Friday, March 30, 2018

Is there a new dawn at the SIS (formerly the NIA)?

Director General, Ousman Sowe
The Director General, Mr. Ousman Sowe, of the former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and now known as the State Intelligence Service (SIS) said at a recent official event attended by President Barrow and members of his cabinet that the security establishment sees " no foreseen...imminent threat to the general well being of both the state and the people of this country."

The statement may be reassuring, not because of the content of the message but because of the messenger who delivered the message.  Ousman Sowe who became the head honcho of the intelligence agency after Jammeh went into involuntary exile last year, is a product of the agency whose existence under the ex-dictator was two-fold (i) secure the state, and (ii) ensure the survival of the regime of Yaya Jammeh.

While some countries use intelligence as tool to pursue military and economic supremacy, the Gambia, since December 2016, places higher premium on "human security and human rights and freedoms as enshrined in the constitution." 

As a long serving intelligence officer, primarily in the external affairs department which he eventually headed as Director, a source familiar with his career at the NIA described him in one word - "clean"- meaning that he was never involved in the human rights abuses of the Jammeh era.  This should come as a welcome relief to reformers as well as human rights activists who'd like to see a thorough house cleaning in the intelligence, military and civil services.

The national security challenges, according to the Director General, in 2018 are not different in any significant way than last year.   He told the audience that government should pay attention to social media activities which "could affect policy thinking, cause social unease and affect security arrangements in 2018."

It is unclear, in the absence of context, what Mr. Sowe meant apart from underscoring the importance of social media in public policy formulation.  But, he also thinks that "2018 will be stretched and stressed by differing opinions that may cause social unease and affect security,' which, in our view, is the nature of democracy - always messy.  The government must adjust to the new realities by taking appropriate measures to secure the public order without compromising the personal and inherent freedoms of Gambians.

Putting on his foreign intelligence hat on, the Director General of the SIS told his august audience that economic activities will pick up in 2018 with more projects to be implemented.  He concluded his forecast of the economy in 2018 by cautioning the authorities thus : "We, in the intelligence and security community can caution that all that glitters is not gold hence the need to identify the genuine from the fake investor."  He added that economic "development could be affected by lethargy, slowness and flat footedness."

Finally, Mr. Sowe promised Gambians with these words: "While our operational techniques of covert collection of information are secret , the rest of our intelligence activities will be open and participatory so as to earn the confidence and full support of the public."  "That might not have been the case before," he continued, "but in any democracy, it is essential that intelligence services behave in an ethical and lawful manner."

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Managing a potentially explosive deportee problem

Barrow, Darboe - EU visit 
Gambia's foreign minister, Ousainou Darboe, has recently come under fire for his perceived mishandling of the return of the deportees and returnees from the United States and Europe.  He was criticized for his ministry's lack of plan of action, to include airport reception, of deportees recently repatriated from the United States. 

The absence of staff of his ministry at the airport to receive several dozens deportees from the U.S. was cited as his failure to carry out his responsibility as the minister responsible for Gambians living abroad and his general lack of interest in the deportees welfare, a claim he vehemently denied as malicious during a parliamentary session last week and on national television.

The minister explained his ministry's absence at the airport was a result of lack of notification of his ministry from the Americans which was immediately contradicted by the American Ambassador to The Gambia who said in a press statement and subsequent press interviews that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was notified "well in advance...of the charter flight,...and the Gambian government authorized the flight's landing clearance and arranged for the appropriate personnel to be on hand for its arrival." 

It is therefore safe to deduct that the appropriate personnel being referred to by the U.S. Ambassador are principally made up of immigration and customs personnel since the foreign minister's statement before the National Assembly admitted that no foreign ministry staff was on hand to receive the deportees.       

An airport reception party composed of Foreign Affairs and Interior Ministry personnel should, as a matter of courtesy and duty, be present at every occasion to receive deportees and returnees but the problem is much more complex and too serious that it poses an existential threat to the country, and the mitigating measures are sometimes outside the control of receiving countries and The Gambia is one of those countries more vulnerable than many African countries.

The handling (or mishandling) of the airport reception by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs led to Gambian refugees in camps, their relatives, as well as ordinary Gambians and political pundits to kick up a storm against the foreign minister and other officials which, in our view, was dispassionately harsh when one considers the mundane task of airport reception as being the easiest part of the deportee/returnee problem the country is likely to face in the future.  Tens of thousands of Gambians returnees and deportees are expected to be repatriated in the coming months from Europe and America.

Gambia, the smallest country on the African continent, defied all statistical probabilities by contributing a proportionally higher percentage of economic and political refugees to Europe via Libya and the Mediterranean than larger contributing countries to the current refugee crisis.  The human wave towards Europe in the last decade has been the largest human migration since WWII and The Gambia has been a significant contributor to it. 

In addition to its small size, Gambia's is among the least prepared to absorb the deportees and returnees because it is emerging from over two decades of one of Africa's most brutal dictatorship that has weakened the country's institutions and devastated a once thriving economy rendering its employment generating capacity ineffectual.  Self-employment becomes a viable option as a result. 

As Europe and America ramp up its deportation orders, the pressure will mount on the Barrow administration to create an environment conducive to a successful resettlement program that will include jobs and self-employment opportunities.  The communities can play a crucial role by serving as a social safety net but that role will not play a prominent role in our policy tool box as the foreign minister envisaged in his response to National Assembly members. 

A successful resettlement program must go beyond providing stipend to every deportee and returnee to include vocational and skills training programs to prepare them for private sector as well as self-employment opportunities. 

As local hostilities toward immigrants in general and "illegals" in particular grow in intensify, The Gambia should expect to receive a large number of its citizens from Europe and America in the years ahead as nationals in Europe and America demand to have their respective "countries back."  And as right-wing nationalists gain larger share of political power, they will exert more pressure on their electorates and liberal colleagues for stricter immigration laws.  Contributing countries like The Gambia should expect more deportees and returnees into the foreseeable future.

In fact, things would have been worse if the European Union had its way.   The EU initial plan was to mass deport Africans migrants by issuing them with laissez passez, effectively determining who is Gambian and who is Nigerian.  When the African leaders, led by Macky Sall of Senegal vehemently objected, the EU backtracked and came up with the $2 billion Trust Fund as additional aid package to help resettle the returnees.

Despite the existence of the Trust Fund and the abandonment of the mass deportation idea, the resettlement program is still a controversial one in the Gambia with questions raised about the lack of transparency in both what has been agreed to between the EU and The Gambia and also between bilateral partners and the government.  Claims have been made and threats issued by a section of the refugee communities across Europe that the government was readily willing to sign off on the deportation orders instead of taking a stronger stance that would guarantee their stay in Europe.

There is clearly a segment of the returnees who are disgruntled enough to be a destabilizing force should they return to a country that is still in transition and lacks the wherewithal to effectively manage a successful resettlement program. 

Prospective deportees currently resident in refugee camps have been reported to have burnt down shelters they are housed arson in anger that they are being deported and recordings have surfaced in social media uttering threatening remarks against the state.  These developments can easily be dispelled as empty threats and marks of frustration with no consequence to national security.   

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Monday, March 26, 2018

SEMLEX must be banned from ever doing business in The Gambia

Semlex CEO
If local reporting is correct, the signing of the contract between the Government of Adama Barrow and Semlex scheduled to have taken place last Thursday, 22nd March, has been aborted.

According to local newspaper reports, the entire contract award procedure is being reviewed by the government of Adama Barrow.  If true, it is the most welcomed development since the Semlex saga started since Ousman Sonko illegally and unilaterally award the contract to the Syrian-Belgian company.

When Jammeh discovered that his former Interior Minister had awarded the contract to Semlex without his knowledge, he ordered the contract terminated until the Barrow government decided to reinstate Semlex against our advice based on the company's disreputable business practices.

This decision led us to ask the question of why is Semlex being forced down out throats despite accusations that the company has been selling diplomatic passports to non-nationals of countries where it has been conducting similar business.  You can see that blog post here.  Semlex is currently under investigation in Belgium which has led to the raiding of its  Brussels offices and the home of the CEO in January this year.

Semlex's contracts have been terminated in Guinea-Bissau, Comoro Islands and Mozambique where its performance have been found wanting.  Its contract with the DRC has come under intense scrutiny.  In the case of Mozambique, it took the South African Immigration authorities to alert Mozambique when over one hundred persons claiming to be Mozambican citizens crossing the border on diplomatic passports.  An audit was conducted that revealed that diplomatic passports were indeed being sold to Mozambicans and non-Mozambicans alike. 

If it is true that the contract signing with Semlex has been aborted, we strongly urge the Barrow government to withdraw any offer that has been made and ban Semlex from ever conducting business in The Gambia.  Its past business practices alone is justification for a permanent ban.

The Gambia's drug trafficking past should be reason enough for the Barrow government to sever all ties with companies that have or a suspected to have a murky past.  Our national identification documents - our passports, national IDs and voter's card - should not be vested in the care of shady company's for national security reasons.

The sub-region is currently grappling with terror threats and infested with drug traffickers.  We cannot add to our owes by having our national identification documents being printed by a less than a reputable company with a proveable sterling record.

Despite all these negative public reports about the company, the Barrow government decided to proceed with the Semlex contract.  It is for this reason that the Right2Know (Gambia) a civic group had requested the National Assembly to conduct an inquiry into events that led to the decision of the government to award the contract to Semlex after the previous regime of Yaya Jammeh terminated the contract that was inappropriately and illegally awarded to Semlex.  Gambians want to know.  They have the right to know.

Friday, March 23, 2018

IMF extends Gambia's Staff Monitored Program, tells government to focus on reducing debt vulnerabilities and to "streamline the civil service."

IMF Executive Board 
The IMF Board met yesterday and concluded the Article IV consultation with The Gambia.  The Board took note that the Gambian economy has started to recover after a slowdown in 2016. 

In 2017, growth is estimated at 3.5% with the assumption that there will be a good agricultural season and a strong rebound of tourism.  Inflation has also declined to 6.4% in January 2018 from 8.8% in January 2017 suggesting that the dalasi has stabilized and a gradual decrease of food prices.

The IMF also noted that with much improved fiscal discipline and external financial support,  the dalasi has remained stable since last April and reserves increased from 1.6 months of import cover at end 2016 to 2.9 months at end 2017.

The Gambia's request for an extension of the Staff Monitored Program (SMP) first approved in March 2015 was approved by the IMF Managing Director for another six months, providing the government with more time to develop a track record of performance to qualify the country for an Extended Credit Facility which is the ultimate goal of the government.

The Executive Directors noted that strict fiscal discipline coupled with substantial external support resulted in substantial reduction in domestic borrowing.  "Going forward," observed the Directors, "it will be important to maintain the focus on reducing debt vulnerabilities and implementing reforms to increase private sector activity."

While encouraging government to continue its efforts in maintaining fiscal stability,  the Directors urged that spending be contained while raising domestic revenue.  To achieve this goal, the revenue measures delayed to 2018 must be implemented, as well as further efforts "to streamline the civil service."   Rehabilitation, reform and improved oversight of public enterprises will be crucial to limit contingent liabilities and protect fiscal outcomes, improve service delivery and strengthen the business environment.

The Gambia's debt exposure, specifically the substantial debt vulnerabilities, was highlighted by the Executive Directors as cause for concern.  The resource mobilization strategy that Gambia is urged to adopt will need to focus on exclusively grants.  Even highly concessional loan must be avoided in the medium term because of the external debt situation Gambia finds itself. 

The government is encouraged to crowd in the private sector to support broad-based growth by increasing access to credit for private enterprises to invest and grow.  Directors urged further improvement of the business environment and the strengthening of governance.   They also noted that reducing income and gender inequality would support economic growth as well as achieving better social outcomes.   

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

National Assembly requested to open a parliamentary inquiry into the SEMLEX fiasco

The Right2Know (Gambia), a civic society group, has sent a letter and a detailed note justifying the need for a parliamentary inquiry into the procurement procedure that led to the award of a contract for the production of Gambia's passport, National IDs and possibly voter's card to the family-owed company named Semlex, headed by a Syrian-Belgian.

The contract award has been marred by misapplication of standard procurement rules and procedures and interrupted by fits and starts that rendered the entire process suspect.  The detailed justification note initially addressed to  some members of the National Assembly enumerated the reasons why the Semlex saga must be scrutinized and subjected to a public probe through the National Assembly.

The Right2Know letter states "we hope that the legislature will use its oversight mandate to seek clarity on the Semlex contract, and send a clear message to constituents, the general populace and indeed the world, that The Gambia is now in an era of elevating the demand of public accountability, by cultivating a culture of good governance and the principles of separation of power."

The underlying facts and assumptions as to whether due process was followed in awarding of, what Right2Know described as "our vital social possessions" (passports and IDs) to a secretive and highly opaque company whose reputation has come more scrutiny both in countries they do business and in its own home country of Belgium.

The letter also drew attention to the contradictory pronouncements by various government ministers and public officials who were involved in one stage or the other of the procurement process, "using an avenue of secrecy to scuttle public scrutiny."

The R2K letter finally appealed to members of the National Assembly to "test the vibrancy of our new found democracy in the New Gambia.  The memebrship of the group offered its services to help draft a ToR once the motion has been tabled in the National Assembly.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Editorial: President Barrow, Gambia is not for sale

Sidi Sanneh 
Since the departure of Jammeh, little over a year ago, the Transition Government of President Adama Barrow has been careening from one negotiating mishap to another with foreign entities that can only spell disaster for the country.

Emerging from 22 years of a dictatorship that is universally acclaimed as one of the most repressive and corrupt in post-independence Africa, the country was left with an economy that suffered structural damage and its trained human resources severely depleted.

To respond to the structural problems, most of which were purposefully created, the incoming government was not only expected, but explicitly mandated, to urgently address them as its primary objective as a transitional government.

At the top of the list of priorities of the Barrow-led transition government were a review of the Constitution with a view to proposing modifications where necessary or write an entirely new one for presentation to the Gambian people in a national referendum.

The election laws were of major concern, of which Barrow and his UDP colleagues were victims of, and for this reason, it was expected that this would have commanded top priority.  Unfortunately, the opposite appears to be the case, entertaining speculation that Barrow and the UDP, if not his coalition partners, intend to use these restrictive and exclusionary laws against the opposition.

Civil service and SOE reforms were also expected to have been addressed immediately after assuming office as a necessary condition to weeding out the excess baggage left behind by Jammeh. A bloated, ill-trained, inexperienced and corrupt civil service, if left untouched, is a tacit endorsement of the character and behavior of the previous regime.

President Barrow's inaction on the reform front telegraphed his intention to retain crooked officials from the previous regime who are regularly paraded  before the country on national television to answer to criminal acts that include but not limited to looting the country's Central Bank of hundreds of million United States dollars in the name of Executive Orders from the ex-dictator.

The priority areas are labor intensive requiring a significant local input from the civil service and civic society.  It is also the least rewarding, financially and otherwise because it does not involve appreciable financial outlay, compared to jetting to Ankara or the Philippines to negotiate a procurement contract, that will accrue to civil servants which, we would like to believe, was a disincentive to embark on these vital national priorities by the transition government.

After all, elections are fast approaching - a very expensive proposition, especially if you'd like to be president.  The transition thus became more of a fund-arising opportunity than a period to kick-start a stalled economy and restructure a totally dysfunctional civil service and other institutional reforms.  This explains, in part, the breakneck speed with which highly questionable projects are being signed with little or no public input into the project identification and selection process that led to loan negotiations and signature.

There is total lack of transparency throughout the entire project cycle, resulting in misunderstanding and acrimony that has spilled over in the National Assembly when the Finance Minister tried to secure parliamentary approval for GAMTEL's fiber optic cable project by presenting what was referred to as the framework as opposed to the detailed summary of the appraisal report and the loan agreement delineating the terms and conditions.  What should have been a routine presentation ended up being a public display of lack of decorum between a member of parliament and the Speaker.

More acrimonious confrontations should be expected when a series of projects are brought before the National Assembly without the routine courtesies of providing vital loan profiles and the factors that went into the decision matrix.  National Assembly members feel they are being rushed into decisions that will commit them and their government and the Gambian taxpayer well beyond the transition and decades into successive governments.

Two controversial power generation deals signed with Karpowership, a Karadeniz Energy Group of Turkey and SENELEC the Senegalese electricity company are also likely to raise questions and doubts, in some quarters, because of the apparent lack of transparency in both the selection, price negotiations and the temporary approach adopted in addressing the country's energy shortage.

The fact that proposals from prospective renewable energy providers have been sidelined as part of the electricity sector roadmap is a missed opportunity for the country to join a growing number of countries utilizing solar and other forms of renewable energy as a cheaper and sustainable source than fossil fuel.

For instance, a typical solar iproject s 9.8 cents per KwH.  When compared with the same amount of power, the Gambian people will save 3.7 cents per KwH.  From a pricing standpoint, it makes little sense as to why Senegal's 13.5 cents or Turkey's 14 cents rental deal got chosen over solar.  A 30MW (30,000 Kw) rental plant running at full capacity for 12 hrs at 14 centsper KwH will cost USD 50,000 per day.

It is hard to justify borrowing such an amount just to pay for a rental.  It is also becoming increasingly evident that government (NAWEC) prefers to borrow and spend rather than inviting Independent Power Producers of renewables to join in the effort to solving the country's energy problem, permanently. 
                                   
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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Public Service Announcement - The Chronicle


The Chronicle
Safeguarding Liberty through Journalism 

EDITOR IN CHIEF
Banjul, The Gambia

The Chronicle
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