by Sidi Sanneh
Since the departure of Jammeh, little over a year ago, the Transition Government of President Adama Barrow has been careening from one negotiating mishap to another with foreign entities that can only spell disaster for the country.
Emerging from 22 years of a dictatorship that is universally acclaimed as one of the most repressive and corrupt in post-independence Africa, the country was left with an economy that suffered structural damage and its trained human resources severely depleted.
To respond to the structural problems, most of which were purposefully created, the incoming government was not only expected, but explicitly mandated, to urgently address them as its primary objective as a transitional government.
At the top of the list of priorities of the Barrow-led transition government were a review of the Constitution with a view to proposing modifications where necessary or write an entirely new one for presentation to the Gambian people in a national referendum.
The election laws were of major concern, of which Barrow and his UDP colleagues were victims of, and for this reason, it was expected that this would have commanded top priority. Unfortunately, the opposite appears to be the case, entertaining speculation that Barrow and the UDP, if not his coalition partners, intend to use these restrictive and exclusionary laws against the opposition.
Civil service and SOE reforms were also expected to have been addressed immediately after assuming office as a necessary condition to weeding out the excess baggage left behind by Jammeh. A bloated, ill-trained, inexperienced and corrupt civil service, if left untouched, is a tacit endorsement of the character and behavior of the previous regime.
President Barrow's inaction on the reform front telegraphed his intention to retain crooked officials from the previous regime who are regularly paraded before the country on national television to answer to criminal acts that include but not limited to looting the country's Central Bank of hundreds of million United States dollars in the name of Executive Orders from the ex-dictator.
The priority areas are labor intensive requiring a significant local input from the civil service and civic society. It is also the least rewarding, financially and otherwise because it does not involve appreciable financial outlay, compared to jetting to Ankara or the Philippines to negotiate a procurement contract, that will accrue to civil servants which, we would like to believe, was a disincentive to embark on these vital national priorities by the transition government.
After all, elections are fast approaching – a very expensive proposition, especially if you'd like to be president. The transition thus became more of a fund-arising opportunity than a period to kick-start a stalled economy and restructure a totally dysfunctional civil service and other institutional reforms. This explains, in part, the breakneck speed with which highly questionable projects are being signed with little or no public input into the project identification and selection process that led to loan negotiations and signature.
There is total lack of transparency throughout the entire project cycle, resulting in misunderstanding and acrimony that has spilled over in the National Assembly when the Finance Minister tried to secure parliamentary approval for GAMTEL's fiber optic cable project by presenting what was referred to as the framework as opposed to the detailed summary of the appraisal report and the loan agreement delineating the terms and conditions. What should have been a routine presentation ended up being a public display of lack of decorum between a member of parliament and the Speaker.
More acrimonious confrontations should be expected when a series of projects are brought before the National Assembly without the routine courtesies of providing vital loan profiles and the factors that went into the decision matrix. National Assembly members feel they are being rushed into decisions that will commit them and their government and the Gambian taxpayer well beyond the transition and decades into successive governments.
Two controversial power generation deals signed with Karpowership, a Karadeniz Energy Group of Turkey and SENELEC the Senegalese electricity company are also likely to raise questions and doubts, in some quarters, because of the apparent lack of transparency in both the selection, price negotiations and the temporary approach adopted in addressing the country's energy shortage.
The fact that proposals from prospective renewable energy providers have been sidelined as part of the electricity sector roadmap is a missed opportunity for the country to join a growing number of countries utilizing solar and other forms of renewable energy as a cheaper and sustainable source than fossil fuel.
For instance, a typical for solar is 9.8 cents per KwH. When compared with the same amount of power, the Gambian people will save 3.7 cents per KwH. From a pricing standpoint, it makes little sense as to why Senegal's 13.5 cents or Turkey's 14 cents rental deal got chosen over solar. A 30MW (30,000 Kw) rental plant running at full capacity for 12 hrs at 14 centsper KwH will cost USD 50,000 per day.
It is hard to justify borrowing such an amount just to pay for a rental. It is also becoming increasingly evident that government (NAWEC) prefers to borrow and spend rather than inviting Independent Power Producers of renewables to join in the effort to solving the country's energy problem, permanently.