By Musa Bah
We have had three successive governments since independence. In all three, corruption has been the bane that kept us from achieving our developmental goals. Corruption has been like an octopus, spreading its tentacles everywhere and poisoning our fabric. It has – and continues to – destroy our resources all for selfish and individualistic benefits. No one seems to be able to escape its evil.
During the First Republic, it became so rampant that it was almost accepted as a norm. This foretold future upheavals which actually became a reality. In January of 1994, while I was still a school going boy, I told one of my aunts (who is still alive by the way) that I foresaw a military takeover in this country. It was like some crazy idea to her. Seeing that the former president was universally loved, seemingly, she could not bring herself to believe that some Gambians will muster the courage to mount a coup d’état against the then government.
You see, it was not a prophecy, but an observation arrived at by a most gullible schoolboy at the time. That is how corrupt and decadent the government was then. The modus operandi of the then president was to punish any official known to have been corrupt or committed an act of malfeasance by reshuffling the government and transferring said individual to a new post. This in effect was simply saying: you’ve stolen enough from this department, go to the next one.
Thus, when in July 1994 Yahya Jammeh and a few other military personnel overthrew the government, my aunt called me to her house and asked if I had somehow received some hint from these soldiers that they were planning a coup d’état. “No,” I said, “I have just been observant of the goings-on.” The other reaction – this time of the general public – was of joy and hope. We all jubilated that now we will have a government that actually cared about the wellbeing of its people. Boy, were we in for a surprise!
A military with a difference! That was their motto and we naively bought into it.
When they marched under the rain, holding hands and headed to MacCarthy Square, we all hailed them as the political and economic messiahs of the nation. We thought that they would come and wave a magic wand and lo and behold! All problems solved. They were the panacea that never was! The Alghali Commission was set up and it exposed a despicable level of corruption and malfeasance that had hitherto fore never been seen. We tuned into Radio Gambia every evening to listen to the tales of horror, as it were.
Where did it lead and where are the monies recovered by the Assets Management and Recovery Corporation (AMRC)? Ask me again!
On the corruption, loot and gross malfeasance of the Jammeh government, one has only to tune into to GRTS or QTV as they broadcast the proceedings of the Janneh Commission to be informed. The amount of money being mentioned and said to have been looted and destroyed is just too painful to delve into here.
Just yesterday, while I was watching these proceedings, I heard that the National Water and Electricity Company lost over sixty million dalasis in revenue because the former president had ordered that some villages in Foni be supplied with electricity but no metres. This meant that those villages enjoyed 24 hours electricity supply without paying a dime while the rest of the nation was plunged into darkness. What effrontery!
On 1 December 2016, we said we had had enough. We said that we wanted to take back our country and usher in a government that will be for the people. We hoped for a government that will be forthright with the people, a government that will work for the good of one and all and not just for the pockets of the leaders. That was how we came to the presidency of Adama Barrow through a Coalition government.
One and half year on, we are back to square one, so to speak. It is strange that the Gambia Revenue Authority – the body that generates our income – is as corrupt as ever before, or so it seems. It is said that when one goes to the major shopping centres and big magazines, one is issued with an invoice instead of a receipt. I was told that this is so that when the officials of the GRA come, they would not know how much sales have taken place and thus the nation loses the tax that was supposed to be paid from those sales. Those amounts thus go to the foreign businessmen and women, mostly Lebanese.
But another person told me that the money doesn’t only go into the accounts of those foreigners; but, is usually split between them and the GRA officials who knew aforetime that the magazines issue invoices instead of receipts. This is unfortunate indeed. Well, these are all allegations as at now but I think the government of President Adama Barrow owes it to the citizens to investigate these allegations, so we know for a fact who is robbing us, if indeed it is going on.
A month or so ago, it was reported that some immigration officials took close to a million dalasis from tourists who had entered the country via a yacht. It was reported that they shared this money amongst themselves and it was reported to the Ministry of the Interior. Some people were said to have been called in for questioning, but up until now, we have not heard anything about it. These things should be made public – very public indeed – to serve as a deterrent to others.
There is also a rumor that the president has constructed a mansion in his home village of Mankamang Kunda; that there are now streetlights everywhere in that village. The Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs is also said to be constructing two giant storey buildings in his hometown of Bansang. What marvelous news!
Well, supporters will say that these two people were already rich before coming into office. That might as well be true, but the question is this: why is it that with all their wealth, it is only now that they are in office that they decided to build these magnificent buildings? It sure looks suspicious, doesn’t it?
In the Wolof language it is said, “Ku ndobin rey sa maam soo gisee lu nyuul daw”. The corruption and malfeasance of the previous two regimes has taught us to be wary of anything that looks like looting. The government must understand that perception is important in politics. Well, this is the perception of many in the general public. Now, the onus is on you to clarify or prove otherwise.
We must build a more transparent Gambia for our future generations. Remember, we did not inherit this country for ourselves; rather, it is a trust we must bequeath to our children!
Musa Bah is author of several books and teacher of English Language at Nusrat Senior Secondary School. He writes under the pen name, Tha Scribbler Bah.