Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Halifa Sallah's New Year Message

NEWS GAMBIA, BANJUL- Halifa Sallah was the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) flag bearer for the 2006 presidential election.
The 2010 message reads,
Each human being has signed an unwritten contract with destiny. We must either honour the contract and be the architects of our own destiny or honour it with gross disregard and be the victims of blind destiny. This is the dictate of historical science and common sense and it is incontrovertible.
The Gambia is at crossroads. On one hand, 2009 is receding into the background with uncertainty looming in the horizon. On the other hand, new initiatives are unfolding which herald a great promise that a new Republic is in the making. In short, uncertainty has gripped those who cannot see the future arising and developing from the disintegration of the architecture of the present. Hope however is alive in the hearts and minds of those who are convinced that people are thinkers, inventors and builders of civilisation and have the capacity to transform difficulties into challenges and gloom into bright prospects.
2009 ended with the Gambia still vegetating as a highly Indebted poor country that had been offered debt relief under the Multilateral debt relief initiative. This debt relief was designed to reduce the annual budget on debt servicing and facilitate the utilisation of the resources to alleviate poverty. It is however clear from all government statistics that while it is claimed that the number of people living in abject poverty has dropped from 69 percent to 58 percent, it is equally acknowledged that there is growth in severity of poverty, increased malnutrition, high food contamination and a growing lack of balanced diet for the vast majority of the population. Sugar is now D6.00 per cup.
Five loaves of bread which cannot fill the stomach of a small child, a cup of sugar and a tin of the cheapest milk would cost 31 dalasis daily and is equivalent to the salary of a driver or messenger in the public service. If such people cannot afford a balanced diet what about the farmer who earns less than D8000 annually?
Financial indiscipline has been the order of the day as expenditure exceeds budgetary outlays, thus resulting in a budget deficit of 363 Million dalasis, for 2009. Instead of becoming an export oriented economy and stable investment zone to attract foreign direct investment, imports for 2008 stood at 7.1 billion dalasis while exports amounted to 300 Million dalasis thus creating a deficit of 6800 Million dalasis.
The Government’s seeming disregard of the politics of economics has led the image of the country to suffer because of all the allegations of human rights violations.
The drop in the earnings from tourism and remittances did impact on the volume of transactions in the domestic foreign exchange market resulting in a drop from 1.6 billion dollars to 1.3 billion dollars in 2009. That constitutes a drop of 7.8 billion dalasis. The depreciation of the dalasi against all major currencies did not come as a surprise. Only one public corporation, GPA is expected to contribute 1 Million dalasis as dividend in 2010. It goes without saying that in the face of budget deficits and public enterprises which do not pay dividends one does not expect any significant growth in investment and employment on the side of the civil service or public enterprises.
In the same vein, Private companies are being led to contribute to consumption in the name of meeting their corporate responsibilities instead of providing them with investment avenues to expand the productive base of the economy. Hence they also do not make maximum contribution to employment generation. The lack of parliamentary tracking of the volume of sovereign wealth arising from the mining sector, the growing centralization of land in the hands of the head of state instead of encouraging community resource ownership and management, the fluctuation of the prices of commodities to the detriment of consumers, the soaring of the cost of living above earning capacity, the soaring unemployment and under- employment, all add up to undermine economic development and general welfare.
In terms of the social sectors such as education countless boys and girls are finding it more and more difficult to pay the expenses. The cost of Senior Secondary Education now stands between 5000 dalasis and 10,000 dalasis plus per annum. Finance is therefore a major obstacle to educational opportunities.
Despite the existence of a road authority major roads are in a dilapidated state and are poorly maintained. Suffice it to say, for the past fifteen years Gambia has been unable to have a North Bank and South Bank complete road network for vehicles nor river transport to provide for the smooth movement of people, goods and services from one end of the country to the other.
In the civil ,political and cultural domain the omnipotence of the executive which has literally nullified the separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and the legislature, the numerous detentions without trial, the murder of Deyda and disappearance of persons like Chief Manneh and Kanyiba Kayni without diligent investigation, the witchcraft fiasco, the incarceration and eventual release of 6 journalists the endless threats of coups, the persistent attempt to promote the culture of the coup through poems, songs, musical jamboree, beauty contests and drama, the various attempts by the executive to encroach in religious matters and the growing marginalisation of the civic education council which has the constitutional mandate to raise public awareness on constitutional rights and other provisions of the constitution, confirm that there is a gross deficit in the ownership of power by the people and serious limitations in the exercise of their rights as sovereign owners of the country. Compatriots, this is one side of the coin of history as we turn our backs to 2009. Allow me to turn to the other side of coin in order to give a complete historical picture.
Compatriots, a New Year is about to begin and a new Republic is in the making. 2009 witnessed the launching of Agenda 2011.A new culture is arising and developing, the culture of the Republic; the Culture of the Sovereignty of the People. 2010 is heralding a new beginning for the Country. This is the beginning the country has always wanted since 24 April 1970 when the people should have evolved into a sovereign people in a sovereign Republic.
I have emphasised over and over again that the governments which took over had the responsibility to build a sovereign community which is larger than the family,the village, the ethnic group, the religious denomination, the tribe and cultural heritages, a community which should have earned greater loyalty and legitimacy by its capacity to protect personal liberty and deliver general welfare on an equitable basis without any discrimination with regards to demographic characteristics. It was necessary to ensure that the citizens of the Republic gave their mutual loyalty not by strengthening the instruments of coercion but by guaranteeing protection of fundamental rights and freedoms and general welfare in the form of infrastructural development, social service, jobs, social security. The Republic should have enabled each to enjoy maximum civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights. In that way each sovereign person irrespective of one’s personal attributes and social connections would become connected to the sovereign community which becomes an indispensable part of ones social being, a polity that one would be proud to belong to and in the absence of which, one cannot survive in liberty and prosperity.. Each sovereign Gambian should have become a part of the whole Republic and the whole Republic should have become a part of each sovereign Gambian .Each sovereign Gambian should have become a political being tied to the National interest. For 40 years this task of nation building was neglected. This is why some people still put their tribal, religious, regional and other identities above their National Identity and have rendered themselves incapable of making informed choices.
Today, a nationwide initiative has begun to inculcate in the minds of the people what should have been done 40 years ago when the Republic came into being. The battle against the culture of the coups started in earnest in 2009. This year 24 April will be commemorated with poems, songs, drama and lectures so that the people would know that the birth of the Republic is tied to the attainment of their political right to be the guardian of the sovereignty of the Nation. It will consolidate the lessons that Presidents, Ministers, National Assembly members and Councilors are public trustees elected by people to work day and night to build a civil, political, economic, social and cultural order that would guarantee equity, liberty, dignity and prosperity to all.
Compatriots,the power of the people was usurped since 1970 by keeping them ignorant of their sovereign rights. Instead of becoming sovereign citizens they became aliens in their own country who frequently claim that they are not literate and are at the mercy of the literate. Most considered politics as either a futile exercise for those who have time to waste or an opportunity to assist relatives, friends and patrons to get closer to the centre of power or the green pastures so as to gain from the trickling effect of the benefits that accrue to those who occupy palaces. Consequently, people turn their backs at the power they own and squander their opportunity to shape the policies of governments that are sensitive to their needs or remove those who abuse public offices. The time has come for the days of ignorance to come to an end.
Agenda 2011 is reversing the trend. It is creating fora of civic educators to promote civic awareness. Such civic educators are telling every single Gambian that they have a stake in what is happening outside of the gates of their homes. They are challenging the politically apathetic to realise that no home could exist without the street, the community, the Nation which should serve as the source of income to bring to the homes and the places to get all social services. Agenda 2011 is trying to build a sovereign consensus that everyone has interest to be served outside one’s home. This is inconceivable without some people being charged with the responsibility of building facilities in the streets, communities and nation in order for homes to function. Politics is nothing more than the science and art of managing the affairs of a state in order to provide services to the people. All must be involved. No one should be left behind.
We are succeeding in building a sovereign consensus that voter apathy is not an option for a sovereign person in a sovereign Republic. There is a general consensus that since each has a right to determine who manages the street, the community and nation, as Councillors, National Assembly members, Ministers or President, none should refuse to exercise one’s right to a choice of leadership. The battle against voter apathy has started in earnest and we will not stop until each Gambian is resolved to have a say on what goes on outside of his or her home by taking full part in the political life of the country.
I am sure people would be interested in knowing how far we have gone with Agenda 2011 and where we are to go from here.
Compatriots, you would recall that Agenda 2011 has the primary aim to promote the unity of the people around the issues, objectives and values they could take ownership of and further empower them to assert their sovereign right to determine those who are to govern them and their manner of government. Agenda 2011 therefore seeks to build structures aimed at promoting consensus building and the holding of a primary to elect a consensus candidate who will preside over a non partisan transitional administration, when elected, that would put in place the democratic instruments, institutions and standards of best practice in governance needed to give the country a new democratic beginning.

The first phase of the Agenda is to build the structures necessary to facilitate debate, enrichment of the text and consensus building. Work has started in earnest to sensitise the public on the content of the Agenda and register the impressions and reflections of diverse sectors of the population, nationally and internationally. It must be said that it is receiving wide appeal. Some have declared their endorsement of the tactics and strategy embodied in it. Others have gone further to make suggestions. Many questions have been asked and it is important to give general answers to all the individual concerns.
The key question asked is how Agenda 2011 hopes to do away with voter apathy. The answer is not so complex.
There are 670,336 registered voters in the Gambia (2006/7 IEC Report). The Independent Electoral Commission has divided the country into 7 administrative areas namely, Banjul with 19,892 registered voters; Kanifing with 129,014 registered voters; Brikama with 163,675 registered voters; Kerewan with 94,579 registered voters; Mansakonko with 51,979registered voters; Janjangbureh with 106,934 registered voters and Basse with 104,266 registered voters.
Primaries have never been introduced by political parties in the Gambia to determine candidature in elections. There was voter apathy in the Gambia in the 2006 Presidential elections. The Apathy grew worse during the National Assembly and Council Elections. Political Parties are exclusivist by their nature. Negotiation to determine candidature by an alliance of political parties would compel them to put party interest before other interests in both selection and the establishment of a government after election. Attempts have been made to draw all parties of the different political spectrum to form an umbrella party which would rely on a primary to determine candidature and the formation of a coalition government to manage a transitional administration. It did not reach the level of allowing the masses to decide. Agenda 2011 is a fast track initiative to create a voting bloc irrespective of party affiliation, based on a consensual programme aimed at reflecting and addressing most of the diverse and relevant concerns of the Gambian people in particular and the international community at large. It proposes for all those who endorse the programme to participate in a primary to ensure the democratic selection of opposition Presidential candidate for the 2011 Presidential elections and each opposition National Assembly Candidate for the 2012National Assembly elections. The presidential candidate would also be required to form a transitional and consensual administration for a period of two to five years so as to lay the foundation for good governance and free and fair elections and depart from the scene without making any attempt to put an heir in place. It is anticipated that such a primary will put an end to voter apathy and fragmentation.
I must say that many people have endorsed this proposal especially when they came to realise that it is the people who will do the selection of a candidate from a pool of persons recommended for candidature from political parties or civil societies, if they endorse the tactics and strategy of the Agenda.
How are we to move from noble intentions to noble actions?
The answer is simple. People are taking ownership. They are volunteering to promote the Agenda and get opinions. Mobilisers are required to consult with no less than 50 people who would say whether they would want to vote directly at a primary to select a candidate or ask one among the 50 to do the selection on their behalf. Structures to implement the recommendations are already developing from grassroots level. People are taking ownership. Future feedbacks on developments will give more details.

On the launching and promotion of the Agenda
Some people have recommended for the Agenda to be launched in the Diaspora in a formal way so that the people would be able to engage in its promotion.
This is useful recommendation. The Agenda is to go through five phases.The First phase is the publication of its summary to facilitate debate and consensus building.
The second phase is for those who endorse the agenda to volunteer to promote it among 50 persons who would undertake to vote at a primary to select a presidential candidate. The aim is to consult with nothing less than 300,000 people before the process is considered to be viable. The third phase is to prepare a list of the people who endorse the agenda to prepare the ground for their participation in nominating a Presidential Candidate. The fourth phase is to consult with political parties and civil societies on the best mechanisms for nomination of candidates.
The fifth phase is the debate on the best mechanism to conduct the primary. It is currently being proposed that those whose names are given as subscribers to the Agenda should be empowered to participate in the selection of a single candidate through a primary from a basket of nominees determined by stakeholders of the Agenda, to contest the 2011 Presidential Elections.
We are currently operating under the first and second phases. This requires the spirit of volunteerism from those at home and the Diaspora to ensure that the 300,000 people are consulted within a period of 1 year. No one has to ask for any one’s permission to explain the Agenda to 50 or more people and give feedback to the initiator. Suffice it to say, in order to broaden consultation community meetings, symposia, debates will be organised at home, in the sub-region, Africa and the Diaspora. This is different from the initiatives that will be taken in preparing those who are to participate in nominating a candidate, in consulting all stakeholders on the nomination process and mechanism for candidature and in facilitating the primary and the campaign of the person selected. Each process will demand an initiative of its own.
Some people have also asked how a consensual cabinet which could manage a transition could be created.
The Consensual Cabinet
Compatriots, it is strongly recommended that the democratic beginning of the country should be marked by consensual governance for a transitional period and then followed by genuine elections on the basis of a vibrant multi party system. Some of the mechanisms which are being proposed to ensure consensual governance by a transitional administration is to appoint a cabinet by considering lists of nominees of different groups in society. For example, a list of nominees may be provided by the bar association and Human Rights NGOs for the post of Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Human Rights; a list of nominees of the business Community and the Chamber of commerce for the post of Minister of Trade; a List of Nominees of the Trade Unions for Minister of labour; a list of nominees of the women’s groups for the post of Minister of women and Children affairs; a list of nominees of the members of the teacher’s union and any association of retired teachers for the post of Minister of Basic Education; a list of nominees of youth organisations for the post of Minister of Youth and Sports; a list of Nominees of the members of the Press Union for the Post of Minister of Information; a List of nominees of the members of the Medical and Dental Association for the post of Minister of Health; a list of Nominees of the associations for the protection of children, the elderly, those living with disability, the orphans for the post of Minister of Social and Cultural affairs, etc.
Examples of Consensual Administration
Take the plight of the farmers. For decades the bulk of their crops remain un-purchased. Credit buying almost became institutionalized. In 2008 the world market price for groundnuts was approximately 36000 dalasis per ton. The producer price in the Gambia was 8000 dalasis per ton. Consensual administration of the Groundnut sector would have required the establishment of a strong farmers’ Cooperative whose leaders would sit down with those responsible for marketing the produce to discuss all the administrative and logistical cost of storage and transportation from buying stations to the purchasers abroad. The sum would be computed and subtracted from the World Market Price and the outstanding sum would be made known to the farmers.. Union and Marketing agency would then negotiate to determine a fair producer price. They may take into consideration the advantage of deducting a reasonable sum from the balance for the purchase of farming implements and fertilizer which would be sold to the farmers at subsidized prices to make them available and affordable. The sum left would then be relied on to determine the producer price. In short, consensual administration would enable the whole process of determining producer price of the products of the farmers to be characterised by transparency, accountability and consensus building between farmers and marketing agencies..
The ideas are inexhaustible. We have to answer to the call of duty to fulfill our social contract. History absolves those who fulfill their contract with destiny. It indicts and banishes those who betray their contract to eternal pillory. Each of us has a duty to evaluate whether we are on track in the fulfillment of our contract or are heading towards a blind alley. We must know what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong, as individuals, a Community, a Nation and International community in order to be able to move forward. This is how we could make our transit into the New Year relevant. This is the only way we could renew our contract with destiny,
Awareness, Truth, Justice, Conscience and Organisation are the birth attendants of every old order that is pregnant with a new one. These are the tools which could make us thinkers, inventors and builders of a new destiny that would assure us liberty, dignity and prosperity. We have a duty to meet the challenges in order to harness the bright prospects. This is the demand of times and circumstances and it is irresistible. The End of the text.

SOURCE: FOROYAA NEWSPAPER authored by Halifa Sallah

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