Gambia’s Civil Servants were shocked,following the government’s failure to increase their salaries in the country’s 2006-2007 fiscal year budget,which offered no hope to the nation’s impoverished citizens. As usual, Finance Minister Musa Balla Gaye delivered his budget without any mention of salary increment for the country’s Civil Servants.The  country’s ailing economy is performing below expectations and as such salary increment could not be catered for. The Minister who spent weeks to prepare what many called a “Cooked up” budget was accused in some quarters of being economical with the truth by down playing the nation’s ailing economic realities.

As we are about to enter the new year, the average Gambian Civil Servant is earning less than $50 US dollars per month. Out of the lot, formed the cream of the Gambia’s work force. The lucky ones earned between $75dollars and $100 dollars per month. Remember, most of these Civil Servants are heads of households. They are faced with high cost of living, drugs,education, the list goes on and on….

Over the years, the Jammeh government has not been in the position to increase the salaries of our Civil Servants. Salaries have been stagnant for sometime now. There is little hope for any pay raise in days, months and years to come. Under Jammeh’s watch, hopelessness and uncertainty continues to grip Gambians.

The country’s poverty ratio as of today stands at closely 70 percent. A country of less than 3Million people, the  average Gambian lives below the poverty line. Few communities can afford $1 dollar meal these days.  Confronted by growing inflation and official corruption, the country is also struggling with dreadful diseases  such as HIV/Aids and Malaria.

Close to ten thousand Gambians have so far died from HIV/Aids, whilst 30 thousand others are said to have contracted HIV, the virus that causes aids. Malaria which is often classified as tropical disease continues to ravage Gambia’s population. The country has witnessed high rate of  infant and maternal mortality cases in recent times. Pregnant women and children below the age of five years accounts for most of the Malaria related death cases.

The government in collaboration with  local NGOS in the country, have been wagging a campaign to tackle the Malaria epidemic. The Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation Against Malaria  had its own office in Banjul. It’s objective is to increase community base Malaria awareness. The Group also promotes Community base outreach  campaign in a bid to tackle the disease. Proper environmental sanitation and the promotion of treated mosquitoes bednets is high on their agenda.

It’s imperative to note that the 2006-2007 fiscal year  budget affected almost all the sectors of society in the Gambia. The Military,the police,the Health Sector,the Communication Industry,Agriculture and other sectors of development are at the receiving end, in this failed budget ever presented by our Finance Department. The Military boys are openly complaining about the government’s attempt to neglect them. They complained about poor pay, lack of incentives,promotion, discrimination among others.

Like the Military, the police also had their own stories to tell. A police Inspector told me that more than 2000 police officers have not been promoted since July of 1994 and their salaries still remained stagnant. The Inspector who works at the Police Head Quarters said due to  poor pay and low staff morale, many junior and senior officers have been tempted to engage in corrupt activities while on and off duties. The Inspector added that some of his colleagues usually conduct private road blocks and drug raids even though they were not on the official clock. That officers engaged in such raids “demanded money from wanting drivers and suspected drug pushers.”

It’s estimated that more than D1million Dalasis goes into the pockets of corrupt Gambian police officers each year. Must of these funds come from the Police License office,Traffic, Drug Squad,Immigration and Prosecution Department. Gambia’s License office is rated to be the most corrupt Departments in the Force. License issuing officers received bribes from nationals overseas to issue Drivers Licenses without observing the Road Traffic rules. They charged nothing less than $300 dollars to process such Licenses, said a police First Class attached to the said Department. The top brass of the License’s office connived with some junior officers to issue such Licenses.

Another money making heaven in the Gambia, is the Immigration Department. Junior and Senior officers received bribes from people trying to obtain our national documents. The Gambian Passport from 1994 to date have went into the hands of many non Gambians. Local Immigration agents charged between $400 to $500 hundred dollars to issue passports to non nationals. It’s very easy to obtain a Gambian Passport, as long as, one is ready to bribe the officers. Gambian nationals residing abroad are usually forced to bribe officers before they can secure their own national documents, said one aggrieved citizen. There are special people at the Immigration Department whose primary job is to process such transactions. Monies derived from the said graft usually don’t reach the National Treasury Department. It goes into the pockets of corrupt Immigration officers.

For this administration to be able to increase salaries for Civil Servants, it must conduct a thorough enquiry into the Financial Activities of  the Police Force, the Immigration and other Departments of state. Even though, these corrupt officers have succeeded in blocking traces of evidence into their corrupt activities, there are some patriotic Gambians and non Gambians alike who are ready to spill the beans before a properly constituted Commission of Enquiry.

We as a nation should be committed to combat graft in all its forms. Fighting graft should be every body’s business. It’s very unfair for few people out there to hold the country into ransom, when the average Gambian is not enjoying the national cake. Our sons and daughters want to have access to  decent houses, schooling, food, cars currently enjoyed by these corrupt public servants. Unless the government tackles graft, there cannot be pay raise. Their  are rats, Drimos, and what not in our midst, whose preoccupation is to steal national coffers.

For the government to win the confidence of donor partners, it should set up an anti corruption special task force, whose job is to police the police, the NIAS, the army, Civil Service and other Developmental Sectors. They should be tasked with the responsibility of  investigating corruption related cases and to bring the perpetrators to book. Setting politics aside, the Gambia belongs to us. We should put all hands on deck to expose agents of corruption and their accomplices. Fighting corruption and diseases is beyond politics. Together, we can make the Gambia, a corruption free nation.

Once again, we urge the government to look into the plight of impoverished Civil Servants. They need decent salaries and standard of living, just like those  few people in government monopolizing the national cake. Jammeh would hate to see these starving Civil Servants calling out from work or organizing national showdown actions. As the saying goes”Prevention is Better than Cure.” To avoid a crisis situation, the government should do what’s expected of it, rather than serving as spectators at this hour. Our country is not moving economically. Those responsible for the ongoing economic crimes and sabotage should pay for the price. Our country men and women deserve better.

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