The law requires full disclosure of those who purchased Professor Jammeh’s assets

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By Lamin J Darbo

In a rather incomprehensible answer to a question from the National Assembly Member of Foni Kansala, the Honourable Dawda Jallow, Attorney General and Minister of Justice (the Minister) told lawmakers “… the Government might not reveal the names of individuals who bought former President Yahya Jammeh’s assets because it could be an infringement on their privacy”.

It was long in the coming, and given the extreme challenges embedded in the transaction to unseat His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhajie Dr Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, Babil Mansa (the Professor), the vehicle for removal could be either natural, or human force. Somewhere in Equatorial Guinea, the Professor lives a stranger, separated from the country he declared to have owned, and for all practical purposes acted as owner from July 1994 to January 2017.

In our contemporary history, it was a political journey like no other. The Professor presided over a maximum government, with no boundaries notwithstanding the republican ethos of limited government. That state of affairs was to be consigned to history when party leaders and other players in the political domain accepted the glaring reality that short of a united front of parties and other forces, there was no chance of defeating the Professor’s all-powerful APRC Government given the prevalent public climate to the 01 December 2016 Presidential election.

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And so, a campaign like no other in the political history of The Gambia in terms of numbers, and diversity going to ethnicity, gender, age, profession ensued. Opposition Gambia coalesced and truly invested in the election and it became clear change was in the air given the extraordinary events in the run-up to the polls.

After the last coalition rally at Bakau on 29 November 2016, I wrote:

“It would be extraordinary if the 01 December presidential election does not usher in a change of government in The Gambia. No independent observer can be in any doubt that the smell and shape of change has commandeered the public space of homeland dearest. The people are emboldened and the overwhelming logic of numbers compellingly drives the narrative. I subscribed to the contention that a new government will begin to take shape in Banjul at the tail end of the next sixty hours.

In conversation after conversation, it is settled that the 01 December presidential election decides the straightforward questions of liberty and dignity within the rule of law. In short, governance over a generation is the single issue up for appraisal by the ruled of the rulers. Or more accurately, the ruled of the Ruler”

Out of that hotly contested election with national security perilously in the balance emerged the Presidency of His Excellency Adama Barrow. The climate was so unsettled the President-elect had to leave the country and subscribed to his oath of office in a foreign land albeit within Gambian diplomatic territory in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. 

Of the transitional instruments created by the new Government and its international backers was THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO THE FINANCIAL ACTIVITIES OF PUBLIC BODIES, ENTERPRISES AND OFFICES AS REGARDS THEIR DEALINGS WITH FORMER PRESIDENT YAHYA A.J.J. JAMMEH AND CONNECTED MATTERS.

Among the mantras making the public rounds were “new Gambia”, and “never again”. In sum, the country undertook to consign public lawlessness to history. Stated differently, governance under law must be the guarantor of the dignity of every Gambian, and of the protection of public property, a philosophy that appeared not to have reached the Minister.

It was extraordinary that notwithstanding the assets question of the Professor arose out of an Act of Parliament triggered by an urgent need to address the abuse of power at the heart of Gambian public life, the Minister erroneously employed privacy as a prophylactic against accountability.

As an entrenched fundamental right, Section 23 (1) of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia on privacy reads: “No person shall be subject to interference with the privacy of his or her home, correspondence or communications except as is in accordance with law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the protection of health or morals, for the prevention of disorder or crime or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

At the elemental level, “… the right of privacy is: the right of a person to be free from unwarranted publicity, the unwarranted appropriation or exploitation of one’s personality, the publicizing of one’s private affairs with which the public has no legitimate concern …”.

Where billions of Dalasis were lost to the Treasury, and over a billion recovered from the assets of the Professor, the funds realized must be utilized to advance the public interest. It was not proper that those assets were recovered and sold by friends to friends in complete secrecy. To avoid conflict of interest, Government officers must not be able to sell recovered assets of the Professor to themselves or to each other.

Equally, the rule of law and public accountability dictate that members of this particular Commission must not be able to purchase anything from the Professor’s seized assets either for themselves or for family members as that is the embodiment of conflict of interest. It is therefore necessary for the Minister to disclose the identities of all those who made purchases from the Professor’s assets given the legitimate public interest in the matter.

Without question, the Minister was aware that politically, philosophically, ethically and legally his postulation was wrongheaded. The transaction implicates no legitimate privacy issues.

What Gambia needs is a system change that liberates holders of public office from themselves. The Minister’s position is indefensible and there must be full disclosure of who purchased what and for how much. I am convinced he wouldn’t advance such argument outside Government.

The Barrow administration was founded on the straightforward question of liberty, dignity and accountability within the rule of law. In short, the failure of governance under law elected President Barrow in 2016. It remains the single issue up for appraisal by the ruled of the rulers.

I hope the Minister is not telling Gambians he preferred lawlessness to accountability.