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Examining controversy over D2.5 million vehicle acquisition for The Gambian lawmakers

In July 2023, Toyota Landcruiser Prados were procured for members of The Gambia’s National Assembly. The vehicles reportedly cost D2.5 million each. This was met with public criticism, as some viewed it as a misplaced priority. Critics of the lawmakers’ action questioned if the move was to serve their interest or the constituents they represent. Despite the criticisms, the National Assembly members accepted the vehicles and defended their actions.

The rift between the masses and lawmakers

On April 9, 2022, The Gambians went to the poll to elect 53 lawmakers into the country’s National Assembly. The poll came a few months after the country’s presidential election in December 2021.

Since the election, the national assembly has struggled to gain the trust and goodwill of the public, who are often critical of some decisions the legislators took.

Following the announcement of the acquisition of vehicles by the National Assembly for members, the public took to social media to condemn the move.

Some called out the lawmakers for allegedly choosing luxury over their constituents.

Whats-on-Gambia, a media outlet in the country, carried the majority of reports on the issue.

Analysis of reactions under one of the stories done by the platform showed that the people want more transparency on the funds used to acquire the vehicles for the National Assembly members.

Someone wrote: “What’s the source of funds? Who approves them? These are the questions Gambians need to ask their NAMs about. Secondly, if this money came from our taxes, we need to liquidate them and use that money to deliver basic needs to our communities: water, electricity, healthcare? There is not a lack of resources but misplaced priorities, where custodians use our sacred resources for enrichment and comfort.”

Another wrote: “Well, the NaMs have been heavily deducted for this as they should cover 50% of the cost, including the opposition NAMs. I, therefore, foresee none rejecting these vehicles. Let’s wait and see.”

Following public outrage, the Office of the Clerk clarified that the members would be fully responsible for fueling and maintaining the acquired vehicles. He  also reassured that “the National Assembly shall remain committed to the execution of its mandate as enshrined in the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia.”

In a bizarre twist, WhatsApp conversations by members of the National Assembly were leaked to the media. Whats-on-Gambia claimed it intercepted the conversations of the National Assembly members.

Following this, Madi Ceesay, the deputy minority leader of Serrekunda West, reportedly wrote:

“So it simply means someone clandestinely allowed What’s-on-Gambia to scan the QR code of the WhatsApp group and have information… Waaw… This is a betrayal of trust. To speak the truth, I don’t know about other things, but regarding this vehicle issue, we are not wrong to legislate for the NAMs to have the vehicle that will facilitate their work. Anyone who works with the media platform can go ahead and disclose everything. We are not doing anything wrong, and nobody can stop the entitlement we deserve.”

DUBAWA contacted Madi Ceesay to verify if he wrote this, but he denied. He explained: ¨These are not my words. I have called the attention of Whats-on-Gambia as they got it wrong. They posted this and my picture. I´m the deputy minority leader, abbreviated as DML, and the deputy majority leader is also abbreviated as DML. We are both Ceesay. So What’s-on-Gambia reported that it was me. This statement is from DML Abdoulie Ceesay. Even Honourable Abdoulie Ceesay told me they used his statement and said it’s me.¨

DUBAWA went further to speak to Abdoulie Ceesay, who said:

“I think Madi should be the one in a better position to answer these questions. Did someone tell you it was me who wrote that statement? I don’t even know because this was a private conversation in our NAM Whatsapp group. Unless I know who among us betrayed our trust and allowed invasion from the media to get private conversations [and] publish, I am not in a position to clear anything here because I don’t know…”

Yahya Sanyang, National Assembly member for Latrikunda Sabiji, dismissed claims that the vehicles were “gifts” from President Adama Barrow.

He said: “President Barrow doesn’t have these cars. The cars are loans, and each National Assembly will pay half of the loans whilst the National Assembly as an institution will pay the other half for each member.”

He further argued: “In my opinion, the public reaction should be a pride for National Assembly members in the sense that the public doesn’t react to ministers using cars, permanent secretaries, governors, deputy governors and other senior public servants using official cars.”

The vehicles were officially handed over to the NAMs on Friday.

The financial loss

The Office of the Clerk had earlier reported that the parliamentarians would cover half of the payment. Whats-on-Gambia however claimed that after infiltrating the legislators’ WhatsApp group they discovered that NAMs would pay 30 per cent for the vehicles’ maintenance and not 50 per cent. It also said 70 per cent of the cost is covered by taxpayers.

To justify their actions, the legislators argued that the vehicles are similar to other amenities provided for government officials.

But the public disagreed. The vehicles given to government officials are state assets, whilst those purchased for NAM members are considered personal property. New vehicles would be purchased for new members when they no longer serve. Already, the lawmakers are protesting putting government number plates on their vehicles. 

Is the government buying the NAMs?

In 2017, there was outrage over a similar issue. The government gave pickups to parliamentarians. All but representatives from PDOIS accepted the vehicles. In 2020, equally, the party turned down land ¨gifts¨ for parliamentarians. Critics described such actions as attempts by the government to buy¨ lawmakers.

In an opinion piece by one Lamin Jobe, he wrote: “When a nation is struggling, its people look to their political parties for leadership and guidance. However, in the face of a struggling economy and the cries of a nation, the deafening silence from political parties regarding the government’s purchases of cars is nothing short of a betrayal. Political parties must remember that their existence is rooted in serving the people. They must actively engage in constructive criticism, propose alternatives, and demand accountability from the government. Only by doing so can they truly represent the people’s voice and work towards a better future for the nation.

“The silence of political parties on the government’s car purchases is a betrayal of the people. It indicates a lack of integrity, empathy, and commitment to good governance. By failing to speak out and hold the government accountable, these parties risk losing the trust and support of the citizens they claim to represent.”

According to What’s-On-Gambia, most of them, including opposition NAMs, had agreed to take the cars without seeing the procurement contract between the National Assembly and Cooperation for Africa and Overseas (CFAO).

“Since they were elected,” the medium wrote, “they have not accomplished ¨nada.¨Last year, so many sittings were cancelled because most were busy attending workshops and travelling around the world for per diems. Their failure to scrutinise the government is the main reason we have rampant corruption in the country.”

The Gambian public has for some time now questioned the integrity of its Parliament. Last year, Fabakary Tombong Jatta, leader of the former ruling party, and Seedy Njie were nominated by the president as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, respectively. The latest purchase of vehicles for lawmakers heightened concerns over transparency and accountability of The Gambia National Assembly. 

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