By Omar Bah
Almami Fanding Taal, a prominent legal luminary and current spokesman of the United Democratic Party, has said the tax commission set up by former president Yahya Jammeh was conceived in bad faith and an apparent witch-hunt against lawyers, business persons and others that Jammeh had always wanted to discredit.
Mr Faal was commenting on the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the findings of the Justice Singhateh Commission ordering UDP leader Ousainu Darboe to pay over a million dalasis in tax arrears.
However, according to Mr Taal while he cannot speak for Mr Darboe, he knows for a fact that Jammeh had used the commission and other means in his attempt to disqualify all competent professionals and eminent Gambians from holding public office by using state apparatus to falsely criminalise or discredit them.
“His target included lawyers and business people among others and unlike other lawyers who just paid up and kept quiet, Mr Darboe as usual, challenged its legality and contested its findings. Even I myself was targeted and the commission even issued a warrant for me when I could not attend a hearing,” Mr Taal told The Standard.
He said in any case the Janneh commission has revealed enough about how that tax commission had never been intended for anything but to extort monies from lawyers to spend it on Jammeh’s many pleasure-seeking adventures.
“So in understanding the Supreme Court decision one has to know the context, the court was just translating the law as it is. Mr Darboe however believed that it is the GRA that has the authority; that has power to assess and levy tax. That is why he took the matter to court before the change of government,” Taal said. He however said the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law as it is has to be respected.
Meanwhile, when asked about the current status of President Barrow now that he has formed a party different from the coalition 2016 parties that sponsored him three years ago, Taal said he thinks such questions should be directed at the electoral commission.
“I think fundamentally, the ball is in the court of the IEC to say whether a person is in Party A or Party B or whether they have suspended a particular party like they have done with the NCP,” Taal argued.
He added that now that there is no longer a Coalition, “the status of the president electorally should be clarified by the IEC as the public agency responsible for such matters.”
Taal also argued that Coalition 2016 was not entered into in absolute good faith.
He maintained that the position of the UDP had always been that as the party with the majority, whenever a coalition is organised, [the UDP] should lead but some of the coalition partners did not accept that.
“But when we went to subsequent elections and we got overwhelming majority, our position was vindicated and we continued to participate in the Coalition in good faith. But now we consider ourselves expelled when President Barrow decided to remove not only the senior executives of the party but people like myself and Ya Kumba Jaiteh,” he said.
He said for all practical purposes, the Coalition has never gelled as one. “From the very beginning, [some of] the architects of the Coalition themselves were not part of the executive arm of the government. So, from day one, you cannot say the Coalition 2016 was functioning effectively.”
Asked whether UDP will formally disassociate itself from the Coalition, Taal replied: “That is like beating a dead horse. We have been absolutely clear about what our position has been on these issues and we have also said that we are not going to be involved in a demonstration or protest or any kind of manifestation. What we have urged the president to do was to respect the terms and conditions of his election.”