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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Mr President, fighting corruption requires political will

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By Lamin Beyai, Brikama

I want to use this opportunity to thank the Gambia government for prosecuting Dr Bamba Banja, who was found wanting for taking a D50,000 bribe to release a fishing trawler. The case of Dr Banja remains the only successful case the government of Adama Barrow has managed to prosecute since 2017 out of the many cases of corruption exposed by the National Audit Office and Malagen. Not impressive at all. That has left many Gambians wondering whether Dr Banja was sacrificed by the government as a scapegoat to pretend that they are serious about fighting corruption. We should as a country demonstrate some seriousness when it comes to issues affecting the wellbeing of our people, and corruption is number one among these issues affecting almost every Gambian, directly or indirectly. We have all seen how the government played a blind eye to the audit reports on COVID-19 expenditures and the KMC crisis involving the CEO. I think what the government should stop doing is pinning everything else to politics. You cannot say that just because KMC and Brikama Area Council are led by the opposition, you should do anything that comes from there. That is unfair. It will just embolden people to get more involved in corruption, which would be detrimental to the country.

The president should also know that it is in his interest to address the issue of corruption. He should also understand that the success of KMC and Brikama Area Council is his success. No individual or council can take all the credit for their development or whatever achievements; President Barrow has to take part of the credit. The fact of the matter is that whatever good or bad happens to the country during his time will be credited to him. This is why, when the Gambia national team qualified for the African Cup of Nations, the success was credited to the president.

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I want to advise the president to support the councils in achieving their goals of fighting corruption. I believe that if the fight against corruption is going to make any significant progress, the president would need to express his government’s unreserved will to fight it.

Almost all Gambians appreciate the president’s tolerance, which I think is unquestionable as the country continues to enjoy a very good political environment. But that alone is not enough; he needs to be more proactive in supporting those who are doing everything to contribute in support of his government’s aspirations.

It is also important to understand that corruption affects all sectors of the development spectrum, and usually, when things go wrong, the president takes the blame. That blame is what you should avoid, Mr President. I want you to have a very good legacy, and you cannot have that without doing things right. We cannot afford to have the Jammeh scenario after another ten years. You should not allow your ten years of hard work to be ruined by a few individuals who may try to take advantage of your hostile relationship with the opposition to create chaos in our councils.

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The Gambia and the councils are bigger than these individuals, and all they do and say is for their own interests. You need to listen to those who give you painful advice because they are your friends. People, especially the poor, get hurt when resources are wasted. That’s why it is important to understand the different kinds of corruption in order to develop smart responses. Create pathways and work with non-governmental organisations to change behaviour and monitor progress. The government should also use the power of technology to build dynamic and continuous exchanges between key stakeholders such as the government, citizens, businesses, civil society groups, media, academia, etc.

Effective delivery of government services is only possible if the people in these institutions endorse sensible rules and practices.

We should also align anti-corruption measures with market, behavioural, and social forces.

What happened in KMC with regards to the tussle between the mayor and the CEO and what is currently happening at the Brikama Area Council will only embolden the thieves and even encourage government officials to engage in corruption. I can tell you with certainty that if you fight corruption with the attention it deserves, you may not even need to increase taxes.

The amount of money this country loses every year due to corruption can build kilometres of roads, but until you realise that corruption is part of the problem, you will continue to wallow in the dream that increasing taxes will fix the problem.

Let’s say, for example, that you increase taxes but fail to fill the holes that are connecting millions in the system. How would those monies benefit the ordinary Gambian? Mr President, you don’t need me or anybody else to tell you there is massive corruption in this country, be it in the private or public sector. You can easily tell the types of wealth some government officials are able to amass with the little salaries they receive. It doesn’t add up. I remember asking a friend who started building a two-storey building two years after starting work at… How was he able to get the money to build a two-storey building with his salary, the majority of which is used for fish money and paying rent? Obviously, he could not give me a definitive answer because he would not want me to know how he steals it. Punishing corruption is a vital component of any effective anti-corruption strategy.

We should also keep citizens engaged in fight against corruption.

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