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City of Banjul
Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Let the musical chair begin and welcome to another era of staggered careers

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By Dembo Fatty

Just few days ago, I wrote a rejoinder to the events that unfolded at Faraba in
which three citizens lost their lives. In that rejoinder, I was having a personal conversation with two friends both of whom were and are central to the issue at hand. I certainly never asked for any resignations not because I happen to know these two individuals, but because of my conviction that it was not the right thing to do under the circumstance. Below are my reasons:

1. We have been for the most part, during the last 22 years been asking for due process to be accorded to citizens who are found wanting of acts of omissions or commissions while in public office and also to ordinary citizens who may come in contact with the law. I was therefore simply enforcing the same principles we asked from Jammeh to be adhered to in the new Gambia.
The right to due process is guaranteed under our laws and I am amazed how quickly many have rushed to judgement acting simultaneously, as Judge, Jury and Executioner in throwing these two gentlemen under the bus without first allowing a Commission of Inquiry to be even formed let alone start the process of fact finding and presentation of their findings and recommendations.

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If it was bad then, it is bad as well today. Consistency is what will make us or break us. We must also understand that these people have not even been charged. Due process is a slow grinding process and the wheels of justice do not move at the speed of light. 48 hours is certainly too soon a time to make an informed judgement.

2. If our only remedy for an oversight or mistake is to fire our public officials, how many of us would have maintained our jobs all the years. How many times has anyone of us made mistakes at our Jobs? Check your work history and just be honest with yourself. Am sure you would have wanted clemency from your supervisors. I am in no way belittling the events of Faraba but I am trying to have an honest conversation.
If firing of public officials is the perfect remedy for mistakes and oversights or incompetence as some would want to call it, then we have not leant anything from the 22 years that just went by us. How many firings and rehiring have we witnessed? Have those many firings brought any good to our lot? FIRING A PUBLIC OFFICIAL DOES NOT GUARANTEE A NON-REOCCURENCE.

What can bring about improvements is not the dismissals or asking for resignations, but basically two things:
First, the recruitment process must be full proof. Are you hiring based on competence or are you hiring based on whom you know or whom you can identify with. If the hiring process is faulty, then the rest of the process will only churn out garbage. Certainly the former IGP is well competent and so there is not fault in the hiring process.

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The second issue we have to look at then as an option to dismissals or resignation in improving our lot is the system and institutional competence of a given organization. CHANGE DOES NOT COME THROUGH A DISMISSIAL OR RESIGNATION OF A PUBLIC OFFICIAL BUT TOTAL INSTITUTIONAL AND SYSTEMS REVIEWS AND OVERHAUL.

Failure or inability to deliver are for the most past a consequence of systems we have set up which inhibit growth rather than incompetence of public officials otherwise the 22 years of Jammeh would have ushered radical reforms and improvements.
I will like to share a case study we looked at a Commonwealth Conference in Zimbabwe sometime in 2001 or thereabout. The case study was actually in South Africa at a bakery. An employee was hired in a bakery whose role was to watch the bread in the oven so that it does not get burnt. He was trained in reducing the temperature of the oven in case it is too high. He was trained in how to turn off the oven incase that was necessary. He was also told if everything failed, he could call his supervisor for assistance. That was the training manual he had.

Here lies their institutional and systems problem. It so happened that a local labor union was visiting the bakery to discuss problems with their members and how to improve their lot. They met this gentleman in the bakery and one of the visiting officials pointed to him that the bread in the oven was burning and asked if he did not notice it. The employee replied that he noticed it and he was trained how to remedy it but that he had instructions that he must not turn the knob to reduce the temperature or turn off the oven. These instructions were written and pasted at his station.

The visiting labour union official then asked him to go call his supervisor but the employee was also under instructions not to leave his station. Am sure you noticed that the training manual and bakery policy are parallel and not convergent.
Eventually, what started as a genuine desire to roll out the best baked bread was inhibited by the system that was set up. Policy failure and not incompetence is what will bring this bakery down if there is no review.
And so I stand by my position that a resignation was out of place and should not have been accepted. The problems that lead to the Faraba incident have not been reviewed yet and so a reoccurrence is just imminent anywhere in the country.

Let’s apply this case study to our situation at Faraba.
My understanding is that Julakay was issued a business license to mine by the competent government agencies. He has a registered business paying his taxes. He has a license to mine in an identified location.
I can understand the frustrations of the people of Faraba. Granted, they have environmental concerns which unfortunately, were not taken into consideration by the oversight government institutions that went ahead and issued a license. Do you blame the Inspector General of Police for ensuring that a genuine and legally constituted business outfit is able to operate his business? I assume Julakay must have been paying his taxes to the state otherwise; GRA would not have issued his business outfit the license to operate including a Tax Identification Number.

The Inspector General was simply enforcing a law for a lawful business outfit to operate and per the license granted by the constituted authorities. The Inspector General does not issue licenses and is not an oversight institution in the issuance of licenses for businesses. Last time I checked, the Police are not trained in environmental studies. These functions are under the purview of the legally constituted Government institutions that dropped the ball and left the Police to be the punch bags of the public. The Police are in a very difficult situation trying to keep the peace but have no powers to suspend a legally issued business license. Those institutions that issued the business license are still around who had powers to review their licenses and issue an order to suspend the license so issued.

If these institutions like NEA, the Ministry of Environment, GRA, Local Area Council, etc. had issued a suspension, the Police would have had powers to stop Julakay from operating his business and this problem would have simply subsided and no fatalities would have occurred. If people ask for the resignation of the Inspector General, then it’s just fair that the institutional heads who issued the license in the first place must also be asked to go. That would be sincerity. Until one understands the inner workings of government, a hasty conclusion on social media becomes an abuse of citizen’s rights to free and responsible speech.
In fact, the Governor of WCR, by our laws (unless recently amended), is a Class II Magistrate whose decisions can only be challenged in a higher court. Interestingly, I am told that the Governor of WCR is from Faraba itself. So the Governor has powers, to call a meeting and make a ruling regarding matters in his region especially in situations like this. The governor can review the rulings of the chiefs at the district tribunals. Why has the Governor not acted in his capacity and legal powers to find a solution? The Police merely enforce the law. They don’t make the law nor do they make rulings. In fact, it is the office of the Attorney General that makes the call whether a case brought by the Police has merits to see a day in court.

Am told also that the chief of the region is from Faraba yet will all the power brokers in that area from the same village, one would expect that a swift solution to the problem would be found. It’s not the people but the institutions and systems that bring about change. Improve on these two, the people will adapt and processes will become clear and easy to follow.

Yet no one advised the Presidency regarding all these options available to find a solution to the problem? So many people dropped the ball and too bad the Police are being pushed under the bridge.
The National Assembly in fact in my opinion is the biggest culprit in this saga. National Assembly has no powers to revoke a business license. This is why the police were there to protect a business that was legally constituted. Citizens have rights just the same way businesses have rights and responsibilities under our laws. So the problem in Gunjur for example will not go away as long as the company maintains a legitimate business registration issued by the competent government institutions. That too we will blame the police if lives are lost. Why are the oversight institutions not acting in good faith? I think the demonstrators in Gunjur should march to the offices of the NEA, the Environment ministry and GRA and demand that the licenses they issued be revoked. These are the people who can, by the stroke of a pen; send the business outfit packing and not the Police.

From what I have been able to gather, it appears that the National Assembly Select Committee visited Faraba and also asked Julakay to suspend operations. This I believe must have been the reason why the people of Faraba may have concluded that from henceforth, any mining activity was illegal. This conviction was, in my opinion the gasoline that was poured on an already incensed flame. The National Assembly can call public officials to ascertain certain things but they have no executive or oversight authority to suspend business licenses. Let’s call a spade a spade. These institutional reforms are urgently needed so that the three branches of government can work in tandem rather than competing.

The Politicians were in Faraba to out-compete each other and stepped beyond their constitutional mandates of asking a business outfit to suspend operation when they lack such powers. But then again, I am reminded that a previous Assembly voted into law giving the President the powers to send them packing and the only question asked was whether they will continue to receive salaries if the President suspended the Assembly. Unfortunately, Assembly Members could not realise that they had constitutional powers to impeach the President yet they were willing to be suspended by the President which effectively makes it impossible for them to start any impeachment hearings because the president would have powers to suspend them. By this legislation, the hunters have become the hunted.

And so, in my opinion, the National Assembly failed the people. Legislate, legislate and legislate is what you are elected for. You are not mediators. Leave that to the executive branch to do their job. I would have expected them to engage the Executive after visiting Faraba and put pressure on the oversight government institutions to review the license issued to Julakay.

Why was Faraba the only site identified for sand mining? Can’t Julakay relocate? How did he get his license to operate at Faraba? Since it is public land, was there a tender? How is royalty apportioned? How is revenue audited? I don’t want to preempt the Inquiry but these are important questions that need to be answered.
Citizens have a right to protest which the police must guarantee but businesses have a right to operate if issued with legitimate licenses. To solve the problem, oversight Government institutions must ensure that before licenses are issued, proper assessments are done, environmental impacts done and consultations and sensitisations done so that communities affected are involved and accept these business outfits.

My recommendation is from henceforth, any large project be it private of public, be required to post a big bill board in the given locality detailing the nature of the project that would be formed and invite citizens to send in their comments. The project owners must hold at least one town hall meeting with those who have concerns regarding their project. This isstandard operating procedure here in the West and I see it all the time. Even apartment building projects by private companies. This will bring about acceptance and smooth implementation of projects in our communities. Development is not forced on people. The intended beneficiaries must have the absorptive capacity to assess and decipher the inner workings of the projects to make it their own. Prescriptive development has long since been dead.

I am not a trained security personnel but I have few friends in the services. The famous Kumba Jatta was an elder brother to an aunty who raised me. Not only him. So I know a few things about crowd control in my interactions over the years. In a typical crowd control manual, you have three groups on standby just in case they are needed.

First, you have the Baton and Shield Team who would first engage the crowd if the situation is getting out of hand. If they fail to make a dent, then they are assisted by the Tear Gas Team. Only after these two attempts have failed must the Rifle Team armed with live rounds be used. But here is the catch. Standard operating instructions require that the live round team act in the following manner:
A. They must not fire their shots while standing. They should try by all means to shoot while kneeling.
B. They should also shoot one shot at a time. High powered or rapid succession shots must be avoided to reduce mass casualties.

There is a reason why they should kneel down while shooting. This will avoid the bullets hitting vital organs from the waist upwards. Shots fired while kneeling generally would hit the legs or thighs which are not in many cases fatal.
But here is the problem. Are those deployed in Faraba well aware of their crowd control trainings? Are the Field Commanders competent to lead their men? The decision to use live rounds generally comes from the Field Commanders not the Inspector General or anyone in the comfort of an office. Field Commanders are supposed to be skilled, intelligent and analytical constantly surveying the situation and adapting accordingly while doing their best to minimize casualties.

What we saw in the last 22 years was many officers promoted beyond their level of competence and so with no radical security reforms, we are still dealing with officers who are wanting in their roles. Do you fire them and appoint skilled personnel in their place? Are we ready for these painful radical reforms for our security forces to adapt to their new expected roles? We most likely have Generals who never saw combat. Unless we are ready to take the bull by the horn, these lapses will be with us. So while the Inspector General has resigned, the system and institutional reforms that can avoid such future crises are still left intact. Time is our enemy because its reoccurrence is not whether, but when.

I also believe that the presidency should initiate a policy that any interested or aggrieved groups, armed with at least 2000 genuine ID Cards, must be accorded audience with the President and that must happen within one week of such submission. This will make the Presidency accessible and citizens have the opportunity to lay their concerns and grievances before him. Knowing Africa, in many cases, the executive is deliberately shielded from the realities on the ground. This policy does not require legislation. It’s just a simply Executive Order that the President can issue. And now that we have a Spokesman, Director of Press and two Communication Directors (I believe) and Minister of Information, this should be easy and light responsibility to add to their roles.

The sad truth is the dismissals and resignations will not change anything. I am so disappointed that no sooner has the man resigned; social media is ablaze with family and friend recommendations. The man has not even cleaned his desk. We have not even accorded him due process. We have not even heard from the Commission of Inquiry.

This is what Jammeh knew about Gambians and no wonder he had said it all along that he had 2 million people to choose from because we are always busy lobbying for positions that are not even vacant. We are ready to knock people out and for as long as it’s our friends or family who get the Job, we can see no wrong. This unending resignations and firings is what I call the “Era of Staggered Careers”. It is being reincarnated.
Unless we are ready for radical institutional and systems reforms, be ready to make a few enemies along the way, we are not going anywhere. This is not about the security forces but even the civil service. Governance is not a Miss Congeniality Contest and trying to please everyone is the surest way to descend into chaos.
Any transition from a dictatorship to a democratic system of governance will never be easy. Righting wrongs will rub some people the bad way but we must push for it. Bringing justice to the perpetrators will rub some people the bad way, but we must trudge on. Anyone who thinks the transition will be another kumbaya around a burn fire and that we should all just get along and merry at the table of reconciliation, is dreaming with his eyes open.

The three most urgent reforms are land reforms, institutional reforms and the pursuit of justice. In my opinion, they do not come in any order of priority. They must all be tackled head-on and at the same time and let the chips fall where they may.
Nii maaluta nyaa laa, ee buka kungho busu noh. (If you are shy of the eyes, you can never skin the head. A Mandinka proverb).

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