Good governance includes state provision of enabling economic and financial environment where stakeholders engage in activities for ultimate value added outcomes. Apart from giving people choices and opportunities as producers of goods or services, government also has responsibility collecting tax for building the public revenue base. Government may also engage in businesses not as way of competing private sector operatives but compliment at subsidized cost to the public.
It is wrong and so much disincentive against private sector business people for president of Gambia to engage in commercial enterprise. This is more damaging to the economy when the president does not pay tax while competing with genuinely enterprising business people. Gambian constitution prevents a sitting head of state to engage in commercial private enterprise as seen by numerous economic and financial milking schemes being operated by the current president in the twisted claim of helping people or creating employment.
Let us examine the institutions, instruments, structures, systems and regulatory framework required in providing the enabling economic and financial environment for sustainable growth of Gambia. No nation becomes economic superpower of world class standards by day dreams and empty promises as obtains in Gambia over 22 years with the clock still ticking.
Regulatory framework and economic infrastructure
Economic regeneration is pivotal to sustainable livelihood. Properly planned economy based on sound policy will set out avenues for engaging private sector business operatives. Government is required to create the economic infrastructure and financial environment. That does not mean public office holders like the president or other government employees could readily take advantage of the situation by engagement in private enterprise while serving in public capacity.
Gambian law makers need doing more to prevent public office holders from private business venture; starting with the president. In failing to create and safeguard the required economic infrastructure for healthier cash flow, growth will be retarded to near collapse. The constitution has something on this but still nothing is done about current president in gross violation of clearly stipulated constitutional provisions.
People elected to serve in parliament are tasked for establishing the right regulatory framework and to come up with robust policy, procedures and instruments of governance; also to put in place a functioning systematic dispensation free from interference or abuse.
Relying on regulation and policy it is the work of government to provide development of the enabling economic infrastructure especially for private sector participation.
Expectation gaps in Gambian parliament
The most unfortunate situation of Gambian parliamentary representatives is that majority among them take it as source of earning without caring about the obligation to serve. Most people choose going into politics as sources of cool money and prestige.
Of course they are not to serve as rubber stamp body of men and women paying allegiance to a sitting president. This is more serious in the situation of Gambia where majority belong to the ruling party. To make matters worse, the president is known for control over members of parliament from his ruling party with powers to expel them. Once a member is expelled from the political party they represent, that member invariably loses representation. Due to fears that they may get expelled by a president who does not respect rules and regulations, members of the ruling party prefer to keep the cool by voting into law anything going along dictates of the president.
Close observation of this trend reveals a situation where Gambian parliament fails to deliver what they are tasked to do. They remain largely docile and as resource burden. Therefore there is no attention paid to the entire economy and financial system needed to boost growth.
Parliamentary representatives are supposed to add value by coming up with sound economic and financial policies while putting in place proper instruments operated by competent technocrats and seasoned public sector supporting private informal sector operatives. That is not happening in Gambia as evidenced by the rubber stamp nature of parliament.
Everyone in parliament is very much aware of this. Only a small number care about what is going on. Usually they are outnumbered when it comes to votes in parliament. For more than 22 years Gambian parliament fails to function in line with demands for creation of an enabling economic and financial environment required for boosting employment in private sector and growth. They enjoy their pay even after knowing fully that theirs is the worst case of voluntary unemployment by group of people who get paid for doing no work. Now we look at what people in parliament are tasked to do.
Looking at matters close enough members of Gambian parliament by negligence fail serving effectively as custodian of the economy and finance systems. They don’t relate to the economy and finance as responsible competent representatives. Rather they use the platform of governance as milk cow for source of personal income.
What the people in Gambian parliament fail to realise is the bitter fact that when there is total financial meltdown and eventual economic collapse everyone is affected and that does not exclude them.
Policy on Commerce and industry
Growth and sustainable upkeep of commerce or industry does not spin off by chance. Gambian economy for all that is known remains purely a commercial petty trading system. Policy environment and the infrastructure for industry stay dormant for longest time.
In the total absence of systematic dispensation current government of Gambia has no industrial policy. There are no regulations or government policy needing to stimulate growth as such even while government may claim otherwise. Only after 22 years arbitrary rule by the military junta that word came through public newscast recently that a unit has been created for policy.
It was after repeated calls by concerned policy advocates including author of this article that talks began over the need to think about regulations and systematic dispensation. The pronouncement by government that they recently created a ministry for policy and planning is seen as mere lip service. If regulations are not subjecting a sitting president to public scrutiny, they remain empty talk show.
Although there are named government ministries for various sectors, their operations largely rely on no policy or regulations. That includes the judiciary. Everything evolves around the sitting president who has no regards for laws of the land.
Informal sector small and medium enterprises
In principle private sector led growth serves to spin faster the economy and finance. It was for that reasons a study carried out UNDP /ILO came up with recommendations for establishing a permanent institution in support of such. That institution became known as Indigenous Business Advisory Services IBAS.
According to expert perception and operational strategies, IBAS was meant to serve as centre for excellence in promotion and development of entrepreneurship. It was meant to serve as autonomous business consulting institution aimed at boosting employment through small and medium scale enterprises SMEs in the informal sector business.
It was to the surprise of most Gambians when government announced dissolving the Indigenous Business Advisory Services IBAS, a pioneering institution for encouraging entrepreneurship and enterprise culture as strategy for economic growth.
Ironically, the need for type of enterprise development initiatives and promotion of entrepreneurship that IBAS was designed to serve is more now than ever.
There are current initiatives including the establishment of business incubators for engaging private sector entrepreneurs. These were key lines of operation that IBAS was established to carry out even before this junta government.
What seems like reinventing the wheel is yet to bear fruit. Will a government that has a sitting president in all sectors of private business permit the growth of entrepreneurship? It is one thing to have good plans. With the lack of enabling policy framework and support from an unwilling government many good plans will die premature.In the absence of policy and regulatory framework it is hard to achieve goals set on no realistic targets with severe systemic failures.
Private and public business services
Government may provide goods and services at affordable cost to the general public. Good example of such commercial services include river transportation like ferry crossings around the country, to name one.
It is not the business of government to go into full blown commercial enterprise as though in competition with private sector business people. Similarly too, a sitting president does not have to venture into private enterprise and claim that is way of helping people as obtains in the current dispensation.
If Gambian parliament was doing the right job, the enabling economic and financial environment would have encouraged growing number of private sector business. On the contrary, the sitting president is running full scale private business and not paying tax. That is serious disincentive to genuine entrepreneurs and recipe for eventual economic collapse.
Above all else, the sitting president uses public revenue generated by government establishments to invest in his numerous private business ventures.
Gambia Revenue Authority GRA, Gambia Airways, Gambia Ports Authority, Gambia Trust Bank, Central Bank, and Social Security & Housing Finance Corporation SSHFC are examples of milk cows through which the current president drains economy and finance of the nation. Usually there are no proper records or simple procedures. Cash is lifted by “executive directives” meaning by whims and caprices of the current president. Nobody in these named public establishments stop bulk lifting of raw money from their coffers into deep pockets of the sitting president for his private misuse.
Taxation as source of public funding revenue
Revenue from taxation is meant to serve as source of public funding. That is not all a properly functioning government does. There is more expected.
Gambia Revenue Authority GRA is a fat cash cow for vibrant economy and healthy finance the nation needs. It will be fatal to the national economy and financial health when public revenue is collected only to have it diverted for personal wealth creation of a sitting president.
Government tax as source of revenue is required to keep the economy going. The president and other public office holders are paid through tax payer funds. It will be wrong to pay public office holders and permit them to dip their hands in revenue collected for everyone’s use.
Using public revenue for private use will only help to bring the economy down. Politicians are paid as custodians of the constitution. They have obligation putting sound policies in place especially for safeguarding of public revenue.
Public office holders are not better or deserving more than ordinary taxpayers. Revenue from taxation and other sources of government funds must be protected for collective interest.
Government incentive and subsidies
To be seen as serious about private sector led growth government has to provide incentives in a healthy competitive vibrant economic environment. Government subsidies serve as enticing incentives for private sector participation.
With sitting president in all types of business including sand mining, artisanal fishing, vegetable business, and scores of other private ventures, that is unhealthy competition.
Government of Gambia is not providing support for private sector but permitting a sitting president to compete with genuinely enterprising operatives. That has to stop so that a level playing field for fair completion is put in place. A more caring government will support and promote private sector initiatives but not cause stumbling block as currently prevails.
Conflict of interest for public office holders in private business
The sitting president is not going by regulations. Parliament is keeping quiet about this gross abuse of public office where a sitting president meddles with entire economy, commerce, trade, and financial sectors. Unless this matter is taken up by parliament, even if they come up with proper policies, that will not bring about sustainable growth.
Imbalanced economic order and slow cash flow
Gambian economic superstructure is not set on balanced footing. Financial engine is not spinning enough for robust and healthier cash flow situation. Over the short run genuine entrepreneurs in the private sector will be demotivated. In the long run, the economic superstructure will collapse due to failure of the financial engine of growth.
Under the current dispensation, it is not sustainable that a sitting president controls vital private sector business while milking public revenue as source of finance for his numerous personal ventures. As the president is not paying tax while genuine entrepreneurs could no longer cope with the unhealthy competition between them and a tax evading leader of government the situation is prone to winding down.
Rectifying the errors of Gambia’s broken finance and collapsing economy
Absence of systematic dispensation due to policy failure can be recipe for eventual collapse. Identifying the missing instruments and policy gaps is another step closer to solution.
To rectify the errors of Gambia’s broken financial order and propel the economic engine takes a reverse order of action. Law makers have to be challenged in taking responsibility and do the job they are paid for. Policy instruments have to be useful and not just going by name. Rules and regulations must be applied to everyone. No sitting president must be permitted to engage in private enterprise especially at the expense of public revenue and disincentive to genuinely enterprising population.
To cut it short, the rectifying process will entail having to look for missing instruments and loose chain links; fixing all bolts and knots. No ifs or buts; national interest has to supersede personal desire for private wealth.
Having to bake a larger national cake is not enough if everyone will not get fair share of what each deserves. Only with the most enabling environment supported by good incentives will economy and finances of Gambia regain required health and sustainable growth. To replace good order with decadent disorder is prerequisite to full recovery.
Those who feed on economy and finance of the nation must do everything to keep it healthy and stable in best shared gains for all.
Written By Sarjo Bayang, UK