Precisely November, 2016, the standard bearer of the then opposition Coalition, promised the electorate that detention without trial will end in the Gambia if he is elected. However, after six months in office as the president of the Gambia following his election in December, detention without trial persists but only evidently common within the army. In this exclusive interview with Foroyaa, the president defended his government for not been found wanting.
The 52 year old president also talked about a range of current burning issues including the weak economy, mineral resources, agriculture, presidential term limit and many more. Follow the full interview below with Foroyaa’s political Correspondent, Kebba Jeffang.
Jeffang: When you went to the National Assembly on Monday, I didn’t hear about the presidential term limit. What is your position on this?
Barrow: Thank you very much Jeffang. It is a pleasure to have this interview with you again. Specifically we mentioned the Constitutional reform which the issue of term limit is part of. This means we have mentioned it. Specifically, we didn’t say term limit but believe me I am a strong believer of term limit because I believe with term limit, a president will always know that when you are in office after ten years you will leave office so that you need to be careful and also would want a legacy, a good legacy for that matter so that if you leave you can live within society. So I am a strong believer of term limit.
Jeffang: And when would this term limit bill be tabled before the National Assembly?
Barrow: Well we are doing a complete overhaul of the Constitution, so we expect a referendum and all of these things will be part of that but be rest assured, I think term limit is top in our agenda.
Jeffang: Let me put this issue about the Vice Presidency. It has been six months since you have taken your oath of office and there has not been a Vice President possibly because of Constitutional reform. How soon would we see a Vice President for the Gambia?
Barrow: Very soon! Sooner than later.
Jeffang: But what has been holding you from not appointing a Vice President?
Barrow: Nothing has been holding me and I know that it is a Constitutional requirement. I want the Gambians to be patient. We are calculating our move and we want to be sure of everything we are doing but we will name a Vice President, no doubt about that.
Jeffang: I have been part of your campaign trail covering the rallies and one key promise you have been giving was the total avoidance of detention without trial. But of recent we have been seeing some military personnel who are detained beyond Constitutional limit of 72 hrs. What has been the reason behind this?
Barrow: It has happened with soldiers but soldiers are a different thing completely because we are dealing with civilians. This was at their own level and they have their own terms of doing things. I think that is what happens but in our own level, the police, I think nothing of such has happened.
Jeffang: There are concerns affecting farmers which include inadequate seeds, high cost of fertilizer insufficient farm implements. We have seen recently your government has reduced the price of fertilizer from D950 to D700. Farmers are saying this is not enough.
Barrow: We have a lot of plans for the farmers. That is why despite things are very difficult, we work very hard to make sure we raise 25 million dollars for the farmers. We are so concerned because they are very special. A subsidy of D200 for every bag I think is a lot for a beginner. This is just a start for this country and we can do more.
Jeffang: One key challenge farmers also talk about is processing, by extension storage facility and marketing of their farm produces. Does your government have any plan in addressing these problems?
Barrow: We want to assure farmers that this time they will enjoy a very good trade season because we will buy groundnut this year. The way we sacrifice to get them fertilizers, we will do the same to make sure they realize what they produce.
Jeffang: You promised to establish Truth and Reconciliation Commission and we are aware that the process has started to put it up. However, there is this NIA9 trial that is before the court already. What is so special about this case that it cannot be part of the issues to be dealt with at the TRC?
Barrow: Everything you see in this world is a process. It is a process and we feel that we have enough evidence to take up this issue. It is not about priority but we feel that we have enough evidence to go to court.
Jeffang: Bakoteh dumpsite is becoming an eye sore and has posed a serious health risk to residents in the immediate environ. We have seen the municipality putting up temporal solutions. In terms of waste management generally, how does the government prioritise this?
Barrow: I think this government is very serious with waste management after signing a contract with a reputable waste management company. I think government has shown maximum seriousness to waste management. As far as we are concerned, we have signed a contract and let us exercise a little bit of patience to continue with Bakoteh dumpsite but it will be better managed than before. We have put things in place so that it will be better managed.
Jeffang: Let us discuss about young people, the youths. They had a lot of hope when you were assuming power that things will turn around in terms of job creation. We have seen that Youth Empowerment Project has arrived with 11 million Euros funding from the European Union. We are yet to see a tangible solution to address their unemployment problem.
Barrow: You know we are six months in office and you don’t expect everything to happen within six months. I think something has started and I mentioned it in my deliberation that something has started in Baddibu, Busumbala, we have started other projects in Wuli and so on and so on. Be rest assured that the youths were very instrumental in bringing this government to power and we are also very concerned about the youths.
Jeffang: Do you have any project that can hold them in the country?
Barrow: There are a lot of investors in this country that want to invest and obviously it is the youths who will be employed in this project and we are taking this seriously in some sectors like irrigation farming, rice production. We have discussed with a lot of investors and the moment we start irrigation farming in this country it will create a lot of jobs. I can tell you that The Gambia can depend on irrigation farming to boost our economy.
Jeffang: Let me take you to mineral resources. There had not been enough transparency in the former government in the exploitation of mineral resources in the country. What is your government doing to find out the availability of mineral resources in the country and how do you wish to exploit it?
Barrow: As a government we want to exploit mineral resources because it will generate finance for the government. But before doing that we want to investigate first and reach to the bottom whatever was happening so that we know what it is the value. We will then put policies in place to manage our mineral resources. We want to be very transparent on whatever is happening in this country. We get the information from different places including Badari and other places but we are doing our investigation. We want technicians who have knowledge in this area to make sure we know what these are and what their values are because we want the best for this country.
Jeffang: What about oil resource because the former President said oil is in existence in the country? Have you made any findings to ascertain that?
Barrow: That is the Alhamdullilahi project! (Smile). We expect that there is oil but until the process of exploration yield a positive result we have to wait.
Jeffang: Let’s us now focus on the economy. The Gambia has been a country with a tax based economy for long. Will Gambia’s development expenditure be continuously financed by donors, loans and taxation?
Barrow: As we came to power we all know the situation of this country. The Gambia as a starter, we have to work with multi-national institutions to rely on them for budget support and to lift The Gambia. But we have a lot of plans and we are in the 21st century that is why now the Gambia is open to serious investors to invest in this country that will generate a lot of money. So that’s why we want to invest in agriculture because it used to be the back bone of our economy and we want to bring back those days and at a high level with industrial farming, modern cropping, modern techniques and bring in people who can invest in those areas as business farming.
Jeffang: Mr. President, there is a coalition agreement that anyone elected will serve for 3 years in office, and during the campaign trail that had been the language. Have you changed position or you will still stick on to the agreement?
Barrow: I think parties came together in a closed door to have an agreement of three years’ transition period. We came together and we succeeded in getting Jammeh out and Jammeh is out. I think in a wider context the Gambian people are bigger than all of us and the decision is for the Gambian people. If they say six months is enough I go tomorrow. Everything is left to the Gambian people.
Jeffang: Land disputes in the Gambia are becoming more common these days. Is there any desire for your government to establish a Land Commission that will be conducting investigations and resolving such disputes?
Barrow: There is a desire because that is the only way we can solve land disputes. There was a lot of government interferences in land problems. Former president was also involved in land grabbing and we want to set up a Commission of Inquiry to make sure we solve these land problems once and for all. It will take time though because it is a complex issue.
Jeffang: When would this Commission be established?
Barrow: I cannot declare now but the political will is there and on principle we want to solve every problem in this country, not land alone but it will take time but we will get there Jeffang.
Jeffang: Thank you very much, Mr. President!
Barrow: It’s a pleasure.
Written by Kebba Jeffang