By Alagi Yorro Jallow
History has not been kind in its account of the events that follow every regime change. The Republic of the Gambia has been destroyed by its past of regimes that have been riddled with corruption linked to senior officials who have escaped prosecution. It has lost many of its allies because it became known as a country of wicked political leaders who cannibalized the aspirational reality of the citizenry. The Gambia was further destroyed by corrupt politicians and their co-conspirators; the horrid iniquities they institutionalized during the First and Second Republican regimes degraded The Gambia, making it difficult to heal from corruptive afflictions. Those political leaders exasperated a farrago of distortions, misrepresentations, and outright thieves who were unprincipled showmen masquerading as genuine leaders who were exploiting a human tragedy for personal gain.
When you remove evil regimes and yet retain a nation’s character of evil, nothing changes. This government of Adama Barrow, which ran on an anticorruption campaign, has not actually demolished the cancer of corruption infecting the powers of today.
According to the latest Transparency International Corruption Perception Index 2018, The Gambia has ascended in an annual corruption index, improving from a rank of 44th to 37th out of the continent’s 54 sub-Saharan countries for the first time in decades. “With a score of 37th, The Gambia improved seven points since last year. In the Gambia and Eritrea, political commitment combined with laws, institutions and implementation help with controlling corruption,” watchdog organization Transparency International said in a new report: Under President Adama Barrow’s Administration, The Gambia improved seven points to 37 on a 0-54 scale, the highest score it has registered in several years.
According to the Corruption Perceptions Index earlier reported by Transparency International, The Gambia averaged a corruption rate of 114.38 from 2003 until 2018, reaching an unprecedented high of 158 in 2008 and a record low of 77 in 2011 out of the 180 countries surveyed for the CPI rankings.
This high score comes at a time when The Gambia is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances, as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power. Conflict of interest is a new problem, but it has illuminated the glaring truth that Gambians have someone who is basically encouraging the norms of mega sleaze. And in The Gambia, the diagnosis of corruption is not good; there is a clear link between having a healthy democracy and successfully fighting public-sector corruption.
There is also a direct relationship between The Gambia’s favorable ranking and the partisanship, corruptibility, and malleability of the various institutions of government. Transparency International makes the unequivocal statement that its “analysis of the 2018 CPI demonstrates strong, democratic institutions are key to curbing corruption.” Now the current Transparency report has awarded a favorable 37 percent to The Gambia for 2018. What grading scale did they use? What methodology did they use? What has gone wrong or what went wrong with Transparency International? Seriously, what marking scheme did the examiners use?
What is corruption? It exists everywhere; when public funds are diverted to personal accounts; when a public officer unfairly gives jobs to relatives; when companies scheme to put their competitors out of business through corporate espionage and bribery; when a police officer says to a driver, “Silo Bulla Wetin you bring” demanding for a tip before letting the vehicle drive on. Corruption under the idea of a “good guy surrounded by bad people” has gotten worse since Barrow took office on January 19, 2017. The Gambia’s future (her youthful population) has embraced the ethos of their current cellar-dwelling and irredeemably corrupt parents; unfortunately, this anecdote about the country’s youth and their perception of corruption, good governance, and amassing ill-gotten wealth gains is a reality.
Corruption chips away at democracy, creating a vicious cycle where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, found that the failure to control corruption is contributing to an overall crisis of democracy around the world.
Now, President Adama Barrow’s Gambia last week scored a favorable 37 percent for its efforts at killing corruption. That was the verdict of Transparency International, which appears to be a darling of Adama Barrow. In past years, it has been a vocal critic of previous regimes’ records of anti-corruption. What was the average score before Adama Barrow became president? More than 37 percent!
Corruption is the family house of all infractions. It includes nepotism, which you commit when you use your powers to give undue favors to your family members. It includes cronyism or tilting advantages unfairly in favor of your associates and friends. If you are guilty of cronyism, if you are guilty of nepotism, then you are guilty of corruption.
Of course, there is bribery; there is embezzlement; there is graft and there is influence peddling. Use of public power for private gain is the official definition of corruption. Does that not smell like nepotism, like cronyism, like clannishness and like favoritism? These are the rainbow of colors of the Adama Barrow government. Even when the Coalition 2016 partners, the navigators of the process that birthed the Adama Barrow government, spoke about these infractions, what defense did the government put forward? None. Instead, it gave a long list of so-called achievements, including freedom of expression and of speech, neither of which has translated to a speck of human development or improvement.
Corruption has only gotten worse under the Adama Barrow government according to Gambians. However, according to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Adama Barrow and his government are not too bad: What else are Gambians supposed to do that they haven’t done? They have spent the past two years naming and shaming thieves. Didn’t Adama Barrow touch the untouchables and shamed the saintly crooks? Didn’t the government recover the diverted funds in local and foreign currencies and keep the bounty for the public good? Didn’t Adama Barrow’s government seize powerful generals, senior civil servants, and politicians and put them on trial for stealing millions to fund their greed? What has been done is more than anything that has ever been done in this land that flows with loose Dalasi and careless dollars.
Now this Transparency report has awarded a favorable 37 percent to The Gambia for 2018. What went wrong?
In fact, what marking scheme and methodology did the Watchdog use? Does Barrow know that his government has been very transparent and obvious in its misbehavior? How did Gambians know that Adama Barrow has a multibillion Dalasi Mansion in his native village of Mankamang Kunda and main hospitals without a Gambian trained oncologist, no chemotherapy, no radiotherapy available in the country for cancer treatment to address citizens health needs and even without paracetamol in government health centers? Rodents are chasing big men out of government offices despite millions spent on maintenance contracts; snakes of the devil are swallowing millions; monkeys are invading farmhouses to mine and engage in secret recruitments of nephews, nieces, and children of mistresses and concubines to fill elite spaces; Simlex contracts for printing biometric documents are arranged without due process; there is the unrestrained reinstatement and promotion of associates caught with their pants down.
Corruption has become an endemic problem in The Gambia’s new political dispensation. It has also become a growing concern among foreign investors who would otherwise like to do business with The Gambia but are effectively locked out because of it. The persistent and flagrant violations of the open tender process, otherwise designed to encourage and promote competition among prospective bidders, is proving to be the bane of Adama Barrow’s administration. The acceptance of an anonymous donation of fifty-seven pickup trucks by members of the National Assembly, channeled through President Barrow, was a troubling sign of bribery of elected officials.
There are also questions surrounding the mysterious $752,544.42 bank transfer that was deposited in the First Lady’s foundation that carries her name – Fatoumata Barrow Foundation (FaBB). The amount was electronically transferred from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to the GTBank in Banjul via Hong Kong. Once this transfer took place, it became known to the public, leading to a barrage of questions from journalists, political commentators, and opposition party surrogates.
The revelations about this deposit must be viewed in connection with the D 10,000 monthly stipend offered to some members of the National Assembly—which some have alleged to have been a bribe to win their support in the president’s attempt to win the presidential nomination of his political party. The government committed all these acts openly and exhibited them for all to see. Transparency International saw them, too, and was not amused.
Corruption under the “good guy surrounded by bad people” excuse has gotten worse since Barrow took office in 2016. One can castigate, lambaste my characterization, or editorialize the 2018 Corruption Perception Index results, which reflect my disgust at the ineptness of the country’s leadership but also, increasingly, at persons who support that very ineptness. However, one must question the data that underpins the disgust reflected in my characterization. The conditions at Banjul’s main referral hospital is a direct reflection of the data, as is the sale for private gain of donated items, including medical supplies and equipment intended for public institutions.
President Adama Barrow, the Director of Public Prosecution, the Justice Department, and all their toadies can bray all they want – that this time they are ‘serious’ about fighting corruption – but until the man respects AND stops politics and patronage, the country’s supposedly co-equal and independent democratic institutions—i.e., its legislature and its judiciary—then his proclamations will remain just that: hollow and meaningless proclamations. Until Barrow stops using the country’s resources, institutions, and government apparatus like personal property responsible for keeping him in power, then the resultant quality of life will continue to reflect the same disputed CPI score that The Gambia has registered for the two years he has been in office.