COVID-19: Gambia’s Opposition Slams Gov’t Lack of Political Seriousness

By Bakary Ceesay

Bakary Bunja Dabo, leader Gambia For All party

The opposition Gambia For All party (GFA) has expressed concern at the lack of political seriousness in addressing the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country.

GFA said the fight against the disease, which has already killed one person and hospitalised 24 others in the country, should not be politicise because the risk of national disaster extends beyond the scope petty partisan politics.

In a statement to the media, the party said: “We come back to express our very deep concern over the way and manner that a major national crisis continues to be handled without the seriousness of purpose and diligence that should be the hallmark of a country at war, which we all agree, is the case as in other parts of the world with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic.

The message coming out of the National Assembly during their Extraordinary Session seems to have missed the point. The fight on the chamber floor should not be about asserting the legislative power but promoting a united front against COVID-19.

If we all agree that to arrest the spread of COVID-19 we need to adhere to the WHO guidelines which the state of emergency helps to ensure, however imperfectly, then let us allow the state of emergency. The focus of the discussion should be on how to alleviate the resulting socio-economic hardships through a clear roadmap that goes beyond the provision of food relief and, setting out clearly the potential impact of the coronavirus on the key sectors of the economy such as agriculture and tourism, proceed to outline measures for addressing the challenges.

GFA had earlier said that we should not politicise COVID-19 because the risk of national disaster extends beyond the scope petty partisan politics. We need a national collective effort in this struggle, which should, as a priority be directed at raising public awareness and getting the citizens to play an active role in the fight. It is in this regard that our Party, GFA, in its press release of April 20 strongly urged the government to … “ start by bringing together representatives of religious and traditional leaders, political parties, trade unions, private sector and civil society to promote wider understanding of and support for the challenges and ensure a wider mobilisation of the community effort.”

It is clear that this has not happened as the NAMs during their recent sitting confirmed what is already common knowledge, i.e. the persistence of a disturbingly low level of awareness of the dangers among the population. This explains the behaviour of most members of the public today. The people have a central role in this fight, and to assume that role they need to be more aware of the disease and the measures that need to be in place in order to take full ownership of the process. Unfortunately, the Government has failed to provide this space and we have not heard the National Assembly push for it either.

In the first place, no keen observer can miss the point that the Government’s own attitude, as well as its efforts so far in addressing the pandemic, are best characterised by lack of diligence as well as woeful failure to rise up to the occasion. Ineffectual communication, indeed lack of transparency altogether, maintains the nation in darkness about immediate and medium-term plans, if any, for helping the economy to recover through help to businesses, especially the sectors of tourism, fisheries, agriculture etc., in order to protect jobs and livelihoods.

And, indeed, the outbreak of the Coronavirus epidemic presents us with a multi-faceted crisis threatening lives and livelihoods on a scale we may not be able to withstand. Where, for argument’s sake, the crisis is reduced to its simplest dimension as just a public health issue, recent admission by the Health Minister before the National Assembly, speaks volumes about the precarity of our situation; Gambians are now left with no illusion about the prospects of gloom and doom facing us, unless by some miracle we can achieve a turnaround in our management of the critical health system, amidst such an appalling penchant for bare-faced thievery and diversion of public resources, so much corruption with resultant ineffectiveness. One other front opened in the crisis is in respect of the ravages of hunger and hardship brought, or worsened, by the restrictions decreed under the declared state of emergency.

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