By Mustapha Darboe
President Adama Barrow has on Monday defended the controversial hiring of two Yahya Jammeh-era ministers in an exclusive interview with Kerr Fatou website.
Only few days ago, a video was trending online where the Gambian leader Adama Barrow was seen telling journalists he would not hire Jammeh-era ministers or ministers from opposition Gambia Democratic Congress because the coalition has sufficient human resource based.
But Barrow later hired Dr Mummamed Tangara and Mamburay Njie, two prominent ministers under Yahya Jammeh.
“Did I make a promise? I don’t think so,” Barrow said.
“They (Tangara and Njie) are Gambians. If we feel that they can contribute positively, I think they can be given the job.”
The Gambian leader said they “are not looking at individuals”.
“We are looking at the competence of the people to help us run this country. Personal issues are not very important,” argued Barrow.
“We feel that we need them, we need their experience, we feel that they are competent and we bring them into the cabinet. And they are Gambians… We want every Gambian on board. How many people are before the commission and are working in the Government… We wait for the recommendation of the commission. That is the time we can make a decision. The recommendation of the commission will be respected. We cannot organize a commission and spend a lot of money and not respect the outcome. The commission has very credible people… We will execute its recommendation to the letter.
Barrow said his government has made steady progresses in overcoming the gloomy economic outlook he inherited from his predecessor.
Barrow came to power in December 2016 when the country public debt has reached 120% of the GDP, with rising youth unemployment (38%) and poverty level at 48%.
“The eighteen months has not been easy but overall, it has been a steady progress… And we are very hopeful than before,” Barrow said.
“If you look at the economic figures there has been a lot of progress. When we came in power, there was less than one month import cover, and latest figures are showing that we have up to four months imports cover. That is beyond the three months standard. Interest rates used to be 17.4% and now latest is 1.5%. Borrowing has gone down and in the area of spending we have been very discipline.”
Meanwhile, Gambia has been in recent times ranked one of the highest corrupt countries in the sub-region by the Transparency International corruption perception index.
Barrow said though there are still challenges in combating corruption, his government has made huge efforts in the fight against the menace.
“We were able to do a comprehensive staff audit and we discovered about three thousand ghost workers. This saves us an amount equivalent to 1.3% of our GDP,” he said.
“And also Government financial transactions have been made stricter to make sure proper checks are in place.”
Barrow currently faces several challenges resulting in disunity within the coalition government that brought him to power.
Some weeks ago, he fired his former vice president Fatoumatta Jallow and replaced her with Ousainou Darboe in a major cabinet reshuffle that cost three other ministers their jobs.
And since then, some of his partners are insisting that he has betrayed the coalition agenda and should resign after the three-year transitional programme that they have agreed on.
But Barrow said the work the country’s democratic transition requires cannot be done in three years.
“Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission is on, the constitutional review commission, it will be premature for me to leave government without completing them— to make sure a new constitution is in place and new registration for the election…,” said Barrow.
The Gambian leader insisted that the coalition that brought him to power still “remains the same…”.
“I am the president and like a football coach, at some point, I have to make changes. This happens everywhere…,” he said of the cabinet reshuffle.
“There are tactics in every football matches, and sometimes you change a striker for a defender…”
Barrow said the reshuffle is not triggered by corruption.
“Some people want me to come out and say why they have been relieved but it is not in our culture and I am under no obligation, constitutionally, to do so. I wish them (sacked ministers) all the best. The change is not personal and we did it in the best interest of the nation,” he said.
OIC conference 2019
Gambia host the summit of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation next year in November.
Barrow said his government has also gone far “into the preparation for the OIC summit” with the help of key partners such as Saudi, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey.
“We want to make sure we organized a very successful one. The event is a big opportunity to host… The Saudis were here recently and the Kuwait as well,” he said.
“The Turkey is the current chair of the OIC and they have also made pledges. They have a very serious leadership and we have no doubt in their commitment…”
Barrow said his foreign policy has helped Gambia “regained the respect we deserve” within the community of nations.