by Alagi Yoro Jallow
“In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People." ? Eugene V. Debs
In my opinion, corruption is not necessarily the looting of public funds. Looting is simply a symptom of a larger problem. The Gambia’s unfinished business is a perversion of ethics (read corruption) in public service. This perversion is facilitated by an entrenched culture of conflicted interests. Most political leaders do not aspire to public office to serve the electorate. In case of the Gambia, ‘Public Office’ is a place for self-enrichment. It is for this reason that full time politicians are wealthier than full time businessmen. Any purported fight against corrupt, based on chasing those who have stolen alone cannot have the desired long-term impact. In fact, such a fight is simply a public relations charade, an extravaganza of anti-corruption fanfare factoring donor money and attracting investors. The fight against corruption must begin by tacking its root cause.
When you read social media headlines like the corruption scandal involving the ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, you know that shit is going to hit the fan soon, unless President Barrow back-peddles. Loud corruption in competition with subtle corruption is alarming. In layman's language, it simply means that there exists dirt on President Barrow’s allies everywhere, including one of Adama Barrow’s door post, and confidant, heading the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs. Whistleblowers may be equally waxing lyrical and hallucinating about “unmasking” key political figures behind the “National and International Gateway Measuring System” scandal. It should be noted that whistleblowers should not be prosecuted but encourage in the fight to expose corruption arising from single sourcing of government tenders. Everyone is dirty, and everyone knows how dirty everyone else is. There are no good ones. Just bad apples.
When the corruption scandal between the Ministry of Information, Communication and Infrastructure and Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs on the “TENDER FOR NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL GATEWAY MEASURING SYSTEM” became public knowledge, it is no other than the Minister for Information and Communication Mr. Demba Ali Jawo who came to his own defense and exonerated his ministry’s lack of knowledge about the approved tender singularly done by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs.
Here is unedited letter from Minister Demba Jawo of MOICI addressed to Minister Amadou Sanneh of MOFEA “ flabbergasted by MOFEA without any consultation with MOICI and you went ahead to give approval ” with the behavior of the Ministry of Finance that “matter was never discussed in Cabinet and therefore, it is not correct to say that it was a decision of the government”, Minister Jawo’s letter quizzed.
“Re: TENDER FOR NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL GATEWAY MEASURING SYSTEM.
The letter reads “Pease refer to your letters Ref:PR/C/676. VOL.18(AS) dated 3 May 2018, Ref: PR/C/697.VOL.Temp. B(2JM) dated 10th April 2018, in response to letters from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs( MOFEA) In response to letters from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs( MOFEA) Ref: MF/C/262( 05)dated 19th April 2018 and Ref:MF/C/262( 11)DATED 2nd May2018 respectively, regarding approval for Tender for National and International Gateway Measuring System for management of the International Gateway, none of which were copied to the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure( MOICI).
The letter continues, “there is absolutely no question that the policy for the Management of the International Gateway falls squarely under the preview of MOICI as the sector ministry and therefore, we were quite flabbergasted that a request was made to your office by MOFEA without any consultation with MOICI and you went ahead to give approval for the order of the equipment to be placed with SIGOS-KODRAM which was not even the most responsive bidder and without any consultation with MOICI.This matter was never discussed in Cabinet and therefore, it is not correct to say that it was a decision of the government”.
“Therefore, in view of the fact that both OP and MOFEA have gone ahead to completely sideline us on an issue that falls under our preview also wish to inform you that MOICI will henceforth, have absolutely nothing to do with the order and will not participate in the process. As such, we will not be held responsible for any further delay to the gateway liberalization process and any possible legal fallout as a result of the decision”, the letter concludes
Demba Ali Jawo,”
Minister of Information, Communication and Infrastructure.
It is now common parlance to hear and read about “patriotism and national development” in most government declarations and pronouncements of President Barrow commitment to purge graft and racketeering in his government. Fighting corruption should mean following a trail of evidence to its conclusion, irrespective of rank and personalities. In a genuine purge, the argument about targets and victims cannot hold. Ordinary Gambians are the real victims and targets of corruption, not power barons and self-seeking ethnic chiefs. President Barrow cast the die and let the chips fall where they may.
I repeat, the problem with corruption in the Gambia is not the looting of public funds per se, but the lack of ruthless unwavering enforcement and rewarding of positive ethical behavior in Gambia’s public service. From Demba Jawo’s letter in defense of his integrity and reputation, and to exonerate the ministry on this massive corruption scandal involving the ministry of Finance on tender of the, “National and International Gateway Measuring System”, this is mindboggling, it seems, at least from perception, that there is absolute wrong with President Adama Barrow’s government actively trading and canvassing for tenders in situation where the scion of the same ethnic and family is the symbol and bearer of ultimate executive authority in the Republic in the name of the President. For me, it is deeply unethical and morally wrong for the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs to trade with national and international tenders without the sector ministry or cabinet involved in the transactions. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs do, then, the Minister become deeply conflicted any moral rot in the government.
In the Gambia, the perversion of ethics in public service is facilitated and driven by conflict of interest. Everywhere you look in and about government there is a bizarre confluence between the personal interests of holders’ high political office and those appointed to manage various public institutions across the country. The effect is such that, in decision making, it is not the interests of the nation and the electorate that takes precedence, but those of holders of high office in the land and the appointing authority.
When President Barrow formed his government and appointed those holding high political offices place their confidants, without due regard to experience, qualifications or ability in strategic positions within the army, civil service, police, and government parastatal for one reason only. “Personal Interest”. Most often, these are often being blood relations or men and women who have assisted them in their “dark” private endeavors in the past. You will only be appointed to head an institution, if the holders of high political office have confidence that you will swing to their demands and facilitate the hemorrhaging of public funds. For that reason, this government keep recycling former president Yahya Jammeh enablers and known gatekeepers from the PPP era- government at the expense of injecting new blood into the civil service. The government of President Barrow keep on telling Gambians that his government is one of “democratic” oriented government. Looting is formalized, through rigged but official tenders and procurement facilitated by influential phone calls from high places from “Granny Fatoumatta….” I repeat, the problem with corruption in the Gambia is not the looting of public funds per se, but the lack of ruthless unwavering enforcement and rewarding of positive ethical behavior in Gambia’s public service.
Now consider this. There is a reason why in many jurisdictions around the world, Presidents, his cabinet ministers and civil servants are not allowed to actively trade with government. In some countries, holders of high office as a matter of ethical conduct are required to place their business interests in a blind trust and disengage from day to day running of personal business. In others, public officers, apart from declaring their wealth at the commencement of their term in office, are required to declare all shareholding and directorships in companies that may do business with government, and at every instance, say while submitting a tender, a declaration must be made as per law, regarding a public officers’ personal pecuniary interest in the matter. Personal here construed to mean, private interests of a public officer or elected official and or his family or known associates.
It is estimated that the Gambia loses about billions of dalasis per year arising from procurement malpractice. Crony procurement through abuse of office and conflict of interest is the time-tested route to the privatization of taxpayer money. The tenders are single sourced where law allows or rigged in case of competitive tendering. Efforts are made by the tender board to ward off any challenges to the process by manipulating the tender documentation during evaluation. Getting a favorable hearing at Tender Boards where a tender is fixed for the benefit of the “big fish” is simply a nightmare.
It is this allure of “insider trading” in government that make politics in the Gambia a life and death duel. This is the reason why there so much noise to excite the public with 2021, yet it is only the first half of 2018. It is a constant and ruthless struggle to position oneself in power to access the gravity train in the name of “developing” country. The Gambia’s election is not a contest of ideas or good governance, but who, as per Michela Wong’s book on corruption, “Our Time to Eat.” The tribe is falsely convinced to vote for their tribesman and government. The current war on corruption is a low-key public appeasement exercise. Corruption in the Gambia goes up to the door step of the President. Corruption is not just actual looting and carting away money in gunny bags a la Alhagie Ceesay, Yahya Jammeh’s Chief Protocol. Creating a perverted environment where appointments are made without regard to a person’s integrity or selectively choosing who to investigate and whom to “pardon” or where key appointments are simply tribal reward gestures is also corruption. That is where it all begins.
What is more corrupt than a public officer using his office to influence the awarding of tenders and government business to himself, relatives and friends at inflated prices or even at the right price, for argument sake? It is this malfeasance that has enabled civil servants to register “fictitious” companies to benefit from the 30% of Government procurement allocation. Which procurement or tender board can stand pressure, for example, from the Head of State, Vice President or senior civil servant to award a tender, in total disregard to due process, to a specific person or firm? This formalized abuse of office is what creates wealth for holders of high office in the Gambia. Abuse of high office is the author and mother of Gambia’s corruption problem. When and if it the abuse stops, corruption equally drastically decreases.
This duplicity and double standards, correctly observed, implies unofficial inequality of citizens before the law. On that note, it is extremely difficult to taking the current purge on graft seriously.