By Cherno M. Njie
January 4, 2019
Please, pardon my naivete: I have been insufficiently cynical of the UDP-controlled National Assembly and the Barrow administration. The recent shenanigans surrounding passage of the
2018 Supplementary Appropriation Bill (SAB 2018) and the contents of the 2019 budget have confirmed my worst fears about the erosion of democratic accountability. Whether inducements played any part in this travesty, we may never know. But a legislature open to strangers bearing gifts will be difficult to wean off.
While attention has focused on the late-night parliamentary maneuvers and the credible questions raised about the legality of SAB 2018, the real questions continue to be the unknown or unstated position of UDP, the dominant party in the National Assembly, and that of Vice President Darboe.
The Vice President is not an ordinary cabinet member, for he occupies a position of influence in the executive branch, and, as head of the UDP, influence in the legislative branch as well. The
UDP’s dominance ensures that no legislation is enacted without the support of its members. The division within its ranks in the National Assembly concerning the passage of SAB 2018 was not a sign of nascent parliamentary democracy, but that of policy incoherence and disarray within the party.
Which brings me to the specific issue of the Vice President’s position on the SAB 2018 and the national priorities reflected in the 2019 budget. While we have heard statements from the Vice
President extolling his judicious use of state resources in recent days, and it is reassuring to know that he conducts party politics after office hours using only party funds, the public has a right to know where he stands on the SAB 2018.
Did the Vice President have reservations about SAB 2018? Was he consulted about budgetary priorities? If not, how does he justify continued service in a government that disregards his views on the most consequential matters affecting the nation? The Vice President’s remarks, which have been interpreted as veiled criticism of the fiscal profligacy of President Barrow, are simply inadequate in addressing the misguided priorities of the Barrow administration. To have any credibility, his rhetoric must be aligned with concrete action on his part and that of the party he heads. This means that he must salvage his legislative majority and deploy it as a bulwark against the President’s misplaced priorities.
As a heart-beat away from the Presidency, the Vice President, absent evidence to the contrary, is presumed to endorse the SAB 2018 and the 2019 Budget which his party enacted. He simply cannot signal that he stands apart from an administration in which he is a key member, indeed second in command, yet credibly maintain his position within that same administration. He cannot have it both ways.
There is a fine line between distancing yourself from the President’s excesses to enabling and validating them. The corruption and misplaced priorities of the Barrow Presidency are in full view. They will not lessen. We have seen enough to know that President Barrow represents infinitely more peril than promise to the Gambian political culture and national wellbeing.
By serving dutifully, the Vice President becomes inextricably linked to that legacy. If we are to believe that his positions are at odds with the President’s priorities, chief among which is to elevate his reelection above all national concerns, and he cannot in good conscience serve the President’s agenda, he should do the honorable thing and make a clean break now. This is what I mean when I say that the Vice President has reached a definitive moment of clarity.
I have a suggestion: Resignation. This is the strongest rebuke he has at this disposal. But, are the perquisites of power too great to give up? The Gambian people deserve better.