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City of Banjul
Friday, September 24, 2021

Commendations for Mayor Bensouda: On track against corruption

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The decision of Mayor Bensouda to suspend his CEO and Director of Finance and report them to police for investigations for corruption has been recognised by anti-corruption campaigners to be the most effective means in combating corruption. That is, to fight corruption, it must be taken up at the highest level by bringing top officials to book.

When senior officials are confronted it sends an unambiguous message to the rest that indeed there are no more sacred cows! Hence the decision by the Mayor is indeed in the right direction. It is a pragmatic deterrent.

One American CSO defined corruption as thus: “Corruption is the abuse of office for personal gain, and it takes many forms. It’s the politician taking a bribe before awarding a building contract to the briber. It’s the city council member paying for his family vacation with public funds. It’s the official demanding bribes from citizens in exchange for access to clean water.”

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In this definition, we can clearly see this KMC saga in it in full. In fact, the late Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General once said that “Corruption is a curse and an attack on the foundations of any civilized society. It undermines morality, democracy, good governance and the rule of law. It swallows resources needed for development. And it is an affront to people who bring high ethical standards to their work and dealings with their fellow human beings and who expect the same in return, in the time-honoured tradition of “do unto others. Corruption is evil and insidious, and must be opposed at every turn.”

The only reason the Gambia is so poor with citizens deprived of the most basic social services and necessary public infrastructure is simply and squarely due to corruption in the Government. When a government is corrupt, society itself becomes corrupt as citizens are forced to bribe in order to access basic services that they have already paid for with their taxes. To tell the truth, corruption is an epidemic in the Gambia thanks to the Government!

Corruption has thrived in this country because the governments we have since Independence are not interested in transparency and accountability. Corruption cannot be fought and defeated when there is no transparency and laws are not enforced to ensure accountability. The Gambia does not lack good laws to combat corruption, what it lacks is the political will to fully enforce those laws to prevent, detect and prosecute perpetrators. It is for this reason that Mayor Bensouda needs commendation and encouragement for showing that political will! Now, let us call the president, NAMs, mayors, chairpersons and councillors to emulate him.

In fact, Kofi Annan said it best when he noted that if corruption is a disease, transparency is a central part of its treatment. The President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim buttressed this point even better by saying that only radical and greater transparency should drive the prevention and uncovering of corruption.

In the world of human rights, the greatest threat is corruption. Every human right violation there is, at the core of it lies corruption. Perpetrators violate rights simply because they want to unduly access resources, illegally maintain power and enjoy privileges or cover up their excesses. Hence to ensure access and control and hide, perpetrators such as public officials bend laws and inflict pain on individuals in order to silence and exterminate anyone who would serve as an obstacle to their diabolical objective.

This is why, while we commend the Mayor, it is necessary we also urge him to go further to review the bylaws of KMC just to ensure that there is radical and greater transparency and then enforce those bylaws. To be transparent means he should also bring in the use of technology in the work of the Council so as to make financial management more effective, open and accessible to all stakeholders especially citizens.

In fact, the Local Government Finance and Audit Act has stipulated that the budget estimates of Area Councils should be pasted in every ward for public scrutiny. But how many times do citizens see the budget of the municipalities and area councils? To ensure effective transparency and accountability and combat corruption, it is necessary that area councils pursue participatory budgeting processes in order to bring citizens into the budget making process. The truth is there is so much corruption in the local councils and this is precisely why they are largely unable to address the basic needs of residents. This must stop.

Talking about laws, it is important to highlight the passing of the Access to Information Bill 2021 on the first day of this month. I hope the President will assent to it by July 30, marking the 30-day limit as required by the Constitution for him to do so. This is one of the best laws to create radical and greater transparency hence bring about accountability. This is why such laws are also called sunshine laws because sunshine is the best disinfectant.

While we commend the Mayor for this remarkable and necessary action, one wonders why Pres. Adama Barrow has never prosecuted any senior public official in his Government for corruption for almost five years in office. It is an open secret that his Government is notorious for corruption which has been exposed countless times by his own Government and by the media and citizens. In fact, some of these cases are now before the National Assembly Petitions Committee. Yet Pres. Barrow has never found it necessary to bring anyone to book. Why? Clearly the President is protecting corruption and its perpetrators for which the National Assembly also has a duty to act against that.

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