By Muhamad Sosseh
Like most Gambians, I am following the proceedings at the Commission of Inquiry looking into, inter alia, the business activities and assets of former president Jammeh.
Although I cannot claim to have watched all the testimonies, I have seen enough to discern the level of incompetence and corruption that existed during the Jammeh regime. I do not think that most of us who have been following the workings of the Jammeh regime during the past 22 years are surprised by the magnitude and extent of the corruption.
We have been lamenting about it for the past two decades. What is surprising and disappointing to me is the level of ineptitude exhibited by experienced and educated civil servants, who should have known better.
Almost all the witnesses who have appeared before the commission thus far have confessed to disobeying civil service rules and partaking in crimes, including theft. In other words, we are dealing with a bunch of criminals who conspired with, and aided and abetted Jammeh to steal money belonging to the Gambian people.
Thanks to Jammeh’s impudence and the hubris of his mandarins, it should not be difficult for the current government to make a case against these criminals, hold them accountable, and recover the money they looted from public coffers.
It is sad and nauseating to watch these people admit that while the average Gambian was suffering from poor healthcare, lack of opportunity for the youth, lack of adequate food, water and electricity, they were busy stealing money from the Gambian people, and using the purloined assets to build houses, drive fancy cars, and finance the lavish vacations and education for their children. If I were any of these people, I will be ashamed to show my face in society today.
On the contrary, they shamelessly appear before the Commission and try to lecture us on the workings of government or how terrifying it was to receive directives from Jammeh. Give us a break! This was garden-variety stealing: taking something that does not belong to you. Period.
As mentioned above, the criminal prosecution of these people should be low–hanging fruit for this government. These people testifying before the Commission clearly broke the laws, and the defenses they are presenting are not credible. Many have appeared before the Commission and woefully failed to articulate the legal basis for their actions. They
apparently do not understand the probing questioning from the Commission’s counsel. To break things down, there are laws governing how money gets into government coffers and how that money is spent.
Anybody, including the president, who deviates from those laws is acting unlawfully, and potentially committing a crime.
Some are claiming that they were coerced into this criminal behavior. But none of them has given us an example of a situation where Jammeh jailed, tortured or killed someone who refused to help him steal money. He has humiliated and jailed those he thought were stealing from him. That is different from saying that Jammeh harassed civil servants who resigned. So, no one is buying this notion that civil servants or soldiers participated in these crimes under duress.
Matter of fact, they lobbied hard for their positions and in certain situations even counseled Jammeh to violate the law. Granted, some of the advice was given out of ignorance because they do not understand how government should work. But I do not need to tell anyone that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” They need to come up with more creative and credible defenses.
Since the Commission’s terms of reference allow it to look into the assets of government servants and whether those assets were lawfully acquired, I respectfully urge the Commission to start focusing these mandarins on that issue as well, in order to build a complete record that will aid the Attorney General in his quest to recover the stolen millions. We cannot just trust that these people simply withdrew millions of dollars in hard currency and obediently handed the money to Jammeh.
Besides, that is not the threshold for legal culpability in these matters. By aiding and abetting Jammeh in his criminal enterprise, they are as blameworthy as he is; and unless they can prove that they delivered the money to Jammeh, they are responsible for the entire stolen amounts. If they acted solely on the directives of the President, then they themselves should not have benefited from any of the loot. And this is why the Commission should look into their own assets and make sure it is all properly accounted for.
The Commission should rely on its Asset Evaluation mandate to develop a record that will ensure that none of these criminals get to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. If they cannot account for their physical assets in the country, expensive vacations and tuition fees, their assets have to be confiscated and returned to the rightful owners, and people have to spend some time in jail. It is only in Africa that people will commit the most blatant crimes and then go scot-free in the name of reconciliation. But this government has to realize that one of the yardsticks with which it will be judged is how it handled the dispensation of justice for the crimes committed during the Jammeh regime.
While I am not trying to preempt the Commission’s report, I must point out that Gambians expect a firm response from this government once the Commission’s work is completed.
Remember, some Gambians died untimely deaths, because of lack of hospitals and medicine. Some of our youths died in the desert or in the Mediterranean, on the treacherous journey to Europe to seek greener pastures, out of sheer desperation for the lack of opportunities in The Gambia. The list of miseries goes on and doesn’t even get into the sorry state of the educational system in the country, the bankrupt economy, and the decimated civil service.
These tragedies and more can be traced directly to the criminal behavior being revealed at the Commission. It is incumbent on the Barrow government to hold these criminals accountable and at the very least make a concerted effort to recover the stolen money for the Gambian people.
In order to serve the Gambian people in this regard, it should be a no-brainer that the Barrow government ensures that the people who participated in these corrupt activities are removed from sensitive positions in this current government while these matters are being investigated. It also goes without saying that the current government should cease and desist from the culture of spending without legal basis, i.e. spending outside the mandates of the Constitution and the Budget and laws passed through the parliament. But as I alluded to above, we cannot expect a different outcome if we have the same clueless and lazy mandarins holding sensitive positions in the government.