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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Elite capture of state power in The Gambia

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By Madi Jobarteh 

There is no doubt that the incidence of a few powerful people, aka the ‘Elite’ have hijacked the Gambian State to serve their own selfishness at the expense of the masses of the people. Known as ‘Elite Capture’, this practice, existing since the beginning of Independence, has now been perfected at this very moment in this country. Until Gambians recognize ‘Elite Capture’ and position ourselves to combat it this country we shall never be out of poverty, end abuse of power or prevent human rights violations and general backwardness.

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But what is ‘Elite Capture’ of State Power. Experts say ‘Elite Capture’“basically involves shaping of policies by a few relatively small classes that enables them to appropriate public money for their own good, or should one say, greed. It takes place when powerful wielders of political power, including civil-military bureaucratic complex, big land owners and businessmen, manipulate policy formulation and make rules of the game themselves to advance their group’s vested interests. Resulting in inequitable distribution of national wealth, it leads to alienating citizens from the state.”

The World Bank says these elitist groups also include landlords, industrialists, the bureaucracy as well as commercial banks, urban real estate developers and parliamentarians. Understanding the nature of ‘Elite Capture’ one can see clearly how the phenomenon unfolds in the Gambia in broad daylight as we, since this new administration took over, how public funds are being accessed by using smart legal and policy processes.

For example, instead of going to the National Assembly to get approval for the 500 million dalasi to fight COVID- 19, the Finance Ministry instead created its own narrative of the law to claim that this money could be obtained by virement. To further expose how the elite captures public funds the Finance Minster refused to bring loans to the attention of the National Assembly for approval. But rather told NAMs that they have a practice to create domestic loan out of international loans by converting the foreign currency into dalasi in the Central Bank. Thanks to Sidia Jatta, Touma Njai and Ya Kumba Jaiteh we now know that this was an illegal means of accessing funds that the elite had perpetuated for ages in this country.

Furthermore, look at the Banjul road rehabilitation project to see how a multimillion dollar contract was awarded without due process. By manipulating the legal and policy architecture, officials of the ministries of Finance and Works committed the Gambia Government to a contract without passing through the GPPA or major tender board or the National Assembly. They claim this is below international loan requirements hence no need to follow the established due process.

It is the same scenario when you look at the way and manner contracts are given to Semlex for the production of national documents or to the Chinese for the construction of the national internet broadband or the presence of Chinese fishmeal companies in the coastal area. Through Special Investment Certificates the elite have manipulated this system to grant licenses to companies without any benefit to the country. Who created these investment policies? None other than the Elite so that they can get their way around laws in order to access public funds to satisfy their greed, albeit legally and legitimately!
‘Elite Capture’ can also be seen in how government contracts are provided to certain local businesses in the construction, land, petroleum, real estate or food supply among others simply because those businesses ae family, friends, political donors and partners to the President, Ministers and top government officials including military and security chiefs. In all of these instances, the elite circumvent or rationalize the due process in such a way that the uninformed mind will think that their actions are lawful. Because they are the ones in public office, they therefore draft public policies, regulations and contracts to give their actions a semblance of legality when their objective is nothing other than to hijack public money.

Imagine the cock and bull story government Ministers and their surrogates vomited out about how the 35 million dalasi from China was lodged in the President wife’s foundation account! Until today the Gambian People have not seen that money or what it is used for! Clearly that money should not have been in that account, just as those anonymous donors to the President should not exist. Yet the Government would come with narratives and manufacture official documents to give those illegal corrupt actions some form of legality just to hijack public money.

Imagine the issue of the importation of guns into this country by GACH company which were intercepted by the security. After a so-called investigation by the Police they issued a report that even comedians will not write. While it was the police that initially said the guns were non-hunting guns and even described some of the guns as ‘suspicious’, now after one month of investigation they claimed all the guns were all ‘hunting guns’. This is the classic example of ‘Elite Capture’ where few individuals in power transform public office to provide legal cover for businesses just to secure money. Since then who has heard of hunting in this country?

‘Elite Capture’ is more than just corruption. It is not any ordinary form of embezzlement by officials to divert or misappropriate public funds especially by the small fish. ‘Elite Capture’ is more than that. It is when these Elites – the Big Fish – thanks to their hold on political and economic power create public policies, laws and contracts that gives a semblance of legality and legitimacy to their corrupt practices that enables them to hijack public money. If you wish to see ‘Elite Capture’, read the Gambia Government contract with Semlex to realize that even a Grade 12 student will not enter such stupid arrangement!
‘Elite Capture’ survives because they keep everything and everyone in dark. They create policies, laws and contracts that they do not go public. This is because transparency and accountability are the antidote against ‘Elite Capture’. Hence the Elite will never wish to be transparent. Look at the way and manner they purchase vehicles for officials including the availability of multiple vehicles to Ministers when health centres lack ambulances while basic medical equipment and drugs are scarce in our health facilities. They would justify these purchases on the basis that they are in project documents – a document they drafted themselves!

‘Elite Capture’ of State Power for selfish economic gain did not start with the Gambia. From South Africa to Pakistan, from Indonesia to Brazil ‘Elite Capture’ has been the cause of intolerable poverty, deprivation and oppression. Since Independence the Elite in the Gambia has been hijacking political power for economic gain. It is because of this ‘Elite Capture’ that poverty and cost of living continues to rise while the availability of basic social services is hugely limited or unavailable for most of the citizens. Basically the Elite have been gathering our public money for themselves while the basic needs of our people are left unaddressed. Meantime Gambians pay high taxes while the Government has taken so much loans yet the country is classified as a ‘highly indebted poor country’! What a contradiction – too much taxes, too much loans and too much grants yet too much poverty and indebtedness!

The Elite have succeeded in hijacking the State by keeping citizens away from knowing what is happening inside the State and through patronage as well as punishment. For example, most redeployments and appointments within the pubic service are nothing but a manifestation of ‘Elite Capture’. That is, they move individuals who are stumbling blocks to ‘Elite Capture’ and bring in people who are enablers of ‘Elite Capture’. The recent redeployments are just one example just as the appointment of presidential advisers or certain individuals as directors, security chiefs, CEOs, MDs and heads of public institutions are all reflections of ‘Elite Capture’. They are merely redeployed or appointed to facilitate the control of State Power by a few Elite men and women for personal economic gain.
Therefore, Gambians need to stand up to demand the creation of laws that make access to information a fundamental right. Currently there is an Access to Information Bill before the National Assembly which needs to be passed urgently so that Gambians would have the right to demand and obtain public information in the custody of public institutions. Also there is need for an anti-corruption law and an enforcement institution as well as a whistleblower law to combat corruption and official malfeasance and protect those who expose these crimes.

Furthermore, for our National Assembly not to be complicit in ‘Elite Capture;’ it is necessary that NAMs invoke their powers in the Constitution to take on the Elites head on. Sections 102 and 109 are clear tools that NAMs could use to demand transparency and accountability of public institutions as well as institute investigations in the form of public hearings so that everyone would hear the stories live and direct! Ultimately the only institution that can effectively and practically wipe out ‘Elite Capture’ immediately in the Gambia are NAMs. I just hope our NAMs are not part of the Elite!
Above all Gambians must be vigilant and alert to scrutinize the State as a whole to ensure that due process is followed at all times, transparently.

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