ISSUED BY HALIFA SALLAH
ON BEHALF OF THE CENTRAL
The Central Committee of PDOIS has had a briefing on all the shades of opinion expressed by the sovereign Gambian people and members of the international community on the 30th December armed insurrection and has seen the need to put its appraisal across with the hope of influencing national and international public opinion on the way forward for the Gambian people.
History teaches us that people have their diverse interests and aspirations but each situation has its realities, demands, urgencies and possibilities. No aspiration could be realistic if it goes beyond the realm of reality, necessity and possibility. This was why we decided to analyse the circumstances which surrounded the armed attack and indicated with overwhelming thoroughness why the outcome could only be what it was.
We chose not to pass judgment and issue condemnation because of the futility of the exercise. We preferred to analyse, draw lessons and make recommendations on the realistic way forward. It is futile for us to utter condemnation because we were here in 1994 when an unconstitutional takeover of government succeeded. At that time many expressed their support for the coup. Our party leadership was offered two ministerial posts but we turned them down. We indicated that since power belongs to the sovereign people of the Gambia, we are committed to only participate in a government derived from the unalloyed consent of the people. We analysed the factors which gave rise to the 1994 coup and called on the coup makers to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people, including the rights of political parties to continue to exist. We proposed the convening of a National Conference to prepare the way for the rebirth of a constitutional and democratic order based on national consensus. Many people then accused us of being unrealistic and being idealistic.
In our view, coups are supported by many when they succeed and condemned by many when they fail. Losers are always publicly disowned by many who would have welcomed them as saviours if they had succeeded.
Therefore, we should put condemnation or endorsement aside and ask these simple questions: After 30 years of PPP and 20 years of AFPRC/APRC rule, without power ever being transferred from one democratically elected government to another, should the Gambian people continue to be spectators of history, or should they finally take a stand and become architects of their own free, dignified and prosperous destiny? Should they wait for saviours, or should they become their own saviours? These are fundamental questions which should exercise the minds of every Gambian. Posterity is demanding an urgent answer. Hence the national debate on these questions should begin right now. Postponing it is to pay deaf ears to the demands of destiny.
How to Put the Incident behind Us
The Gambian people are yet to receive any statement from those who took part in the insurgency. By now they should have been able to do a debriefing and give accurate information to the public. What type of government did they intend to form? What was going to be its tenure in office? What instrument did it intend to put in place to govern?
The information we have so far received is from the affidavit signed by Nicholas L. Marshall, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the statement issued by the Government of the Gambia.
The two sources have slightly different narrations on the insurrection. According to the narration from Mr. Marshall’s affidavit, which is based on an interview conducted after the arrest of Papa Faal, who has since pleaded guilty and has been granted bail, the insurgents were divided into two operational teams namely; Alpha and Bravo teams. The composition of the teams was not mentioned. The Alpha team was supposed to have attacked from the front of the statehouse, while the Bravo team was supposed to attack from the rear. This team was led by Papa Faal. According to Faal, one of his team members, Musa Sarr, was killed in an attempt to drive a car to break the state house door. Faal claimed that the two teams lost radio communication once the operation started thus causing his team to retreat. He left with the impression that all the members of the Alpha team were killed.
According to the statement issued by the Government of the Gambia, five insurgents launched their attack from the main gate of the state house. They were identified as former Lt. Colonel Lamin Sanneh, Capt. Njagga Jagne, Baboucarr Lowe, Modou Njie and Landing Sonko. According to them, Sanneh and Jagne were killed, Njie captured and Lowe and Sonko escaped.
The attackers from the rear gate were reported to include Papa Faal, Musa Sarr, Dawda Bojang and Alhagie Nyass. Papa Faal and Musa Sarr are reported to have escaped, while Dawda Bojang and Alhagie Nyass are reported to have been killed.
The FBI report quoted Papa Faal’s narration of the death of Musa Sarr, but the Government’s statement spoke about his escape.
The other names mentioned by the statement of the Government as members of the group, who were stationed at Brufut Heights, are the Interim leader Cherno Njie, Alhagie Barrow, Dawda Bojang and Mustapha Faal who is reported to have deserted the group before the operation was launched. The same Dawda Bojang is reported to have been killed as one of the insurgents who attacked from the rear.
The Duty of the Government
The information in the public space regarding the identity of the people killed lends credibility to the need to conduct coroner’s inquest to confirm the identity of those killed as a result of the insurrection.
PDOIS calls on the Government to conduct a coroner’s inquest to establish the identities of the dead bodies. This should be followed by handing over the bodies to the families concerned for burial.
Needless to say, the key insurgents are known. To enlarge the arrests to include children, brothers and parents of alleged insurgents and to detain them beyond 72 hours amounts to a fishing expedition aimed at achieving nothing but more outcries against violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Lesson should be drawn from the experience of the child who was under detention for more than 72 hours despite repeated exposure. The child and another teenager were released after 43 days in detention without trial.
PDOIS would like to draw the attention of the government to section 66 Subsection 1 of the Children’s Act, which states that “it is the duty of the government of the Gambia to safeguard, protect and promote the welfare of children.”
Section 5 guarantees that the child should enjoy all the rights enshrined in the constitution including freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention.
In the same vein, it amounts to a cruel and degrading treatment by simply relying on a person’s blood ties or relation with an insurgent to put him or her under arbitrary arrest and detention.
PDOIS calls on the government not to cast its net beyond the waters of Law, Reason and Justice to hunt down insurgents. Its duty is to govern according to the dictates of the Constitution, the law and standard democratic practice.
We call for the release of all those who are detained in connection with the insurgency who are not charged and taken before court within 72 hours before the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Independence.
In the same vein, the legal advisers of the government should conclude whether those who were involved in the insurgency allegedly perpetrated an act of terrorism or a coup attempt, and immediately prefer charges so that there would be no undue delay in leaving the courts to determine guilt or innocence of those charged.
Gambia at a Crossroads
The insurgency took place at a time when Gambia was at a crossroads. The Government had just requested over one billion dalasis as supplementary appropriation to the 2014 budgetary allocation of 10.2 billion dalasis. 459 million dalasis went to the Office of President to cover cost such as expenditure on national celebrations amounting to 86 million dalasis; travelling expenses were put at 186 million dalasis; hotel accommodation was put at 96 million dalasis.
This supplementary appropriation came at a time when the domestic debt of the Gambia had risen to astronomical proportions.
Any supplementary appropriation is likely to lead to the growth of the domestic debt which already stands at 16.75 billion dalasis, or 45 percent of GDP.
Revenue shortfalls and expenditure overruns have been a chronic fiscal illness requiring the government to give renewed promises on an annual basis to embark on fiscal discipline but to no avail.
Rise in interest payments to the tune of 1.4 billion dalasis for the first nine months of 2014 conveys a trend towards a debt driven public expenditure programme, which runs counter to the agreements made with the IMF to reduce domestic borrowing as the prime object of fiscal discipline.
Revenue Contraction or Rise in The Tax Burden
Grants have served as a major shock absorber in cushioning the impact of expenditure slippages and have augmented the volume of foreign currency which had immensely contributed to preventing a rapid decline in the value of the currency.
Needless to say, the deadlock between the EU and the government on their political dialogue, the abortion of the trip of the special Rapporteurs of the UN, and the general attitude of the government towards criticisms on the practice of detention without trial and other human rights violations, combine to weaken its capacity to attract more grants.
In the face of dimmer prospects for the requisite donor support, the economic fundamentals are also under threat. Government has recorded a 60 per cent decline in tourist arrivals for 2014/2015. Agricultural output is projected to decline by 15 per cent. The government has acknowledged that total crop production is estimated to be 292,581 metric tons of which Cereal production is estimated at 201,805 tons, representing a drop of 11 percent over last year. Government has acknowledged that compared to the five year average, total crop production has shown a decrease of 6 percent while production of cereals has dropped by 3 percent. Hence self-sufficiency in food production remains a blurred vision instead of a realistic prospect and will remain so as long as the current policies persist.
Decline in tourist arrivals and crop production would impact on the foreign exchange earning capacity of the country, reduce the value of the dalasi, increase inflation and threaten the foreign reserves of the country.
It is not a surprise that as at the end of September 2014 the dalasi has depreciated against the Dollar by 23.8 percent, against the Euro by 17.8 and 22.1 percent against the Pound Sterling.
The decline in both services and agricultural production, which have been the engines of domestic growth, has given rise to a decline in the growth of GDP to 2 per cent.
High government borrowing has resulted in high interest rates and the crowding out of the private sector. This increase in domestic borrowing is not sustainable.
Hence, the Government has indicated that it would restrict domestic borrowing to 1 percent of GDP as at 31ST December 2015.
This could only be done without increasing taxes, or reducing public expenditure by introducing cost recovery, if public enterprises could pay dividends into the public purse. The absence of a viable public investment policy has crippled many public enterprises and has rendered them incapable of generating dividends to cushion revenue earnings from non-tax sources.
Hence, the government may try to cope by increasing taxes, reducing expenditure, or increasing cost recovery for public services.
The IMF has acknowledged the growing imbalances experienced by the Gambian economy, and is considering the possibility of introducing a “Rapid Credit Facility” arrangement under a programme monitored by the institution, so that the government would adopt corrective measures.
PDOIS wants to emphasise that the most the IMF could do is to assist a government to maintain balance of payment viability by restricting borrowing, restrain expenditure on public services, remove subsidies, increase cost recovery for public services,broaden the tax base and raise taxes. This has already started with the removal of subsidies on fuel and the increase in hospital charges. Suffice it to say, all these measures would lead to increase in public hardship. When that happens, one should not focus on the IMF conditions, on the contrary, one should look at the policies of the government which gave birth to monitoring and supervision by a multinational agency.
We want to emphasise that corrective measures could only come when the fundamentals of the economy are altered. PDOIS would ensure that public enterprises are managed to ensure the payment of dividends into the public purse based on management contract arising from objective assessment of their potential, and administrative sanctions would be fully put in place for breach of contract by management that will be free from political interference.
There is no financial logic in allowing Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation investing hundreds of millions to purchase hotels only to lease them. This constitutes an unproductive tying of Capital to a domain which is not viable for public investment.
Furthermore, we will enhance food self-sufficiency and agricultural exports by introducing a cooperative bank which will give seeds, fertiliser and appropriate farming implements to family farms so that they would be able to engage in large scale farming for both consumption and for exports. The bank will provide secure and timely financing to ensure purchase of agricultural produce.
In addition to creating the environment for self-sustaining families, we will also expand agricultural production to create self-sustaining villages by encouraging the establishment of village farms, fishing ponds, eco-tourist sites, etc so that the earnings will be invested to improve village infrastructure.
We will link agricultural production with processing to generate value added goods to expand economic growth and employment. This is what the Programme for accelerated growth and employment failed to do.
PDOIS will create a Corporation that will guide banks to invest in the private sector and map out the incentives and security, which would accrue in case of foreign direct investment by corporations committed to the fulfillment of corporate responsibility to promote general welfare.
The Public Corporations would coordinate initiatives with the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry so that all matters affecting the private sector such as taxes, minimum wage, interest rates and the business climate would be periodically discussed to create informed policies conducive to profitability, growth, employment and general welfare. We will not engage in any economic adventurism but would work with all stakeholders to promote pro -employment, pro- better wages and pro -general welfare policies while cushioning the productive base to be able to produce the sovereign national wealth requisite for National development and general welfare. If the Greek leaders take such a direction they are likely to succeed. If they pursue economic adventurism they are likely to fail.
PDOIS will provide better financial management by ensuring that the public is involved at all stages of the budgeting and implementation process. Social auditing will be introduced to ensure that the members of the public know what is provided for each public institution for service delivery and the media will be protected by freedom of information laws and be empowered to hold public officers accountable to the public.
PDOIS will promote efficient delivery of public services by rewarding public servants on the basis of the quantity and quality of work done which would enhance their desire to be accountable. PDOIS will strive to maintain a minimum wage which will be responsible to the bread basket adequate for survival.
On the Issue of Political stability and Liberty
PDOIS is committed to the values of a Secular Democratic Republic. Unlike the atheist or theocratic concept of the state, secularism calls for the neutrality of the state in matters of religion, philosophy and belief and imposes a duty on the executive, the legislature and the judiciary and their agents to protect the right of each to freedom to hold and practice one’s religion or hold on to a philosophy or belief without being subjected to any persecution.
Furthermore, secularism must give rise to a culture of tolerance where each citizen respects the rights of others and would have the humility never to abuse one’s right by infringing on the rights of others.
Politically, we will strive to introduce a two four year term limit and thus put an end to any need for a coup.
All Gambians in particular and human beings in general, who are on trial, in detention or at liberty, need protection of law. Hence human rights defenders and the media will be encouraged to hold state agencies and agents to account to prevent and redress the violation of rights.
We will welcome external human rights monitors as advisers to perfect our system of government to improve the quality of life of our people, and would not see them as inspectors aiming to interfere with our sovereignty. Only tyrants would feel offended for being told to treat their citizens as human beings everywhere, ought to be treated. PDOIS would build an environment which is friendly to human tights defenders.
THE WAY FORWARD
Some Gambians abroad told the international media that the armed insurrection was a by- product of a political power vacuum in the country. They presented the opposition in the Gambia as fragile and ineffective. Gambians need to interrogate this notion of the opposition before we could take any step forward.
What constitutes a strong and effective opposition? A strong and effective opposition is one that scrutinises and criticises a government and holds it to account, while putting across its alternative policies to show proof that it can provide a better leadership.
We cannot speak for other parties, but we can say without any fear of exaggeration that PDOIS is doing what a strong and effective opposition party should do.
We scrutinise and criticise every shortcoming of all the instruments and institutions of the state and practices of their agents. We also propose alternatives on how to do things better.
The hypothesis of a political vacuum does not stand the test of objective analysis. We need to revisit this notion. To assist those who want to take an informed position on the subject in order to map out a realistic way forward, allow us to state that consciousness and organisation are the basis to effect democratic change in any country. Hence the Gambian people have to ask themselves whether there exist opposition parties whose policies are worth supporting. If so, they should not consider that party to be weak because of past elections results. What they should do is to support such a party to intensify its work among the masses, to increase its support base to win elections.
Power in politics is two-fold. There is the power of ideas and the power of mass organisation. The power of ideas empowers an opposition party to have the ability to shape public opinion and further influence those who control political power to be on their guard by exposing acts of impunity.
The power of mass support empowers an opposition party to have authority to make demands that must be listened and attended to by a government before elections, and convince the undecided voters that it could replace a government whenever elections are due.
PDOIS needs the power of mass support. Even if alliance becomes necessary, only strong parties with strong mass base can form and influence successful alliances and prevent the derailing of the aspirations of the people.
Consciousness and organisation are the key instruments for change. We are moving about from village to village to sensitise and organise those who agree with us. Encourage all parties to do the same. Let us all promote the battle of policies rather than wrangling based on sentiments and prejudices. Think and own your mind. It is in that sovereign mind where the liberty of all lies. Only a person who loves freedom more than any other thing on earth could work selflessly to free a nation. Be yourself and take ownership of your country. Liberty and prosperity shall be your reward. History is waiting to record your contribution .Spectators do not become the architects of their own destiny. Only activists could take charge of their destiny and shape it to enjoy liberty, dignity and prosperity. The time has arrived. The time is now.