MUHAMMED S. BAH (MS)
Marr Nyang, an Anti-corruption advocate and Ba Lamin Darboe, a University Lecturer in Finance and Economics, have expressed concerns on the timing of the D54.4 million loan scheme approved by the National Assembly.
Both agreed that it is a bad timing in the middle of a global pandemic, looking at the vulnerability and the weakness of the Gambia’s health system. They said COVID19 has exposed the vulnerability and the weakness of Gambia’s health system, and what should be the priority is to look at how to mitigate these exposures. In response to the problem, the government would have look at the need to increasing facilities in the health system, improve on the existing health posts in order to have a very good health system that will be responsive to the pandemic and address the need of the people in years to come.
The national assembly during their scrutiny of the 2021 budget estimates allocated a 54.4-million-dalasi loan scheme for personal gains, despite cutting millions from various ministries, the president’s office, and the Independent Electoral Commission.
Marr Nyang, Executive Director of the anti-corruption organisation, Gambia Participate, stated that “the timing is not good, and the decision is not in the interest of the people.”
Mr. Nyang added that “the National Assembly know that section 112 of the 1997 constitution dictates that the members should work towards the general interest of the public”, and that this loan is not in the general interest of the public, but rather in their individual interest.
The UTG lecturer Ba Lamin Darboe also cited the importance of the National Assembly giving priority to the health and agriculture sector. He said it is not bad for NAMs to have loans like other public officials or even request for better salary or remuneration, but the timing of the loan, in the middle of a pandemic, is a cause for concern.
Re-investing the loan into capital development
The Anti-corruption campaigner Marr Nyang suggested that the D54 million loan scheme could have been invested into capital development. He said that “given the fact that most of these National Assembly members who have accepted this loan are from communities that lack access to water and basic health care services, these monies could have addressed that.”
Mr. Nyang said his organisation made an analysis to find out how this 54 million would have impacted the lives of 380,000 people. “We have found out that D31 million could have built 40 standard boreholes and out of these at least four regions such as URR, CRR, NBR, and LRR could be given 10 boreholes each.” This he said could benefit the lives of over 300,000 people within these four regions.
Marr further cited that their analysis has found out that Sare Bojo, Chargelli, Jarra Sukuta, and Brerending are communities that do not access to basic health care, and in a situation where there is an emergency, they have no place to turn to. He added that and places that are available are far from their communities sometimes 30 minutes’ drive away from the main road.
He said 20 million from the loan scheme could actually be used to build health posts for these four communities at least 5 million each. “The remaining 3 million would have been used to equip those health posts with medicines and subsequently provide them with the necessary equipment,” he disclosed. He said this would have helped address primary health care for more than 80,000 people.
Gambia Participate Infographic analysis
Ba Lamin Darboe, the University lecturer, said that the MPs should have considered the rising unemployment rate among the youth which is even more than 45% according to the Labour force survey in 2018. Mr. Darboe added that “Parliamentarians should have thought of coming up with empowerment projects for youth, women, and farmers.
He also said the importance of cutting some financial burden to close the deficit gap, which will help to minimise the Gambia’s rising debt.
National Assembly payment of the Loan
Hon Madi Ceesay, National Assembly member for Serrekunda West Constituency, said there is nothing wrong with the timing of the loan. He noted that the loan is an investment for the government because any interest they are paying on top of the loan will be going directly to government coffers which could be used for other development issues.
The member for the Serrekunda West constituency allays the fear of the public that National Assembly Members have strong collateral to pay the loan. “Gambians should understand that NAMs are entitled to a gratuity which is paid at the end of their tenure, which is around D800,00.” He said this can be used to repay the loans with interest. He said the gratuity is pegged on their take home pay which is more than D52,000 per month.
He said it is true that NAMs would have thought of creating a youth empowerment fund or loan for youths, but he said people should also think of the importance of the work of the National Assembly members. “It is important for National Assembly members to at least live a decent life after serving their country.” He said this legacy will continue for other upcoming National Assembly members. Hon. Ceesay also argued that other public officials and ministers are provided with a loan scheme, and that National Assembly should also be entitled to a loan scheme as an important institution.
However, Marr Nyang noted that “there is no investment better than investing in the people, you have a return investment, happy community, access to basic human rights, saving lives, access to basic health care and clean and drinkable water.” Nyang added that “if they are to leave office, as they claim about their gratuity, there must be a loan policy to clearly outline the payment plan such as duration and the interest rate should be attached as well.”
Mr. Ba Lamin Darboe also said the importance of a clearly defined policy on the payment plan, which he said should be publicly known for transparency and accountability purposes.
The fear of the Gambians is that the five-year term of the members is ending around April 2022. Those who are not re-elected may not be able to repay the loan. Most of them have no guarantee that they will be re-elected. Also, the salary of the National Assembly members is about D25,000 which is not enough to repay the loan from now until 2022 when their term ends.
The 2016 Government audited report shows that there are millions of dalasis outstanding loans that were given to former ministers and public servants unrecovered. The absence of a debt recovery unit doesn’t guarantee the full repayment of loans taken by public servants.