By Omar Bah
President Adama Barrow has granted pardon to former permanent secretary at the ministry of fisheries, Dr Bamba Banja and 36 other prisoners scattered across the country’s correctional facilities.
The ministry of Interior released late Friday evening a list containing the names of pardoned inmates but did not name the prison facility they were coming from.
The targeted inmates were set free under Section 82 of the 1997 Constitution and are expected to join their respective families in the coming hours.
Dr Banja was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for accepting bribes to secure the release of a fishing vessel that had been arrested by the Gambia Navy for violating fishing regulations.
It is not clear why Dr Banja was pardoned along with the rest of the prisoners, but commenting generally on the issue, leading Gambian investigative journalist Mustapha K Darboe, who did a story on Dr Banja’s corruption scandal, said prison pardon in The Gambia is “sadly not transparent.”
“It is a very abusive process, if you ask me. Usually, prisoner pardons should have been made in a very transparent manner, not from within the government, because you cannot just tell me that you have a committee that is inside the government. What I mean by transparency is to have a system where people who are going to be pardoned are listed with the crimes they committed and a brief summary of why they were pardoned. This is what transparency means because the president is exercising his powers in the name of the Gambian people,” he said.
Darboe said the Gambian people should first know the crimes committed by those who are pardoned and why they were pardoned.
“If you are going to pardon Dr Banja, for example, you need to tell the people why you are pardoning him and what informed that decision. Who knows whether there is a paedophile on the list because it had happened before? Jammeh went ahead and pardoned a paedophile, so we have instances of this prisoner pardon being abused gravely. Whether or not Dr Banja deserves it or not is a conversation for another time. If you are going to pardon someone sentenced for corruption, especially for someone as high as a permanent secretary, you need to tell people why you are doing it because the biggest problem we are currently facing is corruption and mismanagement,” he said.
He said it is ironic that the government would pardon someone it found wanting of corruption at a time when they claim they are doing everything to fight corruption.
“Dr. Banja’s pardon is another demonstration by President Barrow that he doesn’t and has never cared about fighting corruption. In fact, it is safe to suggest that his prosecution was never done in the public interest, but was done to save face amid the public outcry,” said Pa Samba Jaw, a popular activist. “Most Gambians are convinced that corruption is rife under President Barrow, and by this move, President Barrow has assured all corrupt officials that his government will never pursue them.”