How serious must the president’s National Dialogue initiative be taken?

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How serious must the president’s National Dialogue initiative be taken?
How serious must the president’s National Dialogue initiative be taken?

Africa-Press – Gambia. The premise of thought of most fair-minded people is no doubt that, dialogue is always preferable to anything else to the contrary. So, in principle, the concept of a national dialogue is commendable. However, “a national dialogue meeting to what end?”, is also an equally rational question for any citizen to ask. Well, it is the question for me anyway.

With the exception of one or two whose opening statements touched on public policy subject matters, one would notice that the issues raised by all other opposition party leaders or representatives who spoke during the opening of this National Dialogue Meeting (NDM) are matters which are already within the remit and competence of the Inter-Party Committee to address.

As the sponsor, President Barrow’s opening remarks and speech was so unhelpfully vague as to the objective, it offered no comforting opening to the enigma at hand. So, with an unclear and undefined objective, one wonders upon what basis and against what measure, success of this NDM is to be assessed. It is certainly not my proposition that this is an omission by design, but it is nonetheless fair to say that it raises a fundamental question: what is the objective of the NDM?

Furthermore, one also notices from the introduction by the host, John Charles Njie, that the NDM initiative is under the Office of the President (OP). So impliedly, it is not under the responsibility and budgetary allocation of any line ministry or public authority. Effectively, this means that the implementation and funding of any policy proposals (or resolutions as the host referred to them) emerging from such NDM are certainly going to be issues. The OP, like the Office of the VP (OVP), is hardly a line ministry, and although it has a budget, it is neither in the business of nor designed to implement policy – the failure of the National Think Tank initiative (which was allocated to the OVP in 2017) is a useful case study in this regard. So again, this also raises another fundamental question: Who is responsible for implementation, and what is its public budget?

In addition to being under the OP, the absence of a clear objective, an implementing authority, and a public budget, presents circumstances which arouses reasonable suspicion, that the NDM initiative is likely a strategic mechanism through which President Barrow seeks to pacify the political opposition, and ‘disarm’ or render impotent, legitimate criticism from within the wider civil society movement. In the apt spirit of healthy cynicism, it is not entirely meritless to conclude that perhaps this is the objective after all.

In my humble opinion, public policy aspirations should always be pursued within the framework of lawfully established public bodies and institutions, and through legislation passed by the people’s elected representatives in parliament. Seeking to do so outside this conventional and accountable set-up is highly unlikely to yield any good outcomes both in terms of substantive results, and financial accountability.

In the meantime though, there are pressing overdue priorities to address such as security sector reforms (which has implications on the spike in crime, public confidence in our armed and security services etc.), transitional justice including the prosecution of Jammeh and co., implementation of the Janneh Commission recommendations (which are currently being watered down and unpicked, and which has implications on the fight against bribery and corruption) and so forth. The government should be getting on with these, and the opposition and civil society should be pressing them on the same. These overdue priorities take precedence over an initiative which constitutes no more than a talking shop, to no end.

Personally, I do not criticise the opposition parties and civil society entities for taking part in the NDM, but having subjected the initiative to the benefit of reasonable rigour and exposure to sunlight, the indications are that their participation is most probably to their’s and the wider public’s detriment. However, assuming the opposition and civil society are minded to sustain their participation, they should seriously consider framing such participation around matters of public interest, not those within the convenient pre-planned talking points and boundaries set by President Barrow, and whose design I doubt the participating opposition parties or civil society entities had any input in beforehand.

Otherwise, it stands to reason that the participating opposition parties and civil society entities will run the risk of incinerating their credibility in the eyes of the public.

Source: The Standard Newspaper | Gambia

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