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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Not business as usual

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From the ongoing Janneh Commission that is looking into Yahya Jammeh’s assets, the revealed anomalies of governance and broken government institutional structures did not surprise many honest observers. For Jammeh had declared from the onset of his rule that he owned the country.

He had the intent to execute absolute control over Gambians to enable a corrupt machinery operate under him for his personal benefit. The plan and its operation was underpinned by his strategy to dwarf intellectualism and skilled capacity to enable his absolute control and autocratic rule over all government decisions and actions. Consequently, the Gambian civil and public services and administrative structures declined and lost effectiveness, professionalism and quality service, punctuated by nepotism, arbitrary dismissals and disempowerment of the senior personnel.

The incapacitation of many ministries and oversight personnel by the Personnel Management Office and the appointments of acolytes to key positions by the president who was the sole ‘recruiting agent’ for the government resulted in poor unproductive policies, weak technical insight in regulations, lack of accountability, dearth of creative opportunities and targeted capacities that are meant to stimulate economic growth. It was open knowledge that some senior personnel acquired positions through the presentations of forged higher degree qualifications to political stalwarts in the ruling party, who lobbied for such personnel to occupy positions of authority without verifications through interview process.

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The advisory and management boards of the government public corporations and agencies were weakened by the frequent interference on their decisions by the president, who extended his agenda to target the financial accruals of corporations for his enrichment.

This lack of oversight and the overt pilfering of resources ultimately built corruption within such corporations as the adage ‘baboon de chop, so the working monkey de chop too’ became the normal chatter of day during the Yahya rule! We reached a worrying peak where prodigiously talented young Gambians were not absorbed and allowed to emerge (in succession plans) and to be taken forward to achieve career development in the government system, resulting in the daily execution of sub-optimal service to the public by incompetent and corrupt personnel. Many of the senior managers were preoccupied with preserving their positions no matter how far decisions they had to make would run counter to rules and regulations, as exemplified by evidence from the ongoing commission. Consequently, we all became living witnesses to how the Gambian people endured hardship through backward, frustrating and unproductive services that the system delivered, which impacted negatively on living standards. Ridden by corruption on a massive scale, The Gambia continued to stay in the bottom list of countries with lowest development indices in all the world’s economic indicator assessments.

The bad governance and administrative systems therefore destroyed our institutions and administrative structures and the New Coalition Government should resolve to take on the inherited Gambia to make it a ‘New Gambia with a new soul’ rather than ‘New Gambia with the old soul’.

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There is urgent need to reform and build institutions that will be underpinned by credible policies and procedures, which can mitigate any destructive force of unscrupulous politicians, shadow state operators, devious foreign collaborators or contractors. Institutions, when built properly, are supposed to resist political manipulation.

There should be readiness to give thought and smartness to change and build robust institutions and systems for posterity and this can only start from considering competence and professionalism in the top echelon of both the civil and public services but alongside well-established and empowered governance oversight and accountability systems.

It is one thing for government to come up with economic development strategies such as the expansion of the maritime port, prioritisation of growth enhancing expenditure in government owned enterprises, youth employment creation, national sectoral growth stimulus investment plans and so forth, but it is another, to ensure that robust systems are in place that would not allow expenditure wastages through corrupt practices and would allow appraisal of implementations that measure the economic gains.

A country whose institutional structures are eroded will never permit the realisation of gains even with the best policies. In this regard there is for example, no rationale for the appointment of a so-called ‘investment adviser’ to the president who creates his own instrument of operation that is independent to the de facto investment institution (GIEPA); as equally the case for ‘ambassadors at-large’ to attract investments. Another example is investment for expansion of the port without review and revamping the regulation and procedures for ‘clearance of goods’ that is linked to a robustly checked ‘revenue collection’ system on duties. This will continue to allow holes to be exploited by unscrupulous businessmen as well as corrupt officials.

Police registration of cars without modern technological digitised tools that enable authentication, traffic planning and easily verifiable systems will continue to allow new vehicles to be tagged with old unused number plates and car thefts. It defies prudence that in an already inherited bloated civil service that is supposed to be subject to thorough review, there are new arbitrary appointments to fill created positions of deputy ambassadors and others. The examples go on! We cannot afford any longer to give lip service to structural, institutional and civil service reforms, while we get preoccupied with political positioning. These examples and many more beg the question of whether the new government is standing to rejuvenate the inherited near-failed state of The Gambia or merely fulfilling a political replacement.

If we are poised to inherit the way things were done without the readiness to give thought and smartness to change them (business as usual), the government will not steward the common good and the system will continue to circumscribe arbitrary powers. When reforms and smart governance are neglected, the result becomes a ‘corrupted state’ in which subversion of public office for personal benefits is a norm rather than a scandal; and according to Tom Burgis, then the degree of state institutions begin to serve as instruments of the ‘mighty’ rather than ‘checks on arbitrary power’. The politicians in advanced countries would no doubt engage or have inkling for corruption if there were to be opportunities, but they would not because of ‘strong institutions’, which make them dare not risk scandals.

Can we similarly determine to change our political and governance mindset for the sake of our future generation! Our political leaders must show willingness and ability to rise to the responsibility, no matter how they fathom the enormity of the challenge – this is the hallmark of true leadership (Chinua Achebe, 1983).

Dr Assan Jaye DVM, PhD, FAAS is head of Research Training and Career Development at the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia.

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