By Baba Sillah
When President Adama Barrow came to power in January 2017 and set up his cabinet, he established an independent inquiry to investigate the financial dealings of exiled former President Yahya Jammeh, close friends and family members.
The aim of the inquiry is to find out the truth as how the resources of the country were managed by the former President Yahya Jammeh who had ruled The Gambia with an iron fist amid flamboyant lifestyle.
The Commission was established on the Commission Act of the Constitution and approved by the National Assembly.
The Commission is chaired by Sourahata Janneh, a prominent Gambian private legal practitioner and the doyen of The Gambia Bar Association who has a verse experience in law. He is assisted by Commissioners Bai Mass Saine and Abioysse George and Amie Bensouda as Commission Counsel.
Since its commencement on 10 August 2017 more than two hundred witnesses have testified before the inquiry which included public servants, businessmen and others and scores of exhibits were admitted in evidence.
The fundamental objective of the inquiry is to enable the state to know how public funds were managed by the former president during his two decades in power.
At the end of the findings after Commissioners have gathered their reports and recommendations, they will forward their report to President Barrow who will take the final decision.
As a reporter for The Standard, I witnessed the entire proceedings of the Commission but what I have heard and noticed was sad and depressing. Public funds were seriously exploited by the former regime.
Majority of civil servants who had testified before the inquiry of how they unconstitutionally frustrate the coffers of the state, claimed they did it under the directive of the former president. Due process was not followed.
According to most of them, they either had to follow the instruction or risk jail term. Others equipped they could have been terminated from the service, disappeared or worse – brutally killed.
Most of the instructions that were given by the former president were mere verbal instructions through telephone calls or intermediary order.
The entire coffers of the state was emptied and monies were withdrawn from funds that were purposely meant to promote the social-economic conditions of the citizens. Most of the witnesses that comprised senior officials said they received directives from the exiled former General Saul Badgie, former secretary generals, Momodou Sabally, Njogu Bah, Ousman Jammeh and secretary to the cabinet, Nuha Touray among others under the directive of Jammeh.
The commission had also heard how the state’s natural resources were exploited by foreign investors who had exploited our resources at the expense of the poor citizens under the directives of Jammeh. Contracts were awarded to companies without tender or going through procurement processes which led to failure of most of the projects.
During her address, Commission Counsel, Amie Bensouda revealed that out of 254 witnesses that had testified, 26 were identified as close associates of former President Jammeh.
After critical analysis of the evidences given by the witnesses who had testified before the inquiry, I now took it upon myself to make my own critical analysis and give recommendations for consideration in order to prevent such occurrences in the future.
Based on my own analyses, due to the dictatorship at the time, majority of our civil servants were working under serious fear and therefore resort to ‘the culture of silence’ than to reject certain directives from the former president. Another factor that compounded the situation was that most of the civil servants did not have Terms of Reference with regard to their work. That was another factor I believe that compounded and frustrated the whole situation for more than two decades.
Now that we are a democracy, we can work to build strong institutions and laws to make sure the blatant and reckless manner in which state coffers were mismanaged, personalised and emptied is never repeated. We are now at liberty to speak out against corruption and demand probity from our leaders, accountability and transparency in the running of the affairs of the state.
In his book “Transparent Government: What it Means and How you can Make it Happen,” Donald Gordan quotes Patrick Henry’s words from the June 9, 1788 Virginia Constitutional Convention that “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” This means total probity and openness is what we deserve from this administration.
We encourage our commissioners, chairman, and government officials to never lose sight of the very basic core values that are part and parcel of our constitutional republic and essential to our freedom as a people, as Gambians.
Keep Hope Alive!
Baba Sillah works as a senior judicial correspondent for The Standard