Author: Famara Singhateh, Esq.
The recent trend of utilizing public funds to acquire high-end vehicles for members of the National Assembly in The Gambia has stirred up public dissatisfaction and ignited debates about the underlying rationale of such spending. The National Assembly, an indispensable arm of the government, undeniably has legitimate operational needs. However, the public has expressed concern over the perceived disconnect between the assembly members’ duties and the necessity for luxury vehicles financed by taxpayers’ money. This short piece delves into the controversy, emphasizing the concepts of transparency, accountability, the importance of maintaining public trust, and the pressing need for the responsible allocation of public funds.
The Necessity for Transparency and Openness:
Among the central criticisms surrounding this issue is the perceived lack of transparency in the decision-making process. The National Assembly, in its mandate, is expected to exhibit transparency and accountability in its financial dealings. However, the current situation appears misaligned with this expectation. It is of the utmost importance that National Assembly members perceive themselves as servants of the people, refraining from actions that could be misconstrued as self-enrichment or an attempt to distance themselves from the citizenry. Observing this principle may help alleviate concerns regarding personal ownership and excessive spending and, in turn, can aid in the preservation of public trust.
National Assembly members often defend the purchase of luxury vehicles by pointing out that other government officials are also provided with similar amenities. However, this defense seems to miss the mark. The official vehicles provided to these officials are typically institutional assets and not personal possessions. In contrast, the vehicles given to National Assembly members take on the character of personal property, which raises public concerns about potential self-enrichment and increased isolation from the constituents they represent.
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Furthermore, the role of National Assembly members significantly differs from that of other high-ranking officials. As representatives of the people, they are tasked to ensure government accountability, not to engage in a competition of extravagance with other branches of government. Thus, the argument that other government branches also have luxury vehicles only emphasizes the need for a comprehensive revision of vehicle allocation policies across all government divisions.
Accountability and Legislative Power: The Crucial Role of the National Assembly:
The National Assembly, as a central pillar of governance, holds the pivotal role of ensuring accountability within the government structure. A core part of their mandate involves the prudent management of public resources and the avoidance of unnecessary expenditure. The National Assembly is not merely a bystander in the formulation of laws that enhance public spending. Indeed, it should be at the forefront of such legislation. The National Assembly is not at the mercy of government policy, especially where it appears the government is unreasonable in its spending on luxury while their electorates lacks basic necessities.
A recent example of the National Assembly’s legislative power was the quick passage of the National Assembly Service Act 2021, a primary law used to arrange the purchasing of the luxury vehicles. It was passed with a “certificate of urgency,” demonstrating that the Assembly can move swiftly when they deem it necessary, especially when it pertains to their personal benefits. This action, while legal, raises questions about the Assembly’s priorities and its alignment with the public interest.
Prioritizing Essential Needs and Public Perception:
The public perception of misplaced priorities further fuels dissatisfaction. The laws in the Gambian and elsewhereoutlines the principles that govern the use of public resources, which include prioritizing essential needs such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure development. The National Assembly should keep these critical needs in mind when allocating resources. By doing so, they demonstrate a commitment to public service and societal improvement, operating in line with the national constitution’s provisions.
The issue of luxurious vehicle purchases for National Assembly members in The Gambia underscores the broader challenge of ensuring appropriate public fund allocation, transparency, and accountability in governance. Beyond the controversy, it is a wake-up call for a reassessment of spending priorities and a rethink of policies that seem to blur the line between state assets and personal property.
The National Assembly, as the people’s representatives!
Author: Barrister, Famara Singhateh , Head of West Africa Desk, A-LAW INTERNATIONAL LAW FIRM, Antwerp, Belgium