Cherno S Jallow, QC, is the director of Policy, Research and Statistics in the Financial Services Commission of the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Until his current position, Mr Jallow was the BVI’s Attorney General for seven and a half years. Previously, he worked in the Gambian Justice Ministry in Banjul. By turns, he became a state counsel, assistant legal draftsman, legal draftsman, parliamentary counsel and head of the legislative drafting division. In this exclusive interview with Cherno Baba Jallow and the My Basse’s (online portal) editorial board, he talks about his childhood and upbringing, days at the Justice Ministry, the mechanics of legislative drafting, his tenure as the British Virgin Islands’ attorney general, among other issues.
As a foreigner and being the chief enforcer of the laws of the land, did your nationality become an issue?
My nationality was never an issue, nor was my religion (the BVI being a predominantly Christian community) or other extraneous matter. I would say that my work and performance as a lawyer was essentially what spoke for me and that was what the government was interested in.
You are now the Director, Policy, Research and Statistics in the British Virgin Islands’ Financial Services Commission. What do you do specifically?
I do a host of things, but mainly developing policies to strengthen the financial services sector (the major revenue earner for the BVI treasury), reviewing and drafting financial services legislation, negotiating international treaties, representing the BVI before international standard setting and assessment institutions on issues of compliance and supervision and exchange of information, and enhancing the BVI’s international cooperation regime. In addition, my office is responsible for conducting research on pertinent issues affecting or relating to the financial services industry and developing appropriate industry and regulatory statistics. My office also serves as a financial services intelligence unit.
From Law to Finance, it must have been a difficult transition. Have you abandoned the legal field?
As you can see, I am still very much in the legal arena and active. I’ve just taken on a little more on finance and financial services. I like the cross-breed and I enjoy the work tremendously. It’s not entirely new as I was in some measure involved in financial services activities in my previous capacity as attorney general.
Drug trafficking and money laundering across state lines have grown into a global menace. Do you think international law has got any chance to take out this global problem?
You are absolutely right, drug trafficking and money laundering are indeed a global menace. While those who engage in these nefarious activities see value in their criminality, the global law enforcement process and mutual legal assistance mechanisms continue to be relentless in pursuit of these criminals to apprehend them and seize their ill-gotten gains. That is precisely why the Financial Action Task Force Recommendations on money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism are now a global standard in serving as an effective check on financial crime and the laundering of the proceeds of such crime. A combination of treaties, such as the UN Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances, UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and UN Convention against Corruption, aid the process of international cooperation across borders to stem the tide of money laundering, terrorist financing, drug trafficking and other criminal activities. Whether international law will eventually eradicate these types of crime is moot, but I believe that with continued goodwill and cooperation between States to share information and render other forms of assistance (such as training on investigative techniques and the provision of appropriate law enforcement tools) to each other, coupled with a sustained pursuit and seizure of assets that are the proceeds of crime, those engaged in criminality will never enjoy the upper hand; their success will only be transient and they must be relentlessly bitten where it really hurts – denying them the enjoyment of their ill-gotten gains.
What are the challenges facing the British Virgin Islands?
The recent global financial crisis has had its negative effects on the BVI as has been the case with many other jurisdictions the world over. In situations like that one has to reflect on existing systems and business modalities to establish the need for reform and what those reforms should be. That is what we are going through at the moment and the country is bouncing back with vigour and is still the leading corporate domicile in the world.
What, if anything, could Gambian society learn from the Islands? What does your experience tell you?
In this world we learn from each other if we are humble enough to recognize our deficiencies and recognize the advances of others from whom we can draw inspiration and solutions. On a general level I am a firm believer in respect for the rule of law and an advocate that government must be the first respecter of the law. If that fails, the law and the enforcers and implementers of the law become the subject of ridicule and disrespect. The consequence is a society bereft of good governance and a recipe for instability in the economic, social and other sectors of the community. Sometimes I feel, rightly or wrongly, that we Gambians as a people have a tendency to be intolerant – we do not take kindly to views that differ from our individual views, we tend to look at people who express different opinions as embedded in opposition and criticism, whether in relation to the system or otherwise, is taken negatively instead of being appreciated in a constructive manner. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that the BVI is a perfect society because it is not, but one among many positive attributes I have seen of the society is the credence given to tolerance and respect for dissent. Governments are usually the biggest culprits in disregarding this value and our own government in The Gambia is not free of such criticism. Recognising, respecting and drawing inspiration from dissenting opinion can only make a better and solidified society; it will never make us worse off. So in short, there are many things The Gambia can learn from the BVI, but the one thing I think we need to concentrate our efforts on as a people is to develop the attribute of recognizing and accepting dissenting opinion as a value added resource to cohesive national development. Let’s debate, argue and criticise for all we want, but when it comes to dinner time let’s get together and eat from the same bowl and the government must lead the way in this.
Might you consider working for and in The Gambia again in the future? Do you sometimes feel like you are missing home?
Well, The Gambia is still my country. It nurtured and developed me; the BVI and others enhanced and strengthened me. I can relocate to and work in my country anytime, so I do not consider that as an issue for me. I make it a duty to visit home regularly, at least once a year, but living in the BVI somewhat brings me closer to home.
What advice do you have for the youths and young adults aspiring to follow in your footsteps in the legal field? What challenges should they expect? And what does it take to be successful?
For the youngsters and new entrants into the legal field, my advice to them is a simple one: work hard, maintain your integrity because the success of your legal career depends on it, take your time to learn through the hoops and bathe in humility for it will serve you well. The legal career is an interesting one, you learn each day if you care to, the challenges are diverse and can be grueling at times and may bring you sleepless nights, but you must remain focused and steadfast. If you are a good listener and regard the law as the best friend you have when you are dealing with legal issues, then the challenges become light, for then the law will always speak for you – your honest work through the law that is – even if others disagree with your views.
As regards what it takes to be successful, well … all of the above. As a lawyer you must make sure that it is your work that speaks for you.
What motivates you? What is the secret to your success?
My family primarily. They look up to me for leadership and guidance and they expect me to succeed in what I do. So you can see that failure is not an option for me, my wife may forgive me but my children will not. If I am considered to be successful, I am humbled by the consideration. However, I strongly believe in following, and indeed complying with, my own advice given earlier in relation to youngsters and new entrants to the legal profession.
Looking back, and taking stock of your entire professional life, what, if anything, would you do differently?
I probably would do the same things, but aspire to do them better and on a more enhanced platform. What do you like to do in your spare time?
I have very little of that, but when I have it, I like to spend it playing squash and catching up with friends I haven’t been in touch with for a while. Staying home and debating with my family on varied issues of school, work and life generally is always a cherished moment … it gives me the opportunity to learn from them and them from me … that is if my ideas are not considered stale information.]]>