By Madi Jobarteh
The letter by Minister of Information Demba Ali Jawo is probably the most significant step taken by a public officer since January 2017 to protect the public good for which Mr. Jawo deserves commendation. Public institutions are handled by public officers. Public institutions will be efficient, transparent, accountable and responsive insofar as public officers are prepared to uphold the rule of law and the principles and standards of good governance. Hence public officers are the first line of defenders, responders and caretakers in combating corruption, abuse of office and human rights violations.
Under Section 222 of the Constitution the Code of Conduct of Public Officers has been spelt out. The first duty identified is that, ‘A public officer shall respect and comply with the law and shall conduct himself or herself at all times in a manner which promotes confidence in the integrity of public office.’ The code of conduct enjoins public officers to refrain from corruption, abuse of office and other unlawful actions but to demonstrate integrity.
Such posture in defence of the rule of law and national interest is what Minister of Information Demba Ali Jawo demonstrated when he recently wrote an unequivocal, unambiguous, no-nonsense and professional letter as required by him as a public officer entitled ‘Tender for National and International Gateway Measuring System’ sent to State House. In the letter Mr. Jawo clearly stated that not only did he despise the disregard of the rule of law, but that he would not also be part of or take responsibility for any decision and action that threatens national interest.
Not only did Minister Jawo expose the marginalization of his lawful position and responsibility as a ministry by the Office of the President (OP) and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs (MoFEA) but the letter went even further to expose blatant corruption and abuse of power between these two key national institutions. It is indeed shocking to learn from that letter that OP and MoFEA could give a contract to a private company Sigos-Kodam to provide measuring equipment for local and international telephone calls when that company was not even the most responsive bidder! What is even more insulting was that the matter was not even discussed and approved by Cabinet yet OP and MoFEA could have the audacity to act as if Cabinet asked them to!
By this letter alone, the Director of Public Prosecution as well as the Fraud Squad of the Gambia Police Force must open investigation to identify and prosecute perpetrators without delay. The letter contains enough serious allegations of corruption and abuse of office by public officers for which there must be an enquiry!
The fight against corruption and abuse of office in the Gambia therefore is not the duty of only ordinary citizens. But each and every public officer, from the President to the Cleaner has an even greater responsibility to fight against abuse of office. It is when public officers in particular stand up to fight against abuse and disregard of the rule of law that we will consolidate democracy and strengthen good governance even better and faster.
Public officers in the public and civil services and indeed all citizens must take a cue from Minster Jawo by speaking out loud and clear anytime they witness or suspect any breach of the law or actions that are detrimental to national interest. Public officers must not be silent by fearing that they might be sacked or victimized.
If a minister can write to the highest office of the land to bluntly express his displeasure and disagreement with decisions and actions that threaten national interest indeed no one has any excuse anymore to ignore, condone or even defend any decision or action that damages the supreme interest of the Gambia, even if such decision or action is from your superiors. Minster Jawo did not bother about the security of his position or any risk to his life, but he only saw the interest of the Gambia and decided to stand by that.
On this occasion of Eid-il-Fitr, let us pray for many more public servants to share the heart and mind of Minister Jawo for the good of the nation. Eid Mubarak Demba Ali Jawo.