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Thursday, June 20, 2024

The dithering government

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By Dr. Omar Janneh

Any government that seems to set up a commission or investigation panel upon encountering any storm and waits for the recommendations of the commissioners or the investigators to be published before it can act may be described as indecisive and irresponsible.
Commissions and investigations take time and cost money. We must know that those who work on commissions may not be giving their services for free. A government such as ours must be financially prudent; it must ensure that it has the correct mix of credible talents to deal with some seemingly stormy matters expeditiously. These are serious issues, uncomfortable truths that we must address, with a different mindset if we are serious about developing the country.

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One could understand the need for the Barrow government to set up some commissions to investigate much of the wrongs of the past. But within two years of coming into power, this government has set up a record number of commissions: The Janneh Commission, the Faraba Banta Commission, the Constitutional Review Commission, the TRRC and the Investigative panel to look into the problems at Social Security Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC). And they also intend to set up the Anti-Graft Commission.

I think some of the commissions may be distractions to the National Development Plan, but time will tell if any or all of them will deliver what they promise. Due to the inter/national dimension to some of the commissions, our crude and clan-based approaches to setting up some of them seem totally unfit for the work of some commissions; some commissions have exceeded their allowed time and possibly cost; others may overrun too and may thus exceed their allowed cost – much of which is probably not being met from our own tax base and so on, but largely by donors. An uncomfortable fact: As long as we rely on others to develop us, we may stay undeveloped for a very long time to come.

Overall, the recommendations of some commissions may be hopeless. Given the flawed way some of the commissions are being set up and run and given that they deal with matters of inter/national law (legality, and justice), it is may be useful to know if the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Baa Tambadou, provides or has been providing adequate judicial oversight of how some of the commissions are set up and run. And did his trip to Mecca have any material impact on the setting up of and running of any of the commissions?
With regard to the Constitutional Review Commission, it has to be said that the hand of history is on the shoulders of the commissioners.

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We hope that they will produce a constitution that is far superior and acceptable to us than the 1997 Constitution. And would it be too much to expect the new constitution to have something on coalition governance? And should it be silent on the president and his household and NAMs forming a movement or foundation during their term in office?
It seems an overreaction and also a waste of money to set up an investigation panel to get to the truth and identify what needs fixing at the SSHFC. And why was Mr Abdoulie Cham delegated as Interim MD at SSHFC when he is being investigated by the Sourahata Janneh Commission for allegedly working with Jammeh to loot millions from the pension funds? If the investigation panel must do their work without Mr Muhammed Manjang being in charge, I think it would have been more sensible and acceptable to have a much less suspect individual appointed as interim MD of SSHFC and not Mr Cham.

Some, including the president, may argue that Mr Cham has not yet been found guilty of wrongdoing as good reason for him to be appointed as interim MD of SSHFC. But could the same reason not hold true for Mr Manjang? To our knowledge, Mr Manjang has also not been found guilty of wrongdoing, but they found it reasonable to ask him to temporarily step aside until the panel completes their month-long investigations; let’s hope that they complete their work in a month. Allow me to extend this argument further. Could it be reasonable to ask some or all of the other witnesses who appeared before the Janneh Commission to step aside from their posts, while they are being investigated and until the commission submits its report? Trying to make sense of some of what this government is doing makes me light-headed.

If it doesn’t already exist, an in-house standards committee – composed of credible parliamentarians – could be set up to work on the proposed Anti-Graft Commission. Members of such a committee would be elected representatives and ultimately responsible to the public. Since we may not need to pay them any extra, we could use the money, we would otherwise have paid to the commissioners on the proposed Anti-Graft Commission, to scratch the surface of other sectors that are badly in need of fixing.

The hiring of some executive members from the Jammeh regime into government and some of the government’s other missteps may make it difficult to take seriously any recommendations from some or all of the commissions, for example, the Sourahata Janneh Commission, Faraba Banta Commission, TRRC, the inquiry into the problems at the SSHFC and the soon to be set up Anti-Graft Commission. The reason is that the government is in bed with members of the former regime who were responsible for the worst rights abuses and who watched over and seemingly allowed the worst economic blunder this country has ever witnessed. What track record do these individuals have that makes them attractive to be re-employed? I think to argue that because some of these individuals have not been proven guilty of any wrongdoing as good reason to re-employ or keep some of them in post is without merit.

Taking into consideration that the government is in bed with members of the former regime whose activities in government are being investigated, I think it should be within the spirit of any serious commission, looking into issues such as rights abuses, financial blunder, etc., to consider it necessary to make the right noise to the government so that the commission’s work (recommendations) could be taken seriously, both inter/nationally. The continued normalisation of the government being in bed with some individuals who appear compromised seem to suggest that the commissioners may be either indifferent to the actions of government or that any concern they may have raised to government was ignored.

Because the government seems to be spending money on ‘priorities’ that appear misplaced, why does it surprise us that the government seems unable to afford the basics such as blood bags, gloves, basic medicines, or even fulfil its promise in the 2018 budget speech to increase the transport allowance of hospital staff which may boost staff morale?
We hope that by the time some of the commissions complete their work, we would know that getting to the truth can sometimes be done efficiently, credibly, impartially and on time. This is important, just in case we may have to do it again because it is probable that some staff of other sectors may follow in the steps of those at the SSHFC which may necessitate the setting up of commissions to address their gripes.

Finally, I dare put the case that the public should be consulted, by calling for a referendum, on whether this (supposed) coalition government should be allowed to ‘govern’ for three or five years. Clearly, most of the NAMs are all conflicted, because of the vehicles they received from the president, so they cannot be trusted to do a good job of addressing such an issue. Indeed, it should be possible for constituency members to petition the removal of incompetent NAMs.

On August 21, 2018, there was an announcement on Kerr Fatu that seemed to have come from a Gambia Government press release which announced that Mr Abdoulie Janneh is the current head of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Believing that this information is correct, Dr Janneh cited it in his piece on 25 August 2018 titled “Objections to some of the appointments of the intended Commissioners of The Gambia’s TRRC”. However, Portland-Communications brought it to the attention of Dr Janneh, via Jollofnews online, that Mr Abdoulie Janneh is not the current head of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Readers are informed that Mr Abdoulie Janneh is the Executive Director, Liaison with Governments and Institutions in Africa for the Mo Ibrahim Foundation as previously reported in Dr Janneh’s piece on 24 August 2018 titled “Conflicts of interests may worsen in The Gambia’s TRRC”.

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