In its 2021 Investment Climate Statements, the US Department of State reported that President Barrow’s administration has turned a blind eye to corruption. The report makes for grim reading for any investor, yet it seems that President Barrow’s administration has not taken it seriously because to date, the administration has provided no credible evidence to redeem the good name and integrity of The Gambia. The failure of the government to refute, with concrete evidence, the report that it has turned a blind eye to corruption, has given it credence. Therefore, it is my view that there is a need to unmask the corrupt practices being perpetrated by the Barrow administration against the people of The Gambia. This article takes a peek into the corrupt practices of President Adama Barrow’s administration since 2017.
Corruption is nothing new in the Gambia, however, our reputation was not as low as it is today. It does seem like we are at an absolute low point where anything and everything goes under this administration and they calculatedly condone it; even religious leaders are corrupt. What comes to mind is the proverbial saying of the 19th Century British Politician Lord Acton which is that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It seems that the Barrow administration has left its moral sense elsewhere; they have demonstrated their utter sense of hopelessness to use the laws in place to fight and prevent corruption. The movers and shakers in government are drunk with power and grand delusions. They have been willing to deceive ordinary citizens and to abuse their power in order to strengthen their positions. This administration refuses to listen to or reply to any of the criticisms levelled against it – and show no respect for the citizenry and democratic processes. The Gambian people are suffering today from different forms of political, social, and economic nihilism each with its own false justifications and vicious consequences. Clearly, what the people of The Gambia need is a value system based on ethics – because outside forces including greed, lust, power, nepotism and the desire to possess more seem to have an irresistible tug at the moral and ethical senses of many public officials in The Gambia. We have seen how the corrupting influence of power has shaped the policy priority of this administration and its consequent shoddy and grossly distorted structural arrangements of the machinery of government.
Democracy and democratic systems can thrive when effective and transparent institutions with appropriate legal framework which serve oversight functions and ensure compliance (of the anti-corruption measures) are set up. The failure and missed opportunities of the Barrow administration to capitalise on the establishment and strengthening of such institutions, has led to rampant graft resulting in incompetent governance, low investment, poor labour output, shoddy social and economic development, erosion of trust in politics, the political class and society at large. Corruption causes mal-politics, thereby causing a retardation in the quality of democratic political discourse which affects the calibre of the political leadership of the country. To a very large extent, this explains why we are where we are, so to change course, we need a serious government that can implement existing anti-corruption laws as well as allow us to develop and nurture the radical behavioural changes needed to fight and prevent bribery and corruption.
President Barrow promised the people of The Gambia during the 2016 presidential campaign that his government would be accountable and transparent and that his ministers would declare their assets to the public. However, just as he did with other promises, President Barrow and his team backtracked. Instead, he said the ministers would only have to disclose their assets to the Ombudsman’s Office, but that such declarations do not have to include assets of spouses and immediate family members. To that end, it is probably justified for one to assume that the Fatoumatta Bah Barrow Foundation was deliberately set up to circumvent scrutiny of its activities and, thereby potentially personally gain from it.
The rampant corruption of the kind perpetrated and being turned a blind eye to by the Barrow administration since 2017, should be a very serious national concern for every Gambian. Without any political will to set up an independent anti-corruption watchdog; investigate alleged corrupt conducts, it is no surprise then that corruption remains a rampant, unmonitored and unpunished corrosive and calculatedly condoned practice in the government of Adama Barrow. The task of reporting graft is left to citizens, journalists and research institutions.
In July 2021, the Afrobarometer reported a near doubling of the level of perceived corruption between 2018 to February 2021 for the following: Office of the President, members of parliament, judges and magistrates, local government councillors, civil servants, traditional leaders and even religious leaders are perceived as corrupt. It seems that bribery and all forms of dishonest and abhorrent conduct have become acceptable norms in The Gambian society, in exchange for the services we should otherwise expect to receive as constitutional rights. Per the Survey, The Gambian people bribe the police for assistance to avoid problems, to obtain medical care, school services, Identity Card, and passports. These corrosive practices disproportionately affect the majority, if not all, of the people of The Gambia who are poor and vulnerable. When will this societal evil end before it completely destroys us as a people?
Below are a few selected cases of corrupt practices that can be directly linked to the administration of President Barrow:
1. The public procurement process in The Gambia is alleged to lack fair competition, objectivity, and transparency. The dubious taking away of the contract from Pristine in favour of Semlex to manage the citizens’ Identity Cards without any oversight as well as the awarding of the bid for the NAWEC transmission infrastructure worth over 1 billion dalasis to the Chinese electromechanical manufacturer TBEA which donated D35M to the Fatoumata Bah Barrow Foundation are good examples;
2. The 2018 fertiliser scandal involving a former Agriculture Minister remains unaddressed;
3. In July 2021, another fertiliser scandal surfaced involving the Ministry of Agriculture in which, a certain minister was alleged to have been involved in a deal in which 2,280 bags of Gambian fertilizers were found loaded in trucks bearing Malian registration number plates. A farmer told The Trumpet that more fertiliser bags had already been ferried out of the country prior;
4. With Covid-19 seemingly causing havoc in the country, the Covid-19 mitigation funds from African Development Bank and the World Bank is muddled in controversy. This leaves one with little option but to believe in the exposure by the Health Minister of corruption in Gambian government; indeed, the Minister admitted that the government is not reining in on corruption of funds earmarked to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic;
5. The saga of the $200,000 honorarium to former Justice Minister Tambadou and Co. for the Rohingya genocide case at the International Court of Justice seemed fraudulent; the statement from the government’s spokesperson attempted to clarify the issue, but instead further muddied the waters;
6. The recent attempt by President Barrow to explain the mysterious transaction of $752, 594.42 (D35M) paid into the account of the Fatoumata Bah Barrow Foundation revealed the seriousness of the level of corruption at the heart of President Barrow’s government. The President’s explanation was not credible; only gullible people will buy into his explanation which is riddled with holes. Clearly, the state is more capable of creating an account to receive such money than anyone. It remains unclear why the funds are accepted to finance such a trip and why the Leadership Team feels the need to hire a plane for such a trip. Because there is no such thing as a free lunch, it is no wonder that the same company won the NAWEC transmission infrastructure bid worth over one billion dalasis;
7. The sources of income of the President’s political Movement remain unclear;
8. The Barrow government’s use of political expediency to refuse to implement the Janneh Commission’s Recommendations in full which, was set up to expose the brazen corruption of former President Yahya Jammeh and his administration;
9. The issuance of fishing licence to trawlers (e.g. EU states) and a Chinese-run factory with a terrible environment record reveal the scandalous and calculated corrupt practices of local officials and the fisheries ministry;
10. The illegal and environmentally-destructive mining and export of black sand, without oversight and local consent, to China for pittance by a politically-connected businessman with wide-ranging and questionable business interests, directly points to the corrupt practices of the government of President Adama Barrow;
11. The wastage of public funds to employ a bunch of “useless” presidential advisers is indefensible and grossly abusive of office and public funds;
12. The indiscriminate issuance of diplomatic passports under the Barrow administration was indefensible, fraudulent and clear cases of deliberate abuse of public office.
The above evidence, which by no means represent the full picture, points to widespread corruption being the trademarks of Adama Barrow’s presidency since 2017; instead of fighting it, they are indifferent to it and are participating in it. One still hopes that his government would come out and tell the public what serious reforms that it woefully failed to do so far, it hopes to put in place to address the scourge of corruption that is decimating the foundations of our institutions, negatively affecting our socioeconomic development and rule of law and ultimately, the welfare and constitutional rights of our people.
The devastation caused by this corrosive and dishonest conduct is wide-ranging. It obliterates the public finances, governance of public and private institutions, provision, and maintenance of the most basic services. Clearly, to say that corruption is a corrosive evil which affects every aspect of our state and the people of The Gambia and, that it is a scourge to our society is an understatement. To help curb corruption, we must humanise the negative effects of corruption on the life of the country. Clearly, the annihilation of vital structures of state and the needless and avoidable loss of lives we see and hear about on a daily basis can all be directly attributed to the deliberate and senseless pilfering of funds by the people who are entrusted to use those resources to provide goods and services for the people of the country.
Any government that is serious about fighting corruption must work in partnership with Transparency International, Civil Society Organisations, journalists and citizens and ensure that their disclosures are not ignored. In my view, whistle-blowers should be provided easy to access avenues to expose bribery, theft of public funds and wrongdoing; government must develop best practice for whistleblowing by ensuring that whistle-blowers are adequately protected so that they are not ostracised, do not face retaliation, are not intimidated or fired from their posts. At the very least, any serious government cannot fall short of implementing existing anti-corruption laws, and the anti-corruption protocols The Gambia ratified. Where necessary, these measures must be backed by an open and fair legal framework that must be made to work; government must work and or welcome the direct interventions of donors to help strengthen formal institutions to curb and prevent this scourge which continues to impoverish and cause the preventable deaths of many people in The Gambia. In my view, some of the measures offered by the Gambia For All (GFA) party are serious steps which, if implemented, should help repair the good name of the country, improve governance, and the delivery of services. We shall hold them to their word if they come to power.