In the twenty-two years of the AFPRC/APRC regimes, it was just Ali Baba in the person of His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya AJJ Jammeh, Babili Mansa. Now, it is Ali Baba with his full complement of the 40 thieves. That is the general perception among Gambians of corruption in the second regime of the Second Republic. For many people, the current level of corruption in the government has become more pervasive than even the everyone-grab-it for-yourself practice of the latter part of the Jawara and PPP regime.
The exposé from the leaked audio tape purportedly of the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources last week, negotiating a one-hundred-thousand-dalasis bribe and implicating his minister, is the latest in a long line of corruption scandals that have besmirched the reputation of politicians and public servants in the Adama Barrow government. It appears as if these officials have not learnt anything from either the Alghali Commission of Jammeh or the Janneh Commission of Barrow. The more we wished that things change, the more they remain the same.
But that is not what Gambians voted for in removing Jammeh in December 2016. Gambians voted for a structural and systemic overhaul of how things are done and how the country is governed. That is what Gambians DECIDED then and DEMANDED now! And it is in its self-interest that this government takes heed and act. We live in a different time when not only does everyone has a voice and can express themselves, but more significantly, can amplify that expression on the overabundant traditional and social media. Things can no longer be swept under the proverbial carpet or hushed-hushed away like that.
This government must make the fight against graft a priority. When cases of corruption in government are reported, it must act proactively by diligently investigating and where culpable, prosecuting. To give it the robustness it needed, the government should speedily constitute the Anti-Corruption Commission. In fact, this country needed an Anti-Corruption Commission even before a Human Rights Commission, because at the rate we are going, there will hardly be any funds left in the national exchequer to pay for the high salaries and maintenance of all the superfluous agencies and commissions being set up.
The anti-corruption reform package pending before the government has to move forward fast, particularly with the finalisation of the anti-corruption law and the operationalisation of the Anti-Corruption Commission. In addition, all those working in government, starting from the very top, must make an assets declaration and undergo a means test. And this must be done publicly. It serves no useful purpose for members of the cabinet to make these declarations and the documents are kept at the Ombudsman’s Office in a bunker more secure than Standard Chartered Bank’s vault.
The government should not allow grand corruption to become acceptable as the new normal in the country. To paraphrase India’s great moral leader Gandhi, there is enough for everybody’s need in The Gambia but not enough for everybody’s greed. If we stamp out corruption, get all those who should pay tax, pay tax and use our resources frugally and prudently by cutting waste and engaging in conscious spending, we do not need a dime in aid or loan from anywhere. And it is only then we will be a nation of upright men and women and truly masters of our destiny.