Fatoumatta: When faced with the shambolic, insensitive and arrogant manner with which the Govt has handled the doctors’ strike, one can quickly dismiss outright this administration’s ability or willingness to respond to its citizens’ most basic of needs. The list of broken promises, fraudulent contracts and wasteful programs far exceed any inventory of achievements that the tactical alliance government can demonstrate to persuade the public to give them five more years in office.
Fatoumatta: The way the Govt has responded to the health crisis is appalling, yet my sympathy for the doctors’ strike is grandiose by the day. Their steadfastness, unity and focus on the future are to be admired. But the right to life surpasses all other demands and Gambians have died unnecessarily over the years. Saffie has borne the brunt of the strike and she should be handed the bill for the increased needs and benefits that the resident doctors are demanding for the betterment of our healthcare system.
That is not to deny the medical profession their just entitlements. But we should contextualize the strike and recall that 59 percent of Gambians live below the poverty line of US$1 per day. Every sane citizen would also acknowledge that the minimum salary is an unjust wage that keeps the majority in poverty, enslavement or debt. The desire here, however, is not to belittle the doctors’ demands but to highlight the shocking inequality that exists in society.
Of course, health workers are not to blame for that inequality. One can sense how aggrieved health workers are when politicians, earn more than they do, but are best known for overseas junkets and extravagant allowances. State ministers earn a minimum of D50,000 per month with lucrative incentives, which is 97 times more than the minimum salary and makes them by far the best paid Gambians. Greed dominates the politicians’ agenda. There was hope that the Salaries and Remuneration Commission would bring sanity, equity and reason to the discussion table, but they, too, were intimidated into insignificance by law-makers.
Fatoumatta: But who will fight for Binta and when will the Govt make a collective bargaining agreement with the poorest-paid and most exploited of workers? Labor Day is arguably the most shameful day in the national calendar. The Gambia’s trade unionists, devotes their energies to making kings in their ethnic backyard but stands idly by when some minor presidential emissary announces on May 1 each year that the minimum salary cannot be increased until “the economy improves”. That reasoning of course doesn’t apply to politicians, university lecturers, board members of irrelevant parastatals or any other sector that has clout to unsettle the Executive.
Fatoumata: But what if Binta and Jainaba discovered that they possess the “tyranny of numbers” that they are the majority and have power? Take, for example, the private sector, which arguably is the largest employer in the country. Imagine if they downed tools and stayed away from work until their demands were met. The country would panic, and thieves have a field day.
Somehow, it is acceptable to close hospitals, clinics and health centers during strikes but unimaginable that teachers, hotel workers, taxi drivers could collectively bring the nation to a halt.
But that day may not be far away. Only a fool believes that the poor are satisfied with their lot. They are not just content to clean the toilets or frisk customers entering newly opened shopping malls. They, too, aspire to buy little luxuries for their children and to be assured that they can access treatment when they fall ill.