The Barrow administration had been rocked by one scandal after another, especially since the beginning of his second term, which he won by a landslide. As a result of such perennial scandals, there appears to be quite an obvious downward slide in the confidence that a majority of Gambian voters had in him to warrant them to give him such a huge victory in the elections.
There is no doubt that the failure of the government to decisively deal with some of those scandals as well as not being seen to tackle the numerous perceived incidents of corruption, had to a large extent caused that downward slide in public confidence. I have no doubt that if there was a proper scientific opinion polling in this country, President Barrow’s confidence rating would have been the lowest since he assumed power in 2017. It appears that so many people have lost confidence in the ability or willingness of his administration to tackle the problems of the people.
There have been numerous examples of perceived corruption and the government seem to have failed to take any decisive action to reassure Gambians of their readiness to tackle it. The numerous examples of perceived corruption scandals include the large quantity of hard drugs that were intercepted at the Banjul Port more than a year ago and still not much has been seen to be done in order to bring the culprits to Justice. We also saw the Fisheries Ministry corruption scandal in which the permanent secretary was taken to court and since then, not much has been heard about the case. There is also the Gam petroleum case in which the two top executives of the company were accused of fraud of over $20 million and after a short trial, they were eventually acquitted and discharged by the court, thus leaving no one being seen to be accountable for such a huge loss of Gambian tax payers’ money.
There is also the almost D2 billion Banjul road and drainage project, which, apart from the numerous questions about its legality; according to the audit report, started work three months before it was officially awarded to the contractor without going through any public tender process, which is a serious scandal on its own.
Now the latest scandal involves the deaths of over 60 children within a short period of time from Acute Kidney Injury, suspected to have been caused by contaminated paracetamol syrup imported from India. In view of the seriousness of the matter, everyone had expected President Adama Barrow to take decisive action, to at least reassure the grieving parents and everyone else that the government is serious in addressing the problem. However, virtually everyone was disappointed in how he handled the issue, especially his address to the nation on the matter, which hardly touched on the issues that the people had expected him to say. Most people were even more disappointed to hear him not only indirectly attribute the deaths to problems related to the flash floods, but he even went further to say; “I must state that the child mortality figure of sixty-six is not at much variance with the recorded data for similar periods in the past.” To many people, that was quite insensitive to imply that the figure of the deaths is normal and comparable to the past figures.
While I would tend to agree with Health Minister Dr. Ahmadou Lamin Samateh that his resignation, as demanded by many people, may not serve much purpose in this instance, but being head of the ministry, people certainly expect him to take full responsibility for any failure in his ministry and this is certainly one such failures. Therefore, while everyone agrees that those in charge of the regulation and control of drugs in the ministry bear the greatest responsibility for whatever led to the failure to prevent the importation and distribution of the contaminated drugs, but professional ethics demand that he as the head takes equal or even more responsibility for what happened. We had recently seen, for instance, what happened in neighbouring Senegal when 11 babies died in a fire incident in a hospital and President Macky Sall had to sack the health minister. This is despite the fact that there was far less direct connection between the ministry and the fire incident, unlike in our own case where the ministry is directly responsible for the regulation and control of all medicines that come into this country. Therefore, the culpability is much higher on top officials of our own health ministry than was the case in Senegal, and yet, rather than apportion blame, President Barrow seems to defend the ministry’s actions, or failure to take appropriate action.
We have heard Minister Samateh indirectly express displeasure with the World Health Organization (WHO) for disclosing the number of children that lost their lives from the infection even before his ministry had done so. The question that many people however seem to ask is whether the ministry would have made the disclosure if the WHO had not done so, or would they have just continued to keep the lid on it as just being “….not at much variance with the recorded data for similar periods in the past,” as alluded to by President Barrow in his speech?
It is however quite obvious that the figures of the dead children being mentioned are just those who died or were registered at the hospitals and health centres, but it is certainly very likely that many others died in areas where their deaths were not captured in the official statistics. Therefore, the true figure of those who died from the infection may never be known.
While Gambians are anxiously waiting to see what further action the government would take on the matter, but it is re-assuring to hear President Barrow not only order “the suspension of the license of (the) suspected importer and pharmacy” that were behind the importation and distribution of the medicine in question, but he also promised a review of the entire drug and medical licensing regime.
It is indeed in the drug and medical licensing regime that the problem seems to be concentrated. We have seen allegations trending on social media of senior officials (past and present) of the Ministry of Health, including those being directly in charge of regulating and controlling the importation and distribution of medicine in this country also being involved in the issuance of licenses to operate pharmacies to themselves and their relatives and friends and in turn renting those licenses to foreigners at exorbitant prices, apparently not concerned about how those licenses are being used. This is quite a flagrant case of conflict of interest and we expect the government to immediately address the matter.