In our assessment of the Barrow Presidency thus far, some of us have claimed a lack of foresight, clear vision, determination, or strength in leadership due to the seeming chaotic nature of how things are. Some yet, still appalled at the retention of some “enablers” form the past dispensation. But in a rare insight, perhaps the first such insight into the mind of the President with regards to the civil and security service, we see a man determined to give a second chance; a chance to redemption and self-evaluation for members of the civil service and security apparatus.
These sentiments of concern prevalent amongst the ordinary citizen had been reechoed by Hon. Hamat Bah in addressing the security lapses that saw the re-entry into the country of two of Jammeh’s notorious henchmen without fuss. In a revealing moment; Hon. Hamat Bah also offered us some insight into the President’s line of thinking.
Speaking on recommendations made to the President early into the transition to sack everybody, he stated that the President responded that “…we don’t have to sack anyone. We should give everybody an opportunity and see how we can transform the country and the civil service to make it better because it was battered so bad that people were not allowed to function the way they want to function.” Directing comments at some of those present Hon. Bah stated; We know some of you were part of the system in the past…We know people who took guns and were ready to defend the Jammeh regime in our midst here, we know more than you think we know….But Mr. President said no….I would have done a different thing if I was in President Barrow’s position.”
And rightly so Hon. Bah, because as he put it, the incompetence and seeming lack of desire for some civil servants to take responsibility and change their approach to work and the ethics thereof, casts us all in bad light; “Mr President, this is affecting your government, affecting your image and affecting the image of the country. This is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately,” This speaks to most of our feelings and perceptions.
According the civil servants and security personnel an opportunity to improve themselves and change course is by no means an acknowledgement that a different route couldn’t have been taken. President Barrow could have been more assertive in so many aspects, but with this rare glimpse into his mindset as far as the conditions of the civil service are concerned; what some take as weakness is in fact an honest and sincere effort to extend a redemptive opportunity to members of the civil service. Evidently President Barrow has more faith in people’s capacity to change and be responsive to the needs of those they are mandated to take
care of than most of us.
“Indeed, it is an open secret that the public service itself became the first victim of the brutality of the past regime. The public service became largely non-responsive and low performing under the former administration. These important institutions have been generally politicized, abused and rendered irrelevant as most operational and strategic decisions were surrendered to the Office of the President for one man to make them all.
In the Public Service there are many well-articulated policies, strategies and plans that do not get implemented because of the mindset of the so-called ‘implementation bottlenecks’. This culture has no place in the new dispensation. As we set out to implement our new development blueprint, it cannot be business as usual. We need to understand that no progress can be made in developing our country if we continue to conduct business as usual. Change needs to happen and it needs to happen now. Let us therefore take charge of our destiny and make this country a better place for generations to come.”
From the above we can say with certainty that President Barrow blames the under-performance and non-responsive civil service solely on how Yahya Jammeh handled the affairs of state. The response from the civil service became one of survival maneuverings and attempts at self-preservation as each tries to secure the positions on which their livelihoods depend. Call it naïve, but President Barrow believes with a new dispensation under his watch and freedom to act according to set standards, the best in our people will emerge and with it a more professional civil service enabled by a good leadership. Question is should so much faith be put in people who have been accustomed to corrupt practices, is it in fact naïve on the part of the President?
Contrary to claims from some quotas, that the lack of ‘system change’ is evidence of willingness to perpetuate the corrupt practices of the past; of a man who is out to enrich himself and his cronies at our expense. I hold a contrary view that such claims are untrue and cynical at best. Is there a need for sweeping reforms? Absolutely. Does that require firings and terminations, certainly; and a whole lot of these will be very welcome and most justified. The point of divergence for me is the claims that such a move is not taken in some cases because of attempts at entrenching corruption and self-perpetuation. Rather, it is an attempt to rely on an already trained and familiar batch of public servants who, in his opinion only need redirection and to summon their best traits.
“…this is why my first administrative orders as President were all aimed at revamping and sanitizing the public service. These include: Setting up a panel to orderly reinstate the officials who were wrongfully dismissed by the previous Government, decongest the Office of the President by re-assigning institutions and line departments to the purview of the ministries where they rightfully belong, and effectively empower the sectors to be in charge of their mandates and be accountable for their actions,”
In addition to the fact that a lot had been expended to train and upskill civil servants over the years, it will be counter-productive to embark on large scale dismissals when there is an option to re-direct some. Again, some are absolutely undeserving of this approach of extending an olive branch and a second chance at redemption.
Another thing President Barrow has seemingly taken into account that could be said to influence his approach to governance is inclusiveness. We all know a lot of damage had been done under Yahya, a lot of polarization, animosity and suspicion that will require a steady hand to strike a delicate balance that will bring back national cohesion and maintain stability. If he embarks on a massive cleansing program as a means of sanitizing the civil as well as security service, a lot could go wrong that could undermine our progress and stability. We have already heard claims of tribalism after some security officers have been arrested and some political appointments rescinded.
Every action has been subject to a view of “who is involved, what ‘tribe’ are they” as the first measure of how to view any move by the government; who gets ‘favored’ and who gets ‘marginalized’ based on their ‘tribe’. In such a volatile situation, we should not be driven by emotions but rather by reason and well thought out courses of action which is what seems to be approach of the President. That sense of unity was echoed in his speech;
“We are faced with challenges but we are willing to listen and learn to succeed, but we can’t succeed without unity. Others can help us but the ultimate responsibility lies with Gambians. We all faced challenges of uncertainties but we have to be determined to set up and connect. Gambian experts have to take risks for the sake of The Gambia. We were united in our fight for freedom; let us continue to be united to work for the development of our country. I assure you that I value each and every one of you and I shall endeavor to harness the potentials of everyone wherever, and whenever possible.”
Even though some of us would like to see a punitive course of action taken in certain aspect, it is reassuring to know that in President Barrow we have a man who wants to see the best in us as a people and not give into cynicism and ill-faith as to our propensity for good and our ability to do good given the right circumstances. Barrow has given the civil servants and security personnel the opportunity to exert themselves through professionalism and patriotism for the good of us all.
The onus therefore now lies with the various public servants in whatever capacity, to live up to expectations and deliver for the Gambian people. The political will is there to enhance and support creativity and innovation, but above all, the environment has been created to ensure best practice is upheld without fearing one’s tenure.
Let us focus on the future, and for those who have been found wanting and are still in the system, here is an opportunity to redeem yourselves before it is too late. The calls to get rid of some people will continue and the axe will eventually fall; and without the required adjustments in attitude when the axe falls there will be no public sympathy. The commissions are progressing; the calls to hold those found wanting will also gather steam and the call for justice will not cease either.
Having said that it is also helpful Mr. President, to engage with citizens and allay their fears by reassuring and talking to them on their issues of concern. Your actions will vindicate you, but your word when it matters also accounts for a great deal.
The watch continues!