25 February 2013

Gambia: Politics Is Not Dirty,Politics Is a Noble Endeavour


Senegal's Minister for the Promotion of Good Governance, Mr. Abdou Latif Coulibally, during a recent visit by my humble self to Dakar, granted an exclusive interview to Foroyaa, dwelling on the reasons for the establishment of the ministry under his charge, its mandate, plans, present work, challenges and other related issues. Below is the full text of the interview:

Foroyaa: Minister, it is understood that the government of the Republic of Senegal has for the first time created a Ministry for the Promotion of Good Governance. We equally understand that you are the first person to be appointed as Minister in charge of this new Ministry. Could you tell us how the creation of this new ministry came about, its raison d'être etc?

Minister Coulibally: First of all, I have to thank you for approaching me for this interview to discuss with me issues concerning the ministry placed under my charge. I would also thank Allah. After this, I would want to extend my greetings to all our Gambian brothers and sisters, that is, the entire population and the leaders, as well as the government. The Ministry for the Promotion of Good Governance is the initiative of President Macky Sall as it was one of his election promises during the campaign for the 2012 presidential race. He promised the Senegalese electorate that when elected he would transform the mode of governance in the country and put in place a system that would safeguard and ensure the efficient and effective management of the national resources and economy of the country and to ensure the establishment of a transparent and responsible government that serves the interest of the Senegalese people. This programme was elaborated in his development blueprint (election manifesto) called "Yonu Yokute" (development path) that was presented to the electorate during the campaign. After he became elected, President Sall was sworn in and in his first presidential address to the nation on the 3 April 2012, he assured the Senegalese people that good governance is going to be the basis and focus of his government. When this happened, I was one of the first persons to be called upon by the president. He told me that he wanted me by his side at the presidency to be giving him expert advice on matters that would help the government to advance and consolidate the practice of good governance. I accepted the invitation to serve as a (Ministre Conseille) Minister Adviser to the presidency. This was in the month of April and I served in that capacity until in November, that is seven months later, when he reshuffled his government and appointed me as the Government Spokesperson and Minister to Promote Good Governance. The creation of such a ministry to promote good governance in the body politics of Senegal is something that our country urgently needs, given our experience most especially in the recent past with the previous government, its excesses in political governance and the mismanagement of the nation's resources to the detriment of the majority of the Senegalese people.

Foroyaa: How do you intend to work in implementing the mandate of this new ministry?

Minister Coulibally: Immediately after I was appointed in this new position, I asked the president to give me the space and full support to be able to conceive and initiate a strategic national document on good governance and to which he agreed. I was able to develop a 12 point strategy on the acts of good governance. The first of these is governance on enterprises or economic and financial governance, which seeks to support and protect both private and public enterprises in terms of investment and expansion. There are also strategies on institutional governance, political governance, governance in the judicial system, governance on effective public administration, accountability, involvement and participation of the citizenry in the governance process and citizen control among others. For example, on this citizen control strategy, if we formulate a plan to construct the road from say Sokone in Senegal to Amdallaye in The Gambia and have the work completed, what we will do is not only to seek for the endorsement or approval of the experts regarding the quality or efficacy of the said road but also the views of the communities in the surrounding settlements as well which is equally important. If there is any disagreement in the two views, the matter would be referred for adjudication. This approach is basically designed to ensure the unfettered and full involvement and control of the development process by the people at the grassroots level in order for it to serve their interest. These are the tasks associated with good governance that are entrusted to me and my team to implement and it is not an easy enterprise. I would like to add that it is the duty of every Senegalese to support this work. If you look at the mandate of my Ministry, you will see that good governance is a cross cutting issue as it has a role in each of the 30 Ministries in the government. This does not mean that the Ministry for the Promotion of Good Governance has to meddle with or control the work in every ministry but instead it is to collaborate with each of them in ensuring that the element of good governance is intrinsic and factored in their policies and operations.

Foroyaa: Has the work started?

Minister Coulibally: Yes, the work has already started with the creation of the ministry and the establishment of the different departments and structures to initiate and implement the policies and programmes. What we now intend to do in this coming month of May is to elaborate on a national document on our good governance strategy. Following the development of the document, it will be first sent to the Inter-Ministerial Council for adoption. From there it will then be taken to Cabinet for adoption as a national policy document. After this Cabinet approval, a national donors' conference will be organized to seek the collaboration of the international community for the implementation of the programme in the national strategic document. Presently, we are taking methodological steps in the development of this document that will enable the donors to identify which areas would attract their collaboration to support the process for the consolidation of democracy and good governance in Senegal.

Foroyaa: Are there any challenges in your work and if so what are they?

Minister Coulibally: The challenges are numerous. As you know, every change comes with its concomitant challenges or problems. It is not always easy for people to adapt to change from a set up they are familiar with to a new one. If you come and tell the people that they have to change the ways they have been operating or doing things, you must have to convince them that this change is in their best interest. It is not only that we have to change to prevent the reoccurrence of corruption that has been prevailing in this country, although this is very important. We are changing in order to put in place a system that will involve the population in the process of managing the resources of the country through a transparent and accountable government. You may be aware of the relentless efforts being made by the present regime to subject the officials of the previous government to account for their wealth and the national resources that were placed under their charge. We have started by revitalizing the existing but dormant law which prevents the illicit enrichment or corruption of public officials at the expense of the state and entire Senegalese population. As you can see, some people who were given political responsibilities in the previous administration are now being called upon by state investigators and the courts to account for or explain how they acquired their wealth during their tenure in office. The government is determined to tackle the problem of illicit enrichment by public officials and will do everything that is legitimately possible to recover every money that has been stolen from state funds which belongs to the Senegalese people.

I am always appalled when I hear some people trying to justify corruption when they say "it is not a problem if corrupt officials were to invest their ill gotten gains in the country" or sayings like "the animal eats grass where it is tethered". There can never be any moral justification for corruption or the plunder of the nation's wealth by the few. National wealth is meant for the people and it should be utilized to promote and guarantee their happiness and prosperity.

I don't agree at all with those people who say that politics is dirty. Politics is not dirty, it is some of the politicians who are dirty and would use politics for their personal enrichment. Politics is a noble endeavour and as such should involve genuine and incorruptible people who are ready to serve the interest of the people. Politics is representation and the management of national resources to provide people with the opportunities to improve their living conditions and to live in liberty, happiness and prosperity.

Foroyaa: It is observed that despite all these political changes being made by your government, the Senegalese people are still making demands. What do you make of this?

Minister Coulibally: It is legitimate and normal for the people to make demands from the government. This is part of the democracy that we now have in Senegal. The Senegalese people can never be suppressed again to the extent that they are not able to express their concerns and demands to a government which they have elected into office. People have fought for their rights and now popular democratic participation is entrenched in the politics of Senegal. No government can repress the Senegalese people again or continue to survive after failing to address their legitimate demands and the political leaders are fully aware of this fact.

The people should continue with their demands but they are also to have understanding that there is no quick fix to all these demands given what we have inherited from the former regime, the mismanagement and the impunity. The government is trying very hard to address the concerns of the people and the creation of such a Ministry for the promotion of good governance is a step in the right direction. The people need democracy, good governance, rule of law and justice, end to impunity, liberty and prosperity.

Foroyaa: Do you have in place guarantees for the involvement of the population in these reform programmes?

Minister Coulibally: Yes, as you can see in the governance programmes I have earlier explained, the participation of the people is key in these reforms for good governance.

Foroyaa: What about the media?

Minister Coulibally: The media too is a key stakeholder and it has been very instrumental in bringing democracy to Senegal. The Senegalese private media has been in the forefront in the struggle to promote and consolidate democratic participation in the political process which helped the people to bring about changes in the political leadership in the country.

Foroyaa: You are a media practitioner by profession and have been known as a principled independent investigative journalist who was very critical of the governments of the past. However, at the last presidential election you involved yourself as a political actor in joining the opposition forces that were calling for political change in Senegal. What is responsible for this additional role?

Minister Coulibally: I studied journalism in the US and on my return I lectured at Dakar University for 10 years. I worked as an investigative journalist for 32 years and have contributed my quota in exposing corruption and mal-governance at the level of the political leadership. As you may know, I have unraveled many shoddy deals involving President Wade and the members of his government. In fact, if I had wanted a position in the Wade administration, I would have got it. The position of a Minister of state (senior minister) could have been offered to me if I had really wanted privilege. However, my principles and love of country would not permit me to serve in such a government as that of Wade.

The situation is however different with President Macky Sall and this new government as there is political goodwill, focus and commitment to serve the interest of the Senegalese people.

I have now retired from journalism and have decided to concentrate in political work to serve my country in this new role. I want to perform the role of rendering political service to my country to strengthen good governance in public administration and consolidate democracy.

Foroyaa: Thank you for granting me the interview.

Minister Coulibally: It is my pleasure and thank you too.

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