The frustration of Gambia’s beleaguered Health Minister, Ahmadou Samateh, was palpable last weekend, as he painstakingly narrated to the National Assembly his nightmarish ordeal fighting on multiple fronts. While the Minister forges ahead with his crusade in the fight against the deadly Coronavirus, he is equally grappling with another serious virus: CORRUPTION.
Mincing no words, the Minister told lawmakers that no sooner had the Government announced the 500-million COVID-19-funds than some officials of his ministry became preoccupied with allowances.
The minister said: “COVID 19 period is a very difficult period for everybody in the world, for all of us, especially in developing countries…. It’s most difficult for the Minister of Health of the Republic of The Gambia.” He went on to state that instead of his ministry strategizing and developing policies, “we deal with allowances.”
The fact that the minister would go this extra length to unearth the magnitude of corruption plaguing his ministry is alarming, to say the least. It seems Mr. Samateh feels lonely and unsupported in these difficult times because he chose to swim against the tide. He told the MPs some are undermining him within the Ministry simply because he does not condone corruption.
It’s doubtless that the Ministry still has good and dedicated elements within so it’s important that the Minister name and shame the bad elements.
Though the Minister blamed the malpractice on the remnants of the old regime, I beg to differ. If that is the case, why are they still in the system in the first place? When Gambians voted for change in 2016, they did so to see both regime and system change. After all, it is not Yahya Jammeh or APRC that are ruling the country!
Opinion about Minister Samateh is sharply divided. While a certain section of Gambians commended his boldness, candour and honesty, others have contended that he’s a weak leader who failed to put his house in order. I personally have high regard for Samateh, not least because he has been leading the fight against the pandemic and he equally turned down the honoraria and allowances he is entitled to.
The question that begs itself is what about other ministries? I want to believe that corruption extends to other Government institutions where greedy officials embezzle and loot public funds to enrich themselves at the expense of poor taxpayers who struggle daily to make ends meet.
Corruption, of all forms, is rife in the country and is wreaking havoc. Apart from financial management, bribery and embezzlement, nepotism and favouritism are serious issues facing the nation where appointments and promotions are mostly based on connection and political loyalty rather than merit and competence.
While these startling revelations have had tongues wagging, the Government remains tight-lipped. Silence is not a choice; something has to be done immediately.
The Anti-Corruption Bill should be sent to Parliament as a matter of urgency so that corrupt elements are exposed and dealt with, or else our meagre resources will dry out soon.
Basidia M Drammeh