By Omar Bah
The Ministry of Justice has described as “inaccurate and illogical” UDP leader Ousainu Darboe’s claims that the government’s commission of inquiry into the dealings of local councils is a witch-hunt.
In a statement issued on Monday, the ministry said the UDP leader’s statements are a “distortion of facts, signalling a new low in our political discourse with an attempt to score cheap political points at the expense of truth and political decency.”
The ministry argued that section 200 (1) of the Constitution gives the president the power to set up commissions to look into matters of public interest which include the “conduct or management of any department or authority of the public service or any local government authority or public enterprise.
“The president, in setting up this commission to look into local government authorities, acted under the powers vested in him by the supreme law of the land, and based on numerous reports from the Area Councils and Municipalities including the ones controlled by UDP. The allegations of corruption and abuse of office at the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) are a case in point,” the statement added.
According to the ministry, Mr Darboe’s “strange condemnation of the establishment of a commission of inquiry into these allegations at a municipality administered by his political party is indeed, a worrying development”.
“Furthermore, the characterisation of this legitimate commission as a witch-hunt by Mr. Darboe is contemptible given that the commission’s terms of reference cover all councils and not just those led by his UDP Party. As an experienced lawyer and statesman, Mr Darboe ought to know better that commissions of inquiry being transparent and civilian-led inquiries, provide an opportunity for a very transparent and apolitical investigative process due to the public nature of its proceedings.
“It is important to remember that while politically led, councils are administered by public servants appointed by the Local Government Service Commission. There is therefore no basis to believe that this inquiry is created to target his party. Moreover, Mr Darboe’s further characterisation of the commission as an interference with the Supreme Court judgement in the case of Talib Bensouda and 53 others v The Attorney General is not truthful. The formation of this commission commenced months before the Supreme Court judgment, and as a general accountability exercise, it has no connection with the matters covered in that judgment,” the ministry stated.
The statement added: “It can be recalled that last year, the Minister of Lands and Regional Government established a commission to investigate corruption allegations and other financial malpractices at the KMC. In a strange turn of events, the UDP-led Council initiated legal action to block the establishment of this commission. Mr. Darboe’s latest attacks on this accountability mechanism are just another attempt to resist accountability.
“It will be important to note that Mr. Darboe himself was a subject of past commissions of inquiry and adverse findings against him for tax evasion. He therefore lacks the moral authority to condemn this commission and if anything, it is he who has a vendetta against legitimate investigations by seeking to block this inquiry into area councils and municipalities. As an experienced lawyer, Mr Darboe should be aware of the remedies available to him through the courts if he is dissatisfied with the decision to establish this commission.”
The current government, the statement added, has an impeccable record of promoting judicial independence and impartiality in the dispensation of justice.
“Mr Darboe should therefore, follow due process rather than encouraging public revolt through his unguarded utterances. The sole motivation of The Gambia government is to ensure accountability for councils and enhance transparency and fiscal responsibility. We will therefore, not be deterred by unsubstantiated political statements and far-flung conspiracy theories,” it concluded.