MADI JOBARTEH – OPINION: Time for the President to Revisit the COVID-19 Response

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It is indeed outrageous how citizens ignore preventive measures to combat Coronavirus. However this problem lie at the foot of the President and the sooner he realises that the quicker he should get up to reverse the situation! The current bad situation is expected if one follows the huge missteps of the President and his Government from the beginning.

For example the President could have made huge gains if at the very beginning he called in political leaders, business leaders and civil society leaders to share ideas for a national concerted effort. This strategy will include religious and community leaders given the high premium that religion and culture have in our society.

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But the president failed to do so. Some of us called for it but got ignored. Yet we see many leaders around the world take that approach successfully.

Then he refused to connect with the people as early as possible. Since March he addressed the nation only 4 or 5 times. Other leaders are doing that from daily to fortnightly and they register success. Even the dumb American President does a daily briefing!

Then Pres. Barrow failed to ensure that proper laws are used to declare regulations and allocate resources. Rather he chose to flout the Constitution whether to declare SoPEs or to spend public funds. It backfired.

After I have cried multiple times and got ignored that the way the state of public emergency were declared was wrong in the end the President decided to abandon that approach by relying on public health laws to be used by the Minister of Health. But again in March I had suggested the use of those regulations to no avail.

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The Minister of Health and the COVID-19 coordinator did not also do any better in terms of engagement with non-state actors in order to create a broad based national front. Again they chose to go it solo. It backfired. In fact it appears the health sector is without direction and infested with corruption.

At the end of it all there is massive misuse of resources such that basic equipment and welfare of frontline workers are inadequate. Given the amount of public funds that were illegally accessed by the Minister of Finance plus the funds obtained from both IMF and the World Bank between March and May 2020 it is safe to say that we had enough money to address the complete health needs of the pandemic! Therefore where are those monies?

The Minister of Health confirmed the corruption in his ministry. The National Assembly also confirmed the abuse of the Constitution and the Public Finance Act to access and use funds. But neither the Minister nor the National Assembly went further to call for accountability! Meantime allowances and PPEs are in short supply while health centers are ill-equipped!

Where are the health materials donated by Jack Ma Foundation or by the Chinese government? Where are the millions of dalasi donated by the private sector?

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It is now clear that the country is under severe existential threat thanks to poor leadership. The masses do not have confidence in the Government hence the poor adherence to preventive measures.

The Government’s poor and selective enforcement of regulations and late provision of food aid which was politicized overshadowed all meaningful efforts to combat the virus. Because of the lack of trust in the Government in its handling of the pandemic people became more reckless as they refuse to comply with safety measures.

How does the President now reverse this dire situation? Here are my proposals:

  1. The President has to come out to connect with the people on a daily basis in the language he understands.

  2. To regain public confidence the President needs to show full transparency of where resources are coming from and going to and what is happening or not happening.

  3. The President has to take corrective measures for the inefficiency, underperformance and corruption around COVID-19 funds and interventions.

  4. The President may have to sack or redeploy some Ministers and officials to ensure efficiency, accountability and transparency.

  5. In this regard the President has to ensure that all necessary resources for testing, treatment and quarantine centers are well equipped and also ensure all frontline workers are adequately paid and on time!

  6. The President has to submit himself to the scrutiny and guidance of the National Assembly and follow the rule of law to better facilitate national response.

  7. The President will have to engage especially non-state actors and political leaders more meaningfully and remove all political intrigues in these engagements.

  8. The President has to stay on top of things with constant connection with the people thru daily televised addresses.

  9. The President has to ensure that enforcement of regulations are effective, firm and indiscriminate. The President has to use the military if need be to enforce regulations.

  10. The President must mobilize the full force of the Government machinery to ensure that each and every public institution and official perform their duties with efficiency, transparency and responsiveness.

The President must realise that he has a wide array of resources – inside the State and in the civil society and the private sector – at his disposal such that failure is not possible. The President is at liberty to call on any institution or organization or citizen or community to seek their ideas, expertise and contribution as is necessary and I am sure these people will offer their support.

Therefore let the President raise his head beyond politics, beyond State House and beyond his ego to see only The Gambia! He can ask for help from anyone and that’s not a sign of weakness but a great manifestation of leadership.

For The Gambia Our Homeland

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