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City of Banjul
Thursday, November 26, 2020

Accountability for COVID-19 funds and the management of the national response

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By Madi Jobarteh 

Why is the Gambia Government opening up the country without providing any tangible reason for doing so? Not that I am against the decision but it is important that citizens are told in clear terms why it is necessary to fully open up the country at this time. What has changed such that there are clear guarantees that the virus will not spread again and if it does there are formidable measures to counter it? Since March 2020 there have been a series of restrictions that posed severe disruptions to the lives and livelihoods of the people.

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Yet since March, it was only once that citizens were supplied food items as a means to intervene against the impact of the lockdown. But that is insignificant given the length of the lockdown. Now that we are reopening without any form of relief to individuals, communities, businesses and offices that have been ravaged by the regulations is indeed indicative of the poor national response to the coronavirus. Therefore, citizens should not just welcome the President’s decision to relax the restrictions to open up the country, rather we should first raise the fundamental question about what happened between March to October 2020.

Were the right decisions and measures taken at the right time? Were the funds utilized in the most judicious and effective manner and fully accounted for? Was the response effective and comprehensive? Were the needs of the various sections of the population such as the old, children, women, youth, and persons with disabilities among others considered and well catered for? What has been the impact of the Government restrictions on businesses especially small and medium scale businesses and has the Government provided any relief for them? Were social services such as healthcare, education, electricity and water supply among others well delivered? Were the emergency regulations such as the use of face masks, social distancing, curfew and the ban on public gatherings enforced effectively and without any discrimination or bias? We need to interrogate these issues so as to ensure that public resources were not wasted and diverted and that public officials acted in the best interest of the people.

What is clear is that this Government failed to respond on time and in the right way to contain the virus. Its response has served only to force people, businesses and offices to close down or reduce operations at great cost to them without any relief. Even the reduction of fuel prices was minimal and then removed, while tariffs for electricity, rent, telephone, internet or taxes were not reduced or canceled. Meantime there has never been any financial handout to anyone, yet!

But since March 2020, the Gambia Government has contracted billions of dalasi from the national budget as well as from loans and grants. Yet until now there is very little to show for those billions of dalasi. Where are the testing and treatment centres and the necessary equipment that should come with them? Rather what we saw is the Minister of Health acknowledging massive corruption in his sector. On the other hand, if not for the NAMs who grilled the Minister of Finance to contain him, he was prepared to employ unlawful approaches that would have only served to further plunder public money for free!

Until today the Gambia Government has not accounted for the COVID billions in full. Neither the National Assembly nor citizens have been furnished with a comprehensive report as to how public money was utilized. In a nutshell, what is evident is that this Government has failed to undertake an effective, transparent and accountable response to COVID-19. Why?

What is even more scandalous is that the President himself became the No. 1 Violator of the state of public emergency regulations that he declared on his own. All throughout the pandemic we saw how the President and his surrogates lead public gatherings in various parts of the country. Therefore, what all of this indicates is that the Gambia Government must be held accountable for the poor use of public resources for COVID-19 and the overall mismanagement of the national response thereby harming national interest.

In a serious country such as France, we have seen how the police there have already begun investigating and prosecuting government officials for their poor management of the response to the pandemic. At this very moment, current and former public officials including the ex-Prime Minister and the current health minister are being investigated and prosecuted for criminal negligence which has led to untold suffering for French citizens. Thus if found guilty these officials could face up to 2 years in jail.

What about the Gambia where public officials did not only fail to respond on time and in the right way, but also went further to plunder COVID money, while violating the emergency regulations themselves and failing to provide any support to ease the suffering of the masses.

Therefore, join me to call on the IGP Mamour Jobe, to immediately open comprehensive investigations on concerned Government institutions and officials in order to prosecute them for the following:

  1. Criminal negligence in the response to COVID 19 by failing to take the right steps at the right time thereby causing untold suffering to the people;
  2. Embezzlement and mismanagement of funds for COVID-19;
  3. Mismanagement of the national response such that after spending billions of dalasi still national capacity has not been built to enable the country to effectively respond to the current and future pandemics;
  4. Violations of the emergency regulations by the President and other public officials for holding public gatherings.

If citizens could be arrested, prosecuted and jailed or fined for congregating, or for failing to wear face masks or for failing to respect social distancing or for violating the curfew, then the IGP has no justification why he should not also take action against public officials who also violate emergency regulations. Failure to do so means the IGP is being partial hence committing discrimination and selective justice for which he should be considered unfit to handle his position.

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