Madi Jobarteh, Human Rights Activist
Barely 21 days after the NAMs were handed brand new vehicles in a so-called innovative arrangement, we now see the Minister of Justice also submit a bill before parliament to cater for incentives and benefits for members of the Judiciary. Already, in the past two years, there have been multiple increases in salaries and allowances of various public servants, including an uncountable number of non-monetary privileges and entitlements being dished out to public servants. Notwithstanding, public servants continue to lament about poor working conditions and low salaries.
But the incontrovertible fact is the masses of this country continue to face high cost of living, poor service delivery, high unemployment, and all sorts of hardships. Meanwhile, taxes in this country continue to increase. Loans and grants continue to increase. The national budget continues to increase. New public offices continue to be created at home and abroad, meaning more people continue to be appointed only to also enjoy these benefits and privileges. But public sector performance remains poor and inefficient.
At this very moment the people are suffering from not only an inadequate but also an expensive and erratic water and electricity supply. Across towns and villages, streets and highways are in bad shape which are flooded with every single drop of rain. Filth and pollution are everywhere, while delivery of social services such as healthcare, education, sporting facilities or cleansing services are abysmally poor. Opportunities are so limited that thousands of Gambian youths rather chose to confront and die in the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea in seeking greener pastures abroad than stay at home. Indeed, when you consider the state of human and infrastructural development in the country it appears as if there is no government in the Gambia.
The national cake is for all citizens including the men and women who work in public service. Hence just as public officers have a right to obtain fair pay for their work, they must recognize that they hold public office on behalf of and for the welfare of the citizens. The Constitution states in Section 1(2) that public institutions derive their authority and power from the people and serve them accordingly. Then how could public institutions and officials continue to seek benefits for themselves but failing to perform thereby forcing people into perpetual poverty and deprivation?
The incentive regime across the government is unjustified and unfair to citizens, while it is also discriminatory among public officials. For example, why should a minister be allocated a vehicle for their family, yet public health facilities are lacking ambulances and police stations do not have vehicles. In some of the public institutions in both central and local governments, as well as in the public enterprises, certain officials are given all sorts of allowances and privileges such as residence, vehicles and even telephones and fridges filled with canned drinks in their offices yet other officers struggle to get even a breakfast every morning. This means while others are pampered and usually do less work, other officials are deprived of these privileges, yet they work harder.
More importantly, what is the justification for all the privileges when public institutions and officials do not perform adequately. The evidence of the underperformance of the public service can be seen in the poor quality of development and low standard of living in the country. Look at any and every sector of this country, and it is not difficult to realize that services are poor. Everyday our citizens have to struggle to obtain even a mere document or register a business or apply for a service simply because public institutions and officials are not doing their work with commitment and diligence.
In that case, how can the President, Speaker and Chief Justice and the people who work under them justify the kind of incentives they enjoy? These public officials should ask themselves the moral question as to whether they truly deserve these privileges when it is only poverty, deprivation, and hardships they see around them in this society. Are they in public service to serve themselves or are they truly public servants to serve the people?
Yes, the Judiciary, like all other organs of the state, is extremely important, but the Chief Justice must ask himself if indeed his courts are performing effectively to ensure access to and effective delivery of justice to deserve such privileges? Similarly, the Speaker must ask himself if indeed the level of performance of the National Assembly makes the provision of SUVs to NAMs justifiable? Above all, the President should ask himself whether he and his cabinet and the ministries, departments, and agencies under him are truly performing to justify the kind of incentives they currently enjoy? Let them look at the lives of the people and tell us if public officials are truly performing?
I hereby call on all Gambians to protest the unjustified, unfair, and discriminatory privileges and incentives that public officials receive yet they perform less and poorly. The poverty, high cost of living and the hardship in this country is thanks to Government underperformance. The underdevelopment of this country is caused by nothing other than the underperformance, corruption, and inefficiency of the Government. These are what must be addressed if public officials can justify their incentives and privileges. Incentives must go hand in hand with performance and efficiency.
For The Gambia, Our Homeland