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Beyond the optics: My Take on the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry by the government

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By Dr Assan Jallow

Although we are in the middle of a political season, I do not consider setting up a commission of inquiry into the conduct of all local government councils (LGCs) as a political witch hunt or a waste of government resources. That is not the intent of setting up a commission of inquiry, as such is premised on the due execution of the Public Finance Act (PMA). However, political experts can argue about the timing of government initiatives to determine if there is a direct link between the commission of inquiry and the upcoming local government elections on April 15 and May 20, but that is not the objective of this article. However, my two cents worth is that creating a commission of inquiry is necessary and timely in our current situation to uncover any wrongdoing in our public institutions (i.e., government and local authorities) by our public officials (either appointed or elected). This is because the Gambia, characterized as a transitional economy, has a checkered past of public corruption, as revealed in the Janneh Commission and other previous commissions of inquiries, such as the (Alghali Commission), which ended up in the setting up of the Assets Management and Recovery Commission (AMRC). In this context, we must not be blinded by the optics but enamored to speak truth to power about the fact that corruption is endemic and has engulfed our country in unimaginable suffocation.

It is noticeable that many have been alleged to have participated in unimagined state capture, as evidence suggests that many terrible things have happened in our governance since independence and following the change of government in 2016. These are and are not limited to:

shady deals and contracts (for example, fraud during pre-solicitation and the solicitation, during bidding, bid evaluation, contract negotiations, and awarding), undercut contracts, signing contracts through single-sourced procurements, and giving government contracts to friends, relatives, and family members).

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bribery, lobbying, extortion, parochialism, cronyism, nepotism, influence-peddling, graft, and embezzlement of public funds; and

Political corruption through the abuse of public authority for other purposes, such as the repression of political opponents and the widespread use of force by the police.

However, we have a crisis of information asymmetric in which the layers of accountability, transparency, and reporting are politicized and weakened to the extent that publicly available data are doctored or not found for the citizens to access and scrutinize.  This is a key challenge, thus causing confusion and fragmentation in the fight against public corruption and threatening our ability to root out corruption and crimes facing our country.

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Furthermore, the truth is that almost every house in the Gambia is affected directly or indirectly by public corruption. This is becoming increasingly problematic unless the necessary measures are taken to address this cancerous and evil scheme denying every Gambian access to adequate, affordable, and publicly available social services.

Based on this reasoning, did we ask how can an average public servant in the Gambia afford to pay the tuition fees of either their sons or daughters, relatives, and by extension, their special ones (friends with benefits – FWB) to pursue university education in the developed world, such as the US, the UK, France, and Germany? Have we even bothered to investigate how a public servant who earns, say D10, 000 per month, can afford to sustain a daily fish money of D1000 -D1500, depending on the number of households, excluding other daily and monthly expenses around the house? Are we surprised that most elected or appointed public officials live beyond their means? Where did the ill-gotten wealth and unimaginable spending spree come from and call for an investigation? These are incontestable happenings, and each of us can glean through our eyes to see the traded currency of public corruption and corrupt practices across our public institutions (ministries, departments, and agencies – MDAs and state-owned enterprises (SOEs); unless we desire to stay blind, act dumb and downplay it because of being incentivized through the scheme to either stay quiet and enjoy the spoils or protect a family member or friend. Why are we wicked or hate ourselves through incentivizing the rhythm of patronage and protection using deceit and deception to hoot and call it a political witch-hunt when the scars of our dealing are about to be uncovered? Isn’t that questionable? Of course, yes!

Sadly, it is only in the Gambia where someone who loots the public purse is identified as the “blessed one” (“Keey daafa tekki”) among his or her contemporaries as if corruption and corrupt practices are the units of measurement for success. That is a false ambivalence premised on a false metric and disastrous KPIs. We are living in interesting times, as corruption has become a way of life, where most among us tend to downplay such crimes and their existence in our public space, as some among us prefer to live the lives of panhandlers and wear it as a badge of honor. That is unacceptable.

Interestingly, there is perceived public sector corruption that’s human-induced and fueled by private sector players and collaborators who created the circumstance and environment for it to take place. Undeniably, corruption and bribery are the “new oil” where money is exchanged between hands “teeh kenn munut chii daara.” Furthermore, now, the center cannot hold as every “Kumba, Pateh, and Samba” have become an agent and driver of corruption and corrupt practices. Therefore, there is a need for the government to look into allegations of fraud and corruption in state-owned enterprises, especially the ongoing saga in GPA. More importantly, the misappropriation of 10s of millions of TRRC’s funds, the COVIDGATE, the Banjul Project, the Securiport contract, the Gampetroleum saga (a case in which the alleged individuals were acquitted and discharged based on “a lack of prima facie evidence linking them to the crime by the prosecution team”), and the unaccounted Timber revenue export trade issue, need to be investigated. As such, the establishment of many commissions of inquiries or extending such a commission to investigate these serious allegations of graft and stop the state capture in government and public institutions (SOEs).

Based on the above, I support such a commission if it is believed that funds have been misappropriated by any elected or appointed public official. Thus, people entrusted to deliver public goods/services must refrain from using our commonwealth’s resources. As such, our responsibilities as taxpayers are to give the government the benefit of the doubt under the radar of accepting responsibility and not under the rudder of concealment and partisan politics. Thus, we must avoid having preconceived notions and seeing government moves as a form of witch hunt based on our differing political ideologies. Instead, with objective reasoning and rationality, let us see the good in everything without attaching politics of emotions and patronage or using political lenses to share conjectures and unmerited opinions. For better outcomes, we must detach ourselves from emotions, allow the right things to take place, and save ourselves from setting bad precedence in future decisions and actions.

Recommendations

Although public corruption is evident and in full display in our ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) of government institutions. No one can deny it, as bribery and extortion are visible at our noses, and if it were an odor, then the country would be under intense quarantine. However, fighting corruption is a herculean task that requires the collective involvement and participation of all the stakeholders in our commonwealth through relational engagement, education, and persuasion with no acts of politicization. Therefore, to better have a heuristic understanding of public corruption and be able to exert authority in fighting it with a better and stronger political will and outcomes, I suggest the following:

Immediate presentation of the Anti-Corruption Bill before the deputies at our hallowed house of the National Assembly for it to be debated, agreed upon/consented to, and passed to the president for his assent. This is critical and does not assure that establishing a corruption commission will end public-private sector corruption in the Gambia. The benefit is that it helps creates better controls, deterrence, and detection measures in limiting the crimes of corruption and corrupt practices taking place by helping in the institutionalization of an audit trail to have a holistic view of funds transactions from Point A to Point B in order to determine and link those with misuse government funds and resources.

Assets declarations must be enforced, and individuals appointed or elected to public office should publicly declare their assets for the public to access through a publicly available database.

An effective immediate enactment of a Whistleblowers Protection Act is needed. This is critical in the fight against public corruption and for practical exposure to pique public interest. Hence, it will provide governance procedures for disclosing information concerning illegal, irregular, and corrupt practices.

The Public Finance Management Act must be enforced effectively and efficiently per its guiding principles, policies, and regulations to ensure fiscal accountability and responsibility in our macroeconomic environment.

Ensure the Auditor General’s reports are given the attention they deserve by the government. In ensuring that discovered anomalies are investigated, missing funds are returned to the consolidated revenue fund (CRF), effective immediately. Those found wanton are processed before the courts for the rule of law to take charge.

Dedicate more resources to the national police services (GPF) to enhance the investigative capacities of police in the fight against economic crimes, particularly bribery, and corruption in our public institutions. 

Resources must be deployed to the judiciary, and by extension, a deputy public procurement officer (DPP) needs to be recruited as such a government position cannot remain unoccupied. Leaving this position unfilled is a travesty to public and administrative justice. 

E-government must be implemented to curb public corruption, as digitalization has the prospect of limiting corrupt practices and bribery in government and local government services. We must stop theorizing and start implementing practical insights if we are committed and dare to ensure that resources are expensed for their intended purposes, particularly in providing basic services to the people.

To entrench and espouse a “Corruption Free Gambia, there is the need for effective multi-level organizational engagements, effective consultation, and participation of the Judiciary, the Civil Society Organization, the Legislature, and the Executive (government) through the executable mechanics of the established anti-corruption laws and legal instruments to punish corruption.

To conclude, I argue that corruption and corrupt practices cannot be acceptable norms and must be hated, discouraged, and reported through the #hashtag (see something, say something) by everyone regardless of age, gender, religion, political affiliation, and place of origin or abode. That is because corruption denies the citizens access to valuable resources meant for the public good and positions our country on the edge of waves of looming and unending political and insecurity crises. Moreover, misappropriated funds breed domino effects of socio-economic consequences and challenges that plunge a nation into “constrained vision,” deprivation, hopelessness, and poverty. Moreover, for the Gambia to survive, the corrupt and corrupted must be dragged before a competent court of jurisdiction to unearth their evil schemes, exposed, shamed, and jailed for their actions.

Finally, if we want to save ourselves from the wrath of any enabling and circumstantially enhancing environments that make it possible for this worst of all evils (corruption) to survive and thrive, we must be unapologetic, firm, strategic, and uncompromisingly endeavored to see to it that justice and fairness prevail in the fight against public corruption in the Gambia. In this case, their collaborators (i.e., drivers and agents of corruption or economic loot enhancers) must be given heavier fines and jail terms, and the business environment must be cleaned up.

Let us end the #Steal#Corruption #CorruptPractices#Bribery.

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