Government positions. To the best of knowledge Ebrima Silla, the Minister of Information is the only member of Cabinet who was in the diaspora.

Overall, the speech has drawn mixed reactions but the President did not seem to have impressed many of his compatriots.

Basidia Drammeh

Basidia Drammeh is a Gambian resident in Canada. He holds a BA in Linguistics and MA in Library & Information Sciences from the Kuwait University. Mr. Drammeh previously served as Head of Translation Desk at Kuwait’s Al Watan Daily newspaper.

Born and raised in Brikama, Mr. Drammeh is a keen follower of Africa’s current affairs and a commentator on Gambia’s socio-political issues.

Editors note: Views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Gunjur News Online. Got an opinion article? send it to us at GunjurNewsOnline@gmail.com

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