The politicization of the Gambian Civil Service started with the purging of the senior cadre of a service that was considered by many in Africa as one of the best in the continent. Small, but very efficient, in helping initial and, ultimately, implementing government policies, the civil service quickly developed a reputation as a leading recruitment ground for many international organizations.
The success of the service was partly due to the ability of President Jawara to keep it as apolitical as possible with a rigid seniority system to guarantee stability. The conscious decision to keep politics out of the civil service and Sir Dawda’s ability to spot and retain bureaucratic talents, the likes of Eric Christensen, Francis Mboge, Dr. J. Ayo-Langley and Abdou Sara Janha to lead the Civil Service as Secretary General. These personalities were the custodians a Civil Service that prided itself on its independence from political interference, to ensure that it served the interest of the Gambian people and not any politician or political party.
The 1994 coup ushered in a new era that was heavy on politics and light on everything else that contributed to an orderly and transparent bureaucracy. The rules of the road governing the civil service were ignored, trampled upon and eventually discarded in favor of opaque and unwritten rules and regulations manufactured along the way by Jammeh designed to satisfy their thirst for money to buy their way to permanency and absolute power.
Internationally-certified and standard procurement systems and procedures were deemed to be too transparent and cumbersome and thus do not lend themselves to rapid implementation of their programs financed with a loan from Taiwan that Gambians will have to pay. These procedures were thrown overboard by the AFPRC.
Contracts were awarded willy-nilly without tender and that includes the first projects under the junta such as the airport terminal building and Arch-22 to memorialize their illegal and unconstitutional treasonable acts of July 22, 1994. Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh replaced the Major Tender in awarding contracts, contrary to every rule in the procurement book.
Fast forward to 2017. The Coalition Government headed by President Adama Barrow inherited all of the structural changes Jammeh effected during his 22-year dictatorship, and the hope has been that the new administration will start the deconstruction process to rid the system of prevalent crony capitalist embedded in the Civil Service.
An overhaul of the civil service with a view to restructuring it to meet the challenges of the new era is imperative. The rationalization of its staffing – both numerically and qualitatively – is a matter of must and a prerequisite for a successful generation and implementation of appropriate policy measures to address the myriad of problems that threaten the stability and, in turn, the economic progress of the country. The initial staff audit that was recently concluded is a start but not sufficient to provide a true and accurate profile of the civil service inherited from Jammeh.
Unfortunately, the trend since last January suggests that the heavily politicized administrative infrastructure that Jammeh constructed to maintain his dictatorship for twenty-two years is still intact and relatively undisturbed which is unsettling to many Gambians. This is what, in our view, is fueling the regime change versus the systems change debate.
The depoliticization process must start with updating of the Cabinet Manual, as well as the General Orders and the Financial Instructions which must undergo a rigorous public comment period and/or validation processes, as an integral part of the participatory approaches to our new and hard-earned political dispensation. A politicized civil service will rob it of its traditional independence necessary to provide unvarnished advice to the government of the day.
Sidi Sanneh is an economist, ex-diplomat and former minister of foreign affairs with sectoral experiences in economic planning, agriculture, education, finance and trade.