16 August 2018

Gambia: The Presidency and the Critics

Divergent views and dissenting opinions are likely to emerge, as the citizens listen to the questions posed and answers given during the press conference convened by the Office of the President, on Tuesday 14 August 2018. The purpose of holding the press conference is to build a bridge between the presidency and the media, so that the concerns of the people will be amplified, to enable the executive get its opinion on those concerns, related to the population.

Take the question about the gateway, for example. The Ministry of Finance had initially exposed the losses to the country under the Jammeh administration and had promised that the old arrangement would be revamped after the change of government. In an answer to a question posed the President informed the public that the new arrangement has not yielded any fruit. Losses are still being incurred and that measures will be taken to find a redress. This is the spirit of the media holding the executive accountable to the public. It is such engagement that should be nurtured by every democratic minded leader of a sovereign republic. There are a thousand and one questions likely to be raised during a press conference and those who hold executive power display their accountability by entertaining them in good faith.

During this press conference, a particular question almost derailed the essence and spirit of the exercise. The question posed was opinionated on the suitability of the occupant of the office of President. The President had to make many personal remarks in self defence which has raised many questions regarding how the Coalition was financed and the roles of intellectuals and the Diaspora in the new Gambia. Now a Pandora box has been opened and many questions are being raised on the financing of the Coalition.

The President chose to address the opinions by displaying how he built himself as a successful businessperson and how he bankrolled the UDP before the Coalition came into being and later the Coalition as well. He did not mention what others contributed to Coalition financing. He questioned what his critics were doing, when he took such a burden on his shoulder. Instead of explaining policies and programmes to justify his leadership he focused on personal achievements and participation in the change process.

It is important for the presidency to focus on the purpose of the change and not be diverted from acknowledging the challenges in good faith. For example the issue of agriculture was raised. The President is of the view that his Government has adequately addressed the issue of fertiliser. This paper is however calling on the President to task the Minister of Agriculture, to put the Regional Agricultural Directorates to work in order to investigate whether, it is suitable or not to declare drought so that the problems of the farmers would be addressed before the end of the rainy season.

It is therefore advisable for the presidency, to always focus on the public when answering questions and see journalists as intermediaries between the public and executive power. In this way, the information they bring provides the executive with the ingredients necessary to clarify issues, and thus shape public opinion.

We therefore hope that despite the tense moments which became evident to all at this recent press conference, the door will remain open for the executive to remain engaged with the media, so that the truth will be brought forth in good faith, and in the public interest.

Gambia

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