By: Basidia M Drammeh
Hopes were high when the Gambian electorate opted for a balanced Parliament by robbing the ruling party of an absolute majority in the last April parliamentary election in the hope that the National Assembly Members would be guided by national interest rather than partisan interest.
The voters wanted a departure from a rubber-stamp National Assembly. They expected the lawmakers to prioritize and deal with pressing national issues such as the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, access to quality health and education, and affordable and reliable water and electricity supplies.
However, that sense of optimism has long been dashed. The current parliament has failed its first critical test following the death of about 70 innocent kids diagnosed with Acute Kidney Injury as a result of consuming contaminated syrups imported from India. This colossal loss of innocent lives shook the nation and triggered a fierce outcry.
Amid such an unprecedented crisis, it took the National Assembly to convene to deliberate on the issue. Unfortunately, the Select Health Committee tasked with probing the tragic incident has not come up with any definite conclusions regarding the saga.
The Gambia is in the grip of a dire economic situation- inflation is soaring in the region of 13.37% compared to 8% a year ago, the local currency is depreciating against major international currencies, and poverty is deepening. Yet, the lawmakers have decided to increase their salaries and allowances, raising their payments to 2.6 million dalasis from 1.49 million dalasis. By doing so, our self-serving MPs deliberately chose to overlook the plight and agonies of their impoverished voters who pinned their hopes on them to better their lives and livelihoods—an average Gambian struggles to make ends meet daily.
According to the World Bank, the Gambia’s poverty rate has climbed to 53.4% owing to COVID-19. Instead of devising mechanisms and coming up with legislature that would help alleviate poverty, our self-serving MPs are scrambling to improve their living standards. By doing so, do our MPs have any moral authority to hold the Executive accountable for corruption and financial discipline? Can our lawmakers look the finance minister in the eye and confront him on financial misconduct, for instance?
Nonetheless, it goes without commending the likes of MP Touma Njie, who vocally spoke against wage increases for the lawmakers. It is evident that Mrs. Njie, along with a few MPs, represents the moral voice of a disappointing Parliament.