Mr President, please allow me to write this open letter to you regarding our beloved nation the Gambia. The Gambia saw a new dawn on the 2nd December 2016 when the citizens exercised their democratic mandate to put an end to tyranny. A lot has passed since then, however I will not dwell on the past but concentrate on the future of our nation. Since your election you have asked Gambians both at home and in the diaspora to fully engage your government in suggesting and discussing ideas in order to build a prosperous nations. Gambians have heeded your call as evidenced by the numerous articles written by well-educated Gambians and friends of the Gambia on various sectors of the economy.
Please allow me to add my humble contribution towards this debate. Mr President I do not possess letters before or after my name like most of the Gambian intellectuals whose advices and articles I had the privilege of reading online, but I do have the knowledge and wisdom from travels in Europe. The Gambian economy has remained stagnant since independence despite the huge amounts of money received both in loans and grants in the same period. Almost every infrastructure in the Gambia is in a state of decay. Your government and your successors will have the unenviable task of rebuilding these infrastructures, the economy and the human resource to maintain them. I know Mr President to this regard you have had numerous advice, suggestions and opinions.
Living in Europe has given me the opportunity to study and closely observe Western Democracy and economics. It has ignited a fascination in me to try to understand the intricacies of how democracy and the economies of the west operates in order to find the secret of success of these developed nations. Mr President, I belief I know one of those secrets and it is something that if effectively applied in the Gambia will see the country develop into a very prosperous nation within 25yrs. This secret is not expensive to implement but it’s effect on the Gambian society will be profound. Mr President the key is postal address.
Allow me Mr President to give brief explanations of how postal address can help reduce corruption, nepotism and tribalism and at the same time develop the economy.
Your government should use the census data and create postal addresses for each and every person living in the country then country can completely switch to digital. Government departments and businesses should not be exempted from this. Every property should be given a number and a postal code. In situations where there are more than one dwelling in a compound the compound will have the main numbering and all other dwellings label as flat. For example, flat 1 number 1 Marina parade, flat 2 number 1 marina parade and so forth. There should be a legal requirement for every property in the Gambia to have a letter box.
Introduce new bio-metric ID cards for every Gambian and non-Gambian over the age of 17yrs and extend this facility to Gambians in the diaspora and their families. Gambians in the diaspora should pay with either debit or credit card into a Gambia government account. This will boost the country’s foreign exchange account balance. Link the postal addresses and peoples’ Tax Identification Numbers (TIN) and their bio-metric ID cards. Even day old babies should be given a TIN number which should be linked to their parent’s ID until they reach the age where they can have their own ID.
Citizenship and Immigration
The introduction of bio-metric ID cards with valid addresses and nationality will ensure that in future only Gambians can obtain nationality documents like birth certificates and passports and obtain voters card. This will ensure that our democracy will not be hijacked or made mockery of by non- Gambians or ineligible individuals. Bio-metric ID cards will allow the government to switch all passport applications from paper to electronic. This will reduce cost on the government and also ensure proper accountability of passport application fees as people will pay online instead of cash. It will eliminate direct contact with corrupt immigration officials as the completed passports can be sent through recorded delivery to the applicant in any part of the country. Gambians in the diaspora can use their bio-metric ID card details to apply for passports and pay online for the cost of the passport and postage.
Government can work with the banks to create a new banking regulation law to enable banks to open accounts for any individual in the Gambia provided they can provide proof of address and a bio-metric ID card. Businesses and individuals should also be allowed under this new law to create financial products and services at low interest rates. All bank accounts should be linked to peoples’ ID cards and TIN. This new law should require all payments to government and parastatals be made by debit card or credit card or direct payment into a government account using one’s ID card and also all monetary transactions of more than D400 between individuals and or businesses be completed by using debit or credit card. This should include all property rents costing more than D200 per month. This will allow the revenue authority to correctly calculate landlords’ tax liabilities because the authority can demand bank accounts of individuals if necessary. Increased number of clients will result in more funds available for the banks to lend money to credit worthy individuals with feasible business plans to start up businesses. This will create jobs and more tax revenue for the government. Government should introduce laws that can allow the creation of credit check mechanisms using peoples’ bio-metric IDs. Aiding and abetting or not reporting individuals attempting to defraud the state should carry a custodial sentence. This will deter people from trying schemes to circumvent the limit on cash transactions. A reduction in cash transactions will also mean a reduction in replacing worn out bank notes thus resulting in further savings for the government.
Postal addresses will allow government to widen the tax bracket to include more people. Mr President the current tax system is heavily reliant on people in the formal sector, whilst many people in the informal sector hardly contribute a Butut to the nation’s coffers. Regulating how businesses operate in the country will drastically reduce if not eliminate the black market trade which is destroying the economy. Every black market transaction is a loss of revenue to the government. The government can use postal addresses to create council tax banding for all properties in the country. An example of this can be D5 per month for a typical single room in the Kombos. All council tax should be paid into a government account and government can redistribute the money fairly amongst the various local government areas.
Customs and Excise
Government can create online only forms for import and export of certain commodities as a start with a vision to make all forms online only. The first items to be online should be vehicles, electric appliances, electronic appliances, medicines and bulk items like rice, sugar, oil, potatoes, onions, soft drinks, alcohol, tobacco, cement and other building materials. At the completion of the application process people should be given the value of the custom duty to be paid online. This will again mean money going direct into the government’s account and eliminating direct personal contact with corrupt customs officers who regularly fleeced both the people and the government. This will further increase the nation’s foreign exchange reserve as people in the diaspora will pay in their respective foreign currency and send the receipt to their family to collect the goods. People should be required to pay online for road tax number plate and any other legitimate charges when sending vehicles to the Gambia. This will greatly reduce the haemorrhage of funds from the state.
Banks will be able to support credible individuals with good business plans to start up agribusiness enterprises like poultry farming, meat farming, dairy farming and horticultural enterprises. This will ensure food sustainability, lower cost of living, improve the physical and mental health of the nation, create jobs and increase government tax revenue. Mr President having postal addresses link to peoples TINs and bio-metric IDs will eliminate the risk of bogus loan applicants as was the case in the first republic. Many Gambians will remember how the defunct Gambia Commercial Bank and the Agricultural Development Bank were lending money to ghost applicants which bankrupted both institutions. With credit check mechanisms in place successful applicants can borrow money at low interest rates depending on their credit score.
Our healthcare is modelled on the British NHS, free at the point of delivery. With every individual in the country having a postal address, the government can restructure the primary care system to include family Doctors for everyone in the country. Family Doctors will then be the first point of call for everyone except in cases of emergencies where urgent specialist intervention is required. The family doctor can examine patients and if necessary refer them to the hospital for specialist input or prescribe medications for individuals to buy from a pharmacy of their choice. The government should only pay for urgent care in hospital. This can reduce the government’s drugs and medicines bill. To ensure that the public is not been taken advantage of by unscrupulous pharmacies, the government should introduce standard charges for certain medications like antibiotics and strong analgesics.
All scholarships and training opportunities should be advertised online and all applications made online. This will ensure a level playing field for all applicants.
Insurance laws in the Gambia should be changed because it is not the vehicles that causes accidents but the persons in control of the vehicles. Therefore it will make sense to insure the driver instead of the vehicle. Good drivers can have their premium reduced yearly whilst bad drivers get an increase. This will teach people to act responsibly behind the wheel thus reducing the number of crashes on our roads.
All vehicles in the Gambia should be on the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) database. This will allow police officers to be more effective in dealing with offending motorist and eliminating the need for the countless check points which are many motorists’ nightmare and also creating opportunities for corrupt police officers. The ANPR should allow police officers to have instant access to information like the registered owner of the vehicle, insurance and tax status of the vehicle. The government can save a lot of money by getting rid of tax discs on vehicles and instead rely on the ANPR system. Offending motorists can be given penalty points and fines. With the bio-metric ID card linked to peoples’ TIN and driver’s license the police can send all fines to the banks if individuals fail to pay within 28 days. Vehicle ordinance test can be introduced and make mandatory in the long term. With all bank accounts linked to bio-metric IDs and TINs, the government will be able to recoup any money due to the state be it tax liabilities or fines.
Policing and Crime
Police will be able to respond to incidences and crime much quicker and effectively. Postal addresses will make identifying individuals much easier and also create a criminal database which can be used by institutions in their recruitment processes to check potential employees’ suitability for certain jobs. Examples of such jobs will be the security services, financial institutions and working with vulnerable members of the society like women, children, the elderly and the sick. Mr President, this will ensure that there are long term consequences for crime. People will think really hard before committing crime when they know that the consequences can last for a long time and for some crimes a life time.
The government should require all employers to advertise all vacancies online and open to all Gambians both in the country and the diaspora. This will provide employers with a large pool of talented applicants to choose from instead of the current system of people telling only their relatives and family members of job opportunities. When jobs are advertised online all Gambians will see and know the requisite qualification and pay scale for the job. This will make all sectors of the country equal opportunity employers. When people get jobs based on merit, it gives them pride in their job and they strife to make a positive impact in their job unlike people who were given jobs that they are not qualify for. Such people spend all their working life trying to placate the person who gave them the job. Placing all job adverts online will increase transparency and accountability. Aggrieve applicants can complain to the ombudsman to have their complaints reviewed.
Telecommunication companies will be able to introduce products and services that can reach a wider population than is currently achievable. This will be vital in a new digital Gambia. The services of telecommunications companies can be complimented by that of the postal service and businesses and individuals who create courier services.
Transport and other Small Scale
The Gambia can be included in various satellite navigation systems. People can create taxi firms to make travelling between places much easier. Other small businesses such as fast food restaurants, cosmetic shops, and artisan businesses can also use the postal address system to increase their clientele by using online sites and delivery services. This will create more jobs and more tax revenue for the treasury.
Mr President I know you have some lofty ideas about how to develop the country. However you should try and get the basics right first before embarking on big development projects. The Gambia has been dependent on loans and grants in both the first and second republic for development projects, let’s try and break away from that habit. The above proposal will ensure a steady stream of revenue for the government which can be used for project development and maintenance. Jarawa’s Singapore project and Jammeh’s Vision 20/20 all failed because they were based on loans and grants not on what Gambia government can afford.
Your priority should be getting the basics right, leave big projects like road construction to the next government. If you have to embark on any major project then might I suggest that you prioritize building a proper sewage system for the entire nation? This should be a priority over roads because roads in the Gambia are mostly destroyed by rain water due to lack of drainage. Stagnant water also provides breeding ground for mosquitoes which increases the incidence of malaria resulting in extra financial burden to individuals and the state.
Mr president the above is by no means an exhaustive list of the sectors that can be positively impacted on by postal addresses nor is it a complete in depth analysis of its impact on the sectors I have mentioned above. This open letter to you Mr President is to start a debate on the issue. Whilst I am confident that if the above proposal is adopted it will change the country for the better, I am aware and sure that there are many Gambians and friends of the Gambia with the expertise to further develop these proposals into working or workable policies. Mr President I implore you to use the expertise of such individuals to see these proposals through.