Ombudsman speaks on asset declarations

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By Tabora Bojang

The Gambia’s ombudsman, Fatou Njie-Jallow, has said assets declaration for public officials is a constitutional requirement that is not a threat to privacy but instead a powerful tool in promoting anti-corruption mechanisms and good governance practices within the public sector.

She made the remark during the presentation of the ombudsman’s activity reports for the years 2015, ’16, ’17 before the National Assembly Select Committee on Regional Government and Lands, Ombudsman and IEC.
Jallow said the 1997 Constitution requires public officers to declare to the ombudsman a written declaration of all properties and assets directly or indirectly owned by them and liabilities they own at the end of every two years.

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Although cabinet ministers are constitutionally exempt from the declaration, President Adama Barrow in 2017 ordered all his cabinet ministers to declare their assets and liabilities to the ombudsman as a step for accountability.
However, Madam Njie-Jallow did not disclose the names of the ministers that declared or did not declare their assets but said that the compliance rate within the cabinet is “very high”.

She said other top officers including permanent secretaries, directors, and director generals, deputy managing directors and executive directors from government institutions and parastatals were also written to declare their assets to the public watchdog.
A total of 180 assets declaration forms were issued and 124 completed properly and returned, Jallow disclosed, adding: “Asset declaration…increases transparency and the trusts of citizens in public administration and protect public officers and enhances the legitimacy of government in the eyes of the public.”

According to the Ombudsman, her office was unable to execute its functions of complaints handling and investigations and the implementation of assets declaration by public officers due to lack of political will.

She said with the coming of the “new Gambia” the ombudsman has been granted unrestricted access to prisons, police cells and all detention centres.
She noted that a great area of concern for the office during their visits is the state of the remand prisoners where detainees remained under custody for years without trial.

Cases registered
Unlawful dismissal was the most common complaint in 2017 with 40% of cases out of 312 public sector cases reported with 180 cases fully investigated by either settled, dismissed or discontinued.

The ombudsman disclosed that 2017 marked a significant rise in the number of cases registered mostly emanating from executive dismissals or terminations, unlawful dismissals and abuses of power by heads of institutions.

These dismissals according to her were mainly related to the former government because of executive directives, abuse of power by institution heads or politically motivated issues.
“Unfair treatment and injustice centred on maladministration, stoppage of salary, per diem claim, abuse of power, non-payment of retirement benefits, delayed promotion, sick leaves. They were among the major problems in the public sector and efforts should be in place to tackle them to encourage efficient service delivery”

Complaint database for institutions
The Gambia Ports Authority registered the highest number of cases in 2017. The second, third, fourth and fifth institutions involved the security arm of the government.
“Unlawful termination and dismissals were common in the army and the State Intelligence Services formerly NIA. The Police Force was mainly queried for abuse of power and unfair treatment. The then prison DG was reported to have abused his powers as well as acted on decisions that were beyond his mandate,” she disclosed.

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