By Sheriff Gomez
The Janneh Commission set up by The Gambia Government to probe into the financial activities of the erstwhile dictator, Yahya Jammeh and his close associates, must be seen as a placard, directed at every one of us, on What Is Not Acceptable.
The Chairman of the Commission, Mr Sourahata BS Janneh, doyen of the Gambia Bar, with over 40 years of unbroken practice here in The Gambia, reminded us that commissions are not new in The Gambia. Commissions of inquiry were neither started by the current government, nor enacted by the previous regime or introduced by the First Republic. Commissions predate The Gambia’s independence, with their first enactment going as far back as 1903.
For the sake of this discourse, however, we will cut and paste from the period of our independence to date. What the segments of this picture infer is that from the First Republic, commissions were conducted generally on a platform of legal decorum, protecting the sanctity and rights of the person; enter the Second Republic, with a spiteful reverse equivalence that shows state abuse of power, coercion and disrespect towards the person; the third coming follows a process founded on individual rights and respect for the person.
The common denominator for all these commissions is the astounding revelations they share. The revelations of the Janneh Commission are profoundly disturbing and a serious indictment of every level of our society. For who/what was perceived to be solid, of strength and wholesomeness, disappointingly, turns out to be hollow, weak/without substance and or empty; alas, those we held in the greatest reverence and esteem as role models, moral highlanders, beacons of hope and success, turned out to be phonies and dubious façades, for all intents and purposes.
This leaves the country aghast and at a loss, that yet again, despite bequeathing her sons and daughters – private and or public servants – with this long history of commissions, the choices we make become contemptuously selfish. Particularly painful is that we have been “running up and down the hill” with commissions since 1903. Tempting some segments of society, and rightly so probably, to believe in the idea that commissions of inquiry a la Gambia are more of a self-glorifying spectacle – “me look good/you look bad” only – than for the strategic national dividend it is suppose to deliver.
On the other hand, however, could the revelations be argued as underlining how extraordinarily complex the human person is, and his unrelenting capacity to stray from the “common good” to “self”? The case in point being, that even whereas the citizenry have had this quantum of experience with inquiries, individually and or collectively, we tend to revel in this wanton disregard of history and its lessons.
This idea that because “the situation was grave”, “we all know how it was during the Second Republic”, cannot really be taken seriously or believed its sincerity. It makes you really feel like you have just heard someone taking the Fifth Amendment. Fortunately or not, this country doesn’t have such an amendment. It is beyond comprehension that as head of an entity – public or private – with all the authority, importance, and resources at your disposal/entrusted to your care, that at the time of greatest need/call to duty, you failed to ask even a simple innocent question or put forward an opinion. Indeed it should not be denied that such an extenuating circumstance may have been but the contention is that “grave situation’ and “how it was….” must be subjected to rigorous scrutiny, on the specifics of the circumstances referred to, namely: what were you were mandated to do; what did you do; what/how did others do in similar instance; what did you do dealing with other issues, given the same “grave situation the country was in”?
This country must be resolute in its attempt to unmask such a guise to enable us collectively redraw the Red Line, between what is “for all” and what is “for one,” this time bolder and in permanent ink. This bold line must clearly demarcate, where it stops to be national/public duty and where it becomes self-aggrandisement, self-preservation and perpetuation. That is why the strategic underpinning of this exercise must indelibly register in our minds, that public resources/office are sacred covenants between the motherland and her citizenry and cannot be broken for whatever reason. It is the moral equivalence of the inviolability of the institutions of the armed and security forces and their voluntary pledge to lay their lives for colleague and country.
Consistently, therefore, it is my conviction, and without any reservation, that it will constitute a wilful intent and a colossal judgemental error to perceive the Janneh Commission as an inquiry solely of the past and not, fundamentally, for the present and future dispensations. The potency of doing greater good by this commission is in amplifying the parameters of WHAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE for the present and future governments, and their mix of peoples – public and or private, Gambians or otherwise. This, in my opinion, is the greatest take From the Janneh Commission.
It is without doubt and gainsaying the fact, albeit poignant, that what had happened during the Second Republic; the abuse/pillage of our resources – human, material and finances – for selfish ends, had happened. It is already sunken! This country, unequivocally however, cannot and must not leave any stone unturned to salvage and recover, every single public resource misused and or ill gotten, from anyone. But the above notwithstanding, we will agree that whatever we do will, in the main, amount to recovery and salvaging. And if this was the raison d’ et of constituting past commissions, it may as well have been the reason, probably, why we seems to have missed the compelling lessons and or failed to make them an iron cast in the conscience of the citizenry.
It is, therefore, critical that we become resolved, as a people, country and government, to place an equal or greater emphasis, this time around on, the manner, process and importantly, the packaging, message and the strategic context of the Janneh Commission, conveyed to the people. Such a purposefully organised effort, through mass media/debate forums, will elicit a greater national reflection, digestion and assimilation of the desired narrative. The aim being, primarily, to break the cycle of “running up and down the hill” with commissions, for only the momentary highs and lows from the revelations and not the potent lessons they convey for the future. The insulating objectives being to ensure that our individual and collective consciences, moral high grounds/“red lines” and integrities are confronted and self reprimanded as never before.
The Gambia’s march forward, anchored on such a bedrock of higher moral and ethical values, may become “the golden goose” in our national transition from a painful and challenging past to one whose goal is bridging the new dispensation with our collective aspirations and destinies, harnessed as one people, one nation.
The Janneh Commission, viewed as perhaps the first serious national effort at recalibrating away from the past, should be used as the pivot and set the right moral tone and raise the standards bar high for the present and future dispensations. This will open the necessary space for other transitional (bridging) pillars, such as the much-heralded Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC), towards building a more cohesive, just, happy and prosperous Gambia, our Homeland. These pillars should include:
1. Inquiries (albeit internal) by the security services
To understand how these institutions of national pride, wholesomeness and defender of the people, could be abused, misused and manipulated in form, command, echelons and mandate to have its men and women turn against the very people they are to serve and protect with their sweat, blood and lives. This exercise is critical in laying the necessary foundation for the security services to first come to terms with what happened and its magnitude. Most importantly, perform the needed internal cleansing and adequately prepare for atonement and winning back the confidence and trust of the Gambian People.
In a significant way, this will cleanse and absolve the institutions of the security services, in the minds of the Gambian people. That it was not their doctrines nor enshrined policies that made the security services perpetrate terrorism against the people but the manipulations and abuse of some men and women of the services, by the powers that were, for personal and selfish ends. Such an exercise also lays the foundation for the much-needed reforms/reorganisation and new mandate for the Gambia Armed and Security Services, as well as, seamlessly situates/plugs into the TRRC and other peace-building initiatives.
2. Inquiry of the public service
To understand how deep and widespread this festering wound of the public service is. A civil service that has been among the best quality benchmarks in the sub-region. What is inherited from the Second Republic is a desecrated entity emasculated to only prostrate, glorify and serve the caprices of one individual. Such an inquiry, therefore, will evidence and dictate the necessary scouring of this festering wound to enable an enduring closure/healing and rebuilding of a professional civil service, derive from the best of Gambians.
The machinery of government inheriting and perpetuating a festering structure like the one we have, without the necessary immediate remedies, risk heading this country back into the painful past. The scouring exercise of the public service should culminate in giving Caesar, what belongs to Caesar. It is about time that The Gambia civil service is returned to its authority and autonomy under the auspices of a revamped Public Service Commission. About time also that the State House or the Office of the President takes the lead in championing this agenda for appointments to originate from the PSC and from boardrooms.
Embedded in such a drive is the creation of time and space for this most important office in the land to focus its attention and priorities on strategic leadership and guidance, urgent, in this period of greatest national need. This is critical in our efforts at realignment and safeguarding the integrity of the Office of the President.
3.Administrative inquiries of all parastatals
To understand how deep and widespread is the malaise, abdication of responsibilities and resource misuse that occurred, so as to inspire the necessary seriousness and urgency at realignment, calibration and fortification of governance structures.
4. Administrative inquiry by the IEC
In general, on the need to strengthening the IEC’s autonomy, governance mechanism and in particular, on why and how the calculation or line shift error of the presidential elections occurred. National institutions cannot make mistakes! This is because of the required governance checks and balances their operational procedures are supposed to subject them to. We must endeavour, nonetheless, to always learn, where and when it occurs but resolved never to make one again. The Gambia may not be able to sustain or come clean from a repeat of an impasse, particularly one that should not have happened in the first place.
5. Re-thinking youth empowerment and emancipation
It has never become more urgent for a serious, committed, Gambia driven youth development paradigm that insulate the youth from the vagaries of hopelessness and desperation. A paradigm whose central pillar is aimed at youth empowered and emplaced as the heart beat of national development, innovation and prosperity. As 2017 ends in the biennial youth conclave – NAYCONF 2018 provides a great opportunity for this rethinking, as it closes the chapters on the current youth policy.
Reports emanating from these inquiries will have their recommendations setting aside wrongs and abuses that have to be dealt with at institutional level and what have to be dealt with at national level. These reports and their completion will have been preceded by the setting up of a National Commission of Inquiry, constituted by the president, whose sole purpose will be to receive, review and further recommend to the president for final approval and implementation, after the necessary presidential consultations.
Our national efforts on inquiries should endeavour to consistently hoist the placards high, during and after our reflections, packaging and messaging of the revelations. This must also include recoveries made on all and any ill-gotten resources and or the reprimands meted out for misuse or abuse of public office and trust. This effort, placed right at the centre of our march forward for socio-economic development may finally break this cycle, of running up and down the hill, with commissions of inquiry, every time a government is changed.
The chameleon has eyes that can rotate 360 degrees. It uses them, concurrently, to watch out for predators on one eye and hunt for prey, with the other. Madagascans, having the greatest concentration of chameleons, made the proverb “one eye for the past and the other for the future” (Source: Nat Geo Wild). It occurs to me that if we could diligently copy from the Madagascan chameleon but lean heavily with the eye on the future, we will achieve the greatest strategic dividend from the Janneh Commission and by extension all other transitional activities.
Sheriff ML Gomez has a BA in English, History and Economics in 1990 from the Pakistan Military Academy. In 2004, he received a Master of Science in Purchasing and Supply Chain Management from London Metropolitan University. He served as a minister in the Second Republic. The Bakau resident is now a corporate executive.