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Friday, December 1, 2023

Letters to the Editor

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Fertiliser Saga: Minister’s reactions fall short of yielding compelling answers

Dear editor,

Faraba tragedy seemed to have diverted my focus on the hurriedly arranged presser by Agriculture Minister Omar Jallow on the toxic fertiliser sale saga. The minister’s reactions seem to have raised more questions than answered. What I don’t like about our leaders is absolving themselves of wrong doings and passing those on to their subordinates.

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From the documents the Ministry’s press office released on social media, it is clear that a deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry appended his signature on the contract document that allowed Mr. Dibba to engage in the dangerous disposal of toxic expired fertiliser across our borders. Unless the Minister tells us that there is no chain of command at the Ministry or he is not informed of issues passing under his watch, it remains to be clearly seen how he could absolve himself from this whole saga. Leadership is about being aware of developments within one’s environment. It’s also about being in control of what goes in and out of one’s command. The minister’s position that he wasn’t aware of the signing of such a delicate contract raises more questions about his leadership.

The last time I checked, deputy permanent secretaries and permanent secretaries are the most important senior officials who work closely with ministers to manage the affairs of the Ministry. A deputy permanent secretary mustn’t put a whole ministry into such a shady deal without the due consent of his superiors – permanent secretary and the minister. In fact, in most cases, the three consult among themselves extensively before arriving at life and death decisions. This isn’t about micromanagement; it’s about best practices. This is done to ensure that everyone sings from the same sheet of music.

Here is a Minister denying signing the contract, yet his office released documents showing that a senior aide of him signed ON BEHALF of the ministry. Certainly, that aide was acting on behalf of the Ministry, unfortunately, headed by Jallow. It raises the questions about the steps the Minister took to thwart the contract after realising it was signed. Would he say that he wasn’t also aware that the contract was signed to dispose of the fertiliser?
Would the minister also say that this was never mentioned to him or the permanent secretary during their periodic (I would think the ministry has a regular briefing) senior management meetings? It’s true that the fertiliser was in store since 2009. But what actions did he take when he found out the fertiliser? Why was the entire deal kept in secrecy? There was no transparency in the entire process. The Ministry could have publicly made known the status of the process.

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Our leaders must not only be accountable for administrative malpractices but also take full responsibility. That’s the leadership that’s inspiring and proactive!

Hatab Fadera

Justice for Journalist Pa Modou Bojang!
Dear editor,

The verbal and physical attacks meted out to journalist Pa Modou Bojang by personnel of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) while he was doing his media work in the wake of the Faraba incident calls for urgent action by The Gambia Government to bring perpetrators to justice. Journalists are extremely important stakeholders in the governance and development of any society which is why the freedom, safety and development of the media and journalists have been guaranteed by law and policy around the world.
Both local and international law protect the right of journalists to do their work in safety. Clear obligations have been placed on not only States but also on all other non-state actors to ensure that they protect journalists at all times from intimidation, harassment, violent attacks including the destruction and confiscation of their gadgets among others.

In fact in 2002 the Banjul-based African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, in their 32nd Session issued the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa in which they stated in Chapter 11 on ‘Attacks on Media Practitioners’ that,
1. Attacks such as the murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and threats to media practitioners and others exercising their right to freedom of expression, as well as the material destruction of communications facilities, undermines independent journalism, freedom of expression and the free flow of information to the public.
2. States are under an obligation to take effective measures to prevent such attacks and, when they do occur, to investigate them, to punish perpetrators and to ensure that victims have access to effective remedies.
3. In times of conflict, States shall respect the status of media practitioners as non-combatants.

By these principles The Gambia Government is under an obligation to ensure the safety of journalists. These obligations are further emphasised in international and regional treaties that The Gambia has ratified such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Africa Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the ECOWAS Treaty.
The assault on Pa Modou Bojang was not just a direct threat to him as a person, but it was also a direct threat to the people of The Gambia in that the security personnel do not wish citizens to get to know what they did in Faraba. By attacking Pa Modou, they wish to deny citizens the right and the ability to obtain relevant information and ensure accountability. In other words these officers wanted to perpetuate impunity in The Gambia by suppressing information and silencing voices.

For that matter the PIU can best be described as a terror group that threatens the very sovereignty of Gambians. It is only terror groups, dictators, criminals and corrupt institutions and individuals that suppress information and silence voices and close eyes on them. These officers have therefore flouted their legitimacy as bestowed on them by the people of The Gambia. By their criminal act they have therefore impugned the reputation of a legally constituted public institution for which they must be held to account.
In the inquiry on the Faraba Incident, the assault on journalist Pa Modou Bojang must be investigated with urgency to ensure justice. It is disheartening to learn that even when the journalist comported himself well while they questioned him still these security personnel went ahead to verbally and physically assault Pa Modou to the point of sustaining grievous bodily pain.
Perpetrators must be exposed and justice must be done.

Madi Jobarteh

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