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Dr. Banja’s pardon – how committed is govt to fighting corruption?

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Dear editor,

Many people are no doubt grateful to President Adama Barrow for his magnanimity in using his prerogative of mercy to pardon 37 prisoners serving various terms of imprisonment and for various unspecified offenses.

However, on a similar vein, there appear to be some serious questions being asked as to what had prompted President Barrow to do so at this material time and why those particular beneficiaries. What is most common is that such pardons are usually done on important national occasions such as religious feasts like Tobaski and Koriteh as well as on Independence day. However, on this particular occasion, most people are wondering why it was done now, especially when Independence Day is just around the corner; less than a month away.

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While we have just been given the names of the beneficiaries of the pardon without any other details of the offenses that they had been convicted of, or how long they were to serve or left of their sentences, but the one name that caught virtually everyone’s attention was that of Dr. Bamba Banja, former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources, who was convicted of economic crimes and official corruption and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of one million Dalasis on March 8, 2023. He served less than half of his sentence.

Whatever may have prompted President Barrow to grant amnesty to Dr. Banja, is certainly sending quite a negative signal on his government’s will to fight official corruption, which is quite rampant. This is especially significant, coming less than a month after the passing of the anti-corruption bill, more than five years since it was tabled in the National Assembly. This is definitely sending a clear message to both Gambians and our development partners that there is an apparent lack of political will on the part of the Barrow administration to fight corruption. It has failed to demonstrate any commitment to fighting corruption and in the process sent a negative message to the public service employees that there is not much risk in being engaged in corruption as there is always the possibility of getting pardoned by the president.

We have all seen that since the advent of the Barrow administration, and despite the ever-rising perception of the official corruption index, coupled with the numerous cases of corruption, Dr. Banja, whose case involved the least amount of money, has so far been the only successful conviction by the government. All other previous cases involving millions of Dalasis either failed or were not vigorously pursued by the government. Therefore, Dr. Banja’s case was the government’s only reference that it was serious about fighting corruption. However, now that President Barrow has decided to pardon him, where does that leave his administration’s resolve to fight corruption?

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There are several speculations as to why Dr. Banja was included on the list of those granted pardon, including President Barrow’s admission that he and Dr. Banja were friends. Therefore, some people have concluded that his decision to pardon him was motivated by personal reasons rather than in the national interest.

However, there are others who say that President Barrow may have based his decision to pardon Dr. Banja on recommendations by a panel set up for that purpose. Whatever the case however, it is still sending some negative signals about the government’s commitment to fighting corruption.

D. A . Jawo

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