By Omar Bah
The United Democratic Party spokesperson Almamy Fanding Taal, has challenged the government to, as a matter of principle and accountability, provide proper explanation of the $200,000 [10 million dalasis] payment to former and present senior officials of the Ministry of Justice.
The former Attorney General, Ba Tambadou, his successor Dawda Jallow, former Solicitor General Cherno Marenah, his successor Hussain Thomasi, and two others came under fire for sharing the $200,000 among themselves.
The government has issued a statement to clarify that contrary to widespread allegations of corruption, the funds were legally paid to these officials as an honorarium for jointly prosecuting the case against Myanmar.
But Taal, himself a lawyer, said Gambians deserve to have all the information necessary about the whole issue. “The Gambian people have a right to question this way of spending meager resources that come to the country.
“I don’t think the government spokesman’s clarification was clear in my humble opinion. If all the information is clear, I think within the context of the post-Covid crisis and the extraordinary circumstances obtained in all countries of the world, such amount of distribution of honorarium should be tempered with the austerity that is affecting every aspect of our economy and social life,” Taal told The Standard.
He added that “legally if there is an agreement or policy, we should be made to be aware of it and secondly, the state law office is a public office, and not like a private law firm where you say that the private law firm was paid this and that and therefore, Gambians should not be grudged to the public officers who participated in the process”.
“We need transparency in the whole process because the government spokesperson was explaining in his statement that there was a special account open by the OIC. Which OIC is he talking about? Is it the Secretariat that has been established by the Gambia government or OIC international? And he is saying that no other OIC country has contributed. What about the Bangladesh $500, 000?” he added.
According to the laws of The Gambia, he added, “if you get a grant from any organization, they should be housed with the ministry of finance. If at all the grant was toward the effort of The Gambia, then it should be explained clearly the basis of distributing it the way it has been distributed”.
Taal said Gambians should understand what the Gambia government has taken from the public fund for “this effort, if there is any”.
“If all the monies are coming from outside to help this effort, it is important that we understand how much did OIC International and other OIC member countries like Bangladesh have actually contributed and how much the Gambia government itself expended on the Rohingya case. If these things are clear, I think in principle paying honorarium to public servants is something that should be encouraged as much as possible giving the transparency required of transactions of this nature,” he said.
Also commenting on the matter, a social and political commentator, Pa Samba Jaw, argued: “The first issue I have with this money is the lack of transparency. The more the government tries to explain the more questions it raises. Even if this supposed honorarium is legal, it raises ethical issues that need to be addressed”.
“The government must come up with a clear and unambiguous policy to ensure that such honorariums are not pocketed by a few, but are deposited in the consolidated fund as a property of the state. This is all the more reasons why we need legislation against gift to government officials,” he said.