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Saturday, January 23, 2021

“Head-hunting” stinks way high to the heavens

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By Samsudeen Sarr

I cannot but first commend Pa Nderry Mbai of the Freedom Radio and Newspaper for the brilliant interview he conducted with Mr. Nyang Njie in his Sunday “Leral Show”, May 10, 2020.

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Mr. Njie, as usual never fails to surprise me with his eloquence and confidence to share his beliefs based on his knowledge in especially the fundamentals of economics. He appeared to have supported my latest argument that Finance Minister Mambury Njie was right in his defense of government’s virement mechanism, grounded on Standard Operational Procedures (SOP) of the Gambia Financial Instructions (FI) that were in place since time immemorial. Apparently, Mr. Njie strikes me as someone quite familiar with the FI and virements that he considers perfectly legal. He had very likely practiced it as a one-time employee at the ministry of finance and economic planning.

Nonetheless, given the scandalous level of corruption attributed to the mediocre management of government funds with the finance ministry being pivotal in overseeing capital flow within and out of the country, I just don’t want to accept Nyang’s word like that and dismiss that of the NAMs’. Hon. Sedia Jatta, Hon. Ya Kumba Jaiteh, Speaker Mariam Denton and their associates couldn’t have out of no authoritative foundation challenged the undertaking. They sounded equally knowledgeable on its illegality and perhaps need equal time at the Freedom “Leral Show” to enlighten us on what they had seen that Mr. Njie had missed.

Nyang did however assert that the National Assembly Members (NAMs) have not been aware of their powers or were under utilizing them to influence most government policies including financial transactions for better consequences.

One may conclude from that statement that the NAMs are probably aware of their powers now and in the process of effectively applying them had found the SOPs formerly adjudged legal, to be indeed illegal and are therefore demanding for their overhaul to better utilize the nation’s resources accountably and diligently. It is unthinkable that our lawmakers were just in a noisy mood of merely challenging Minister Mambury on a legal subject they were wrong about. That’s my first observation from the interview.

Secondly, I had always wondered why Mr. Nyang Njie has been so bitter against ex-President Jammeh but after the Sunday interview everything started to make sense to me. That they were close friends or acquaintances in 1993, a year before the 1994 coup d’tat and along the way, he worked for the APRC government until something seriously went wrong.

You see, Mr. Njie may not remember me, but I can vividly recall meeting him casually in Maryland in 2000 when I started writing my book at Howard University with the help of the late Dr. Sulayman Nyang (RIP).

In that brief encounter, we discussed the political “problems” in the Gambia in which he told me of his recent completion of school and intention to go back home. We certainly shared some radical views about how to bring about political change at home; although he never mentioned his acquittance with Jammeh that he revealed to have occurred while he was undergoing military training in the USA. If Mr. Njie had disclosed that relationship and their moments of partying together in Atlanta, even if it was for only one time, I probably would have been economical in my radical statements against the APRC government. But like I said, he might have totally forgot about it. However, after meeting him that night, the next time I heard about him was when he got appointed at the Gambian ministry of finance.

In the Leral Show he elucidated how he was falsely accused by the APRC government of being a spy without any evidence to substantiate the allegation; that he was exhaustively investigated before being declared innocent. Yet, Jammeh, an old acquaintance, with all his innocence went ahead and sacked him from his job and bulldozed his privately-owned property. That to me doesn’t make any sense at all. I think there is something more to his ruptured relationship with Jammeh than his portrayal of the ex-president as being just a “crazy dictator.”

Sad to hear that the unnamed permanent secretary he accused of fabricating the allegation is not alive; although I can’t rule out the possibility of a DPS at the time or someone in the ministry still familiar with the details of the case.

The Gambia government’s effort to investigate the truth about Jammeh’s past for a meaningful reconciliation should have encouraged or allowed witnesses with alternative viewpoints to testify for the verification of such hazy stories. It is rather staggering to hear Mr. Nyang Njie boldly saying that the APRC is no longer a robust political party when every Gambian I know-and trust me, they are many- talks about its overwhelming membership as a magnificent force to reckon with in the 2021 general election. Speculations are even being spread around about` the possibility of President Barrow inviting the APRC to join his NPP.

That said, let me now turn on the Mr. Mohammadou Manjang controversy. After listening to his interview with Fatou Camara on Friday, May 8, 2020, he left me with more questions on his case than good answers. Apart from being very calm and collected throughout the interview, I doubt as whether he had realized his inconsistencies and evasiveness. For instance, when Fatou asked him whether he ever had a loan from the Social Security & Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) he spontaneously replied no, a typical “yes or no” question. But when asked another similar question on whether Finance Minister Mambury Njie had a loan from the SSHFC with repayment issues, he went into ethics, saying that it would be unethical and unprofessional to disclose such financial matters. Hello! That was certainly a “yes or no” question and by not answering it honestly left a lot of doubt in the minds of listeners. He could also disclose the loan of GMD119 million they offered GTSC to purchase 25 buses but called it speculative when Ms Camara asked about government’s request for the corporation to lend them money to purchase 200 buses. That was also another yes or no question that again left me scratching my head in confusion.
Then in one of her wrapping up questions Fatou asked about Mr. Manjang’s overall opinion of the performance of President Barrow’s government.

“That’s a difficult one to answer now”, he went on, “because anything I say now may be misinterpreted as coming from an angry person”. He said something to the effect that the question will perhaps be more appropriate in the next three months.

That to me means, if the Barrow government doesn’t rehire him he will most probably in the next three months come out revealing some unflattering things about the government and probably confirming as well, all the speculations about, the 200 buses, Mambury Njie’s “unpaid loan” and other damning things we are yet to know about. Saying that his opinion may be misinterpreted as coming from an angry person tells a lot about what to expect.

But is it possible that he once told some people about Mambury Njie’s loan and the 200 buses but don’t want to disappoint them by disputing it and in the mean time prefer to call it speculative? Or does he believe that by calling it mere speculation when it isn’t, will satisfy Mambury Njie and the government to rehire him? Anyhow, if someone was to ask me whether I believe President Barrow will rehire him any time soon I will not hesitate to say absolutely not. I think he blew all his chances of being rehired after foregoing his appointment at the Senegalo-Gambia Secretariat and went home to wait. I was aware of his sympathizers asking him not to accept that job but to tender his resignation which he eventually did. That was a serious slap in the face of the Barrow administration.

Last but not the least, I really support Mr. Nyang Njiie’s argument for government to stop the “brain-drain” and start tapping for more talents from the diaspora to help develop the poor Gambia, another topic I also wrote about recently. Just that from my perspective, I highlighted the Taiwanese model, where attractive incentives were offered to various and numerous indigenous experts working abroad whose return home catapulted the national growth rate from a third world to a highly developed world economy. Engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers teachers, name it, all returned home in droves and built their nation faster than expected.

It was however nothing remotely resembling “head hunting” which to me lacks any merit of transparency. Mr. Manjang justified his hiring in what he called “ head hunted’ essentially meaning that the job was not offered to him in a conventional method of inviting applicants from potentially qualified candidates to select the best out of the lot. Instead, the government handed the position over to him based on his “special qualifications or experience”. I cannot see anything genuine in that selection method for such an exceptional responsibility.

No wonder, many Gambians, wrongly or rightly interpreted it as someone favored by the system because of his ties with the United Democratic Party, considering what he confirmed in the Friday interview that the former finance minister, Mr. Amadou Sanneh a top UDP executive member, weighed in on his behalf to facilitate his appointment at the time. I think that is exactly what happened in the case of some of those hired at the OIC with some reported to have had some roots in the UDP. When Vice President Ousainu Darbo fell apart with President Barrow they immediately faced the choice of either quitting or being fired. The only person who stayed or survived the imminent purge was Mr. Essa Bokarr Sey “head hunted” by an interest group different from the UDP. Was he not also said to have been “head hunted” by former Vice President Fatoumata Jallow Tambajang? The woman is still in good terms with President Barrow allowing Mr. Sey to carry on wearing his immunity suit.

It may have been perfectly normal in the past but I think the new Gambia should do away with “head hunting”.
Starting from government ministers to major department heads, I believe competitive standards should be put in place to justify their appointments or for the ministers, to be elected first before being appointed like in the PPP era..

What in the world would have gone wrong if the Managing Director (MD) position at the SSHFC was advertised with equally qualified contenders shortlisted and asked to write and explain what they will do differently to improve, the state of the firm if, let’s say, “Mr. Graham” the former MD had to be fired for under performing? That would have obviously given every candidate the opportunity to first study the institution and find out how “Mr. Graham” was underperforming, putting them in a better position of strategizing for their managerial blueprints and greater efficiency. In that case when “Transparency International” shows up tomorrow enquiring about how Mr(s). X was impartially appointed in the position, one can show them his or her test results that qualified him or her over Mr. Y’s and Mrs. Z’s.

It was amazing to hear Mr. Manjang saying that with all the allegations that the corporation was a cash cow for the Jammeh presidency, since 1994, he only took money there from 2011 to 2012 or thereabout. Although the new Gambia may not be interested, I believe it is important to know how much he had taken, for what reason and whether the amount was ever returned. Mr. Manjang, nevertheless talked about how in 2014 the corporation started generating a healthy liquidity foundation that may have brought about its success today. Perhaps leaving Mr. Graham there would have yielded the same with less scandal.
In my book, “head hunting” stinks high way to the heavens.

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