Honorable Ousman Sillah, Parliamentary Member for Banjul North constituency in The Gambia is probably one of the few parliamentarians in Africa without a car. The law marker, have been using public transport for the past four years, since his election in the House of Representative in April 2017.
When confronted by this medium over his usage of public transport considering his position in society, Hon. Sillah said “I am a servant of the People, so I am not expected to be living above them, so I have to be living like them… I am living with them. That is the rationale…I want to be part of them, I am them” He argued. He continued to say. “I am representing them, so, I cannot be anything otherwise. That is why I do what they do. I have to be modest, because whatever power that is invested in me, it entrusted [to me] by them (the People).”
Hon. Ousman Sillah belongs to the People Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) which political party was established in 1986. The party whose leadership formulated the coalition that defeated Jammeh in the 2016 election.
In 2017, Parliamentary Members of PDOIS stood out to reject vehicles allocated to the Law Makers by the “President” citing a lack of transparency. According to Hon. Sillah, his party equips its members with the relevant political education. “It is [political] education that has being the emphasis of PDOIS, you must know yourself, know your country, and know the world, and that cannot happen without political education” He stressed.
For Hon. Sillah being a parliamentarian is the highest call to national duty. He argued that he is elected to be the “ears and eyes, articling, and advancing issues that promote [the] welfare [of this People]”.
I am their servant
Hon. Sillah went on to contend that the electorates who vote “servant” in positions are indeed the “leaders”. “I am elected by the people of Banjul North to primarily serve the people of The Gambia. They are the bosses, and I am their servant. In fact, [the] People should be seen to be more privileged than myself under normal circumstances because I am the servant. So, I am serving them and that is the reason for the modesty, I cannot be otherwise.” He maintained. “I must serve them, I must be seen to serve them that is why I am what I am…” He emphasized. Adding “That is the orientation in PDOIS, we are servants of the People. We come to render services.”
In several instances, Law Makers in The Gambia have been accused of corruption with the Executive. The Executive has been accused of finding its way into the Assembly by monthly bribery of some Parliamentarian. The Public trust in the National Assembly has recently be diminished when the Parliamentarians allocated building loans for themselves in the 2020 December Budget session.
Using public transport is beautiful
Asked if the usage of public transport affects his function as a Law marker, he responded in the negative. “When there are sessions at the Assembly, I make sure that I wake up early and be at the Assembly very early. Sometimes, I do have challenges at Westfield – a popular street in The Gambia, just a few miles outside capital city but I always ensure that I am there on time”.
Hon. Sillah revealed that joining public transport is beneficial to him as a leader. Continued to explain… “I pay a fare to go with the People, and it, in fact, helps me. Interacting with People helps you as an MP, I can tell you everyday people approach me. Those who know me would be talking about issues that concern me, and those who don’t know me would talk about issues that definitely should concern me. Either way, whether [they] know me or not, I gather information from them that helps me to improve on my representation of the People of this country. So, it pays dividends. I may need vehicle at some point, but as of now, public transport really serves me very well. Using public transport is beautiful.”
The humble Law Maker said he has a lot of memorable memories using public transport.
Is it demeaning?
“I once heard that some [Law Makers] were arguing that some vehicles need to be allocated to the National Assembly Members, of course, I have no problem with that but what I am saying doesn’t negate that need. Parliamentarians need vehicles to access their constituencies… Some who come from faraway places, need it, I have no problem with that…” Hon. Sillah elucidated.
However, he was quick to refute the argument that using Public Transport as a Parliamentarian was demeaning. “…the argument being advanced that if you join public transport you are demeaning the status of the Assembly, I said no, I don’t buy that. We are not demeaning any status [of the Assembly]. We (parliamentarians) are servants of the People.”
“How can joining public transport be disgraceful? How about the Public, those who join public transport what are they, who are they? He queried, arguing that it is insulting to the electorates to suggest that using Public Transport is demeaning for elected Members of Parliament.
Hon. Sillah advised fellow Parliamentarians to, sometimes join public transport, so that they can learn. “Public Transport can serve as a school, in the sense that you can learn how the people behave, how they think, what they discuss about in terms of the country, …(our) responsibility is about the country, how to manage the country, how to serve the People.”