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Graft and corruption should be exposed: An open letter to President Adama Barrow

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By Ibrahim Jallow

Your Excellency, etiquette requires that I acknowledge your government’s commitments to be guided by the principles of democracy, good governance, the rule of law, institutional reforms, transparency and accountability.

I have read your government’s anti-corruption policies. At first glance, it appears that your government is serious about combatting graft and corruption in the public sector. But appearance can be deceiving. Your government’s anti-corruption efforts have not yet yielded any positive impact. Your government’s past efforts faded away before even coming to an end. Accused officials have rarely faced trial, not to talk about conviction. Therefore, the criticisms of your government’s anti-corruption credentials are justified. Admittedly, it is the right of every citizen to enquire and get answers about what your government has put in place to make The Gambia a corrupt free country.

I wonder if you are getting quality updates about the scale of corruption in your government. The fact that the Anti-Corruption Bill is still at the National Assembly, shows no serious commitment and willingness on the part of your government to prioritise the fight against corruption. One factor that may hamper the anti-corruption drive, is likely to be its weaponisation against political opponents. Anti-corruption processes and policies should promote accountability and transparency in government, instead of prioritising political advantage, or to consolidate power and target opponents.

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Your Excellency, corruption is a matter that should not be politicised. Anti-corruption policies should not be buried or covered up by, or for anybody under any circumstance. The perpetrators must face the wrath of the law. Corruption in the public sector in The Gambia is confirmed by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), which rates The Gambia poorly. However, I must give you credit for holding firmly in ensuring that the scale of corruption remained stagnant in the public sector between 2017 and 2021. However, between 2021 and 2022, corruption increased by 3%. This means that your government should not relax in combatting graft and corruption. The objective must be to ensure zero corruption in the public sector.

Your Excellency, Transparency International’s CPI measures the levels of perceived corruption in the public sector of each country in the world, and there is a reason why it is called “Corruption Perception Index”. The fact is that there is no way that corruption can effectively and efficiently be measured. No society, even ours, practices corruption in the open. Corruption is usually carried out in secret, and the perpetrators destroy the traces of their criminal acts from public, civil societies and government inquiries. As a result, no valid measurement can be undertaken by any government, or non-government organisation, hence, the resort to perception as an indicator of corruption. The complementary circumstances under which corruption can be perceived are not exhaustible, but the presence of a legal framework, and a rule of law regime that does not recognise “sacred cows” are important factors, and most importantly, the political will to fight corruption on the part of the government.

Your Excellency, as I have already highlighted, corruption takes place in secrecy. Generally speaking, corruption exists when a person in power vested with authority to perform a public duty, then uses his or her power or authority or influence, howsoever, vested in him or her, to advance personal interest at the expense of the public interests, howsoever, done. However, the restriction of the definition of corruption to public duty or public official does not reflect the state of international law. The concept of corruption has been expanded to cover and include all persons, including those in the discharge of private duty and function which affect the public interests. In honour of the diversities of the legal and cultural concepts of corruption, the UN Convention Against Corruption does not define corruption, it only requires state parties to adopt legal measures to establish certain criminal offences that perpetuate corruption such as: bribery, embezzlement, trading influence, illicit enrichment, money laundering, diversion and obstruction of justice. 

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Your Excellency, your government should be mindful of the evil consequences of corruption. The most obvious evil consequences of corruption are that it undermines good governance; threatens the rule of law, democracy, and human rights; entrenches inequality and injustice; distorts fair market competition; discourages and diverts foreign aids and investment; weakens public trust in government institutions such as the judiciary; instigates lack of accountability and transparency in public institutions; endangers public order and security; tramples on freedoms; desiccates infrastructure, healthcare and education; and most importantly, destroys the ethical values and moral foundation of society. As a result, the lives of the citizens are impoverished.  

Your Excellency, relevant institutions in your government should be beaming the anti-corruption searchlights to retrieve all forms of proceeds of crimes, and take serious legal steps to make the perpetrators pay dearly for the dastardly corrupt acts they have committed and are committing. The Anti-Bill Act should incorporate and criminalise acts beyond those specified in The Gambia Anti-Corruption Bill, 2021, which is currently under consideration in the National Assembly. The Anti-Corruption Act should proscribe the acts as offences of corruption: abuse of power, patronage, nepotism, theft of state assets, diversion and wasting of state resources, insider trading, and laundering the proceed of corruption.   

Your Excellency, as I conclude this letter, permit me to inform you that many of us still hope that you should take the bull by the horns to sanitise the government you are presiding over, starting with your close friends. If you remain silent and indifferent to the atrocities committed by the corrupt under your watch, The Gambia will continue to be ranked as a “highly corrupt” country, and you would have cemented your place in history as someone who had the opportunity to drive change but did not.

Accept, Your Excellency, assurances of my warm regards and reverence.

Ibrahim Jallow is a lawyer and an anti-corruption policy analyst.

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