The Ramadan Gifts, How Right?
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Last week, The Gambian head of state dished out thousands of bags of sugar to the country’s Muslim population. The first presentation of what was reported to be a traditional Ramadan gift, witnessed the distribution of over twenty- eight thousand bags of sugar among the seven administrative regions in the country. Soldiers’ wives association, the ruling-APRC party women groups, and the armed forces also had their share of the distributed gifts. The second disbursement benefited so-called low-income earning civil servants.
Certainly, gifts to economically struggling Gambian Muslims by the president at such times, such as Ramadan, is quite commendable. It can be explained that the public is in dire economic conditions, thus needs help. The president was perhaps proving to The Gambians that he was quite aware of their situation and cannot sit idly by.
However, the questions that have been on our lips have not been answered: Is the giving of such handouts that would last for less than a month the solution to the dire economic conditions of Gambians? Is this not akin to, or, promoting what this current regime referred to as ‘dependency syndrome’ that was allegedly existing in the first republic and which this regime came to rectify? Surely, if not to nurture the culture of begging, poor people deserve to be taught how to catch the proverbial fish rather than to be always given fish.
In a democratic state, such gifts from the president which has become a tradition rather than a one-of thing, can only be accepted by conscientious citizens when the source is made clearly known. Realistically speaking, however, asking the hungry man to reject the gift, or, ask the source before accepting it, could be seen to be quite ridiculous. But, is it morally justified for the president to take advantage of this weakness to further perpetuate the belief that he directly holds the key to their survival?
Nonetheless, if the Ramadan gifts are from the president’s personal purse, this should be made crystal clear to the public. Also, it should interest the public to know how the president gets these resources. This is especially necessary considering the fact that what the president gives out, is more than what he earns – his salary and other allowances. It therefore invites into question the government’s commitment to transparency, accountability and probity. The president and his government have been preaching transparency for over seventeen years now. In fact, the alleged lack of it in the first republic was said to justify their takeover. But seventeen years on, we have not seen transparency practiced.
On the other hand, if the Ramadan gifts are from the government, this should as well be clear to the public. Then, the tax payers or their representatives should debate and decide whether their tax money should be spent on such gifts. Also, it should be subjected to a public debate as to the sanctity of the gift, given the constitutionally guaranteed secular status of the country.
Yes, majorities are Muslims, but Christians do pay taxes. Certainly, they have to put their money where their mouth is. In this case, their mouth is not in the Ramadan gifts. Arguably, the Christians do have their turn during Christmas. But even then, we should not be oblivious of the fact that The Gambia does not comprise only Christians and Muslims. There are people of other beliefs. And they are paying taxes. Have we considered them? How morally right is it for the government to feed the Muslim or Christian population with the money that does not belong to any single religion?
In either case – whether the gifts are from the government or the president – what should worry every Gambian, young or old, lettered or unlettered, poor or rich, is how our head of state is acting like an eighteenth century tribal chief. If the people want food, the chief provides, if they want corrugate for their roofs the chief provides and so on and so forth. For goodness sake, we are in the 21st century! The citizens deserve not to be reduced to beggars?
What the government should concentrate its energy and resources, should be to reducing the prices of basic commodities, reducing the high unemployment rate, and reducing the escalating debt. Or better still, how to make a greater majority of Gambians economically independent – for instance, to be able to put descent food on the table without one crawling on the knees.
It is worth the while of citizens, especially parliamentarians who are mandated to scrutinise the public offices, to ask where these gifts are coming from, lest it makes a hole in our national purse. Tax money is not for charity but to be transformed into essential services for the people. It may be sacred to give charity or gifts, but not what belongs to the nation to a chosen group to achieve ones individualistic purpose.