By Suruwa Jaiteh
Long before the end of the virtually 22-year state of emergency and martial law regime of Yahya Jammeh, I had had the occasion to dwell on the sad realities of their poor governance. I had recognised the fact that for a democratic political system to be viable under such a regime, sufficient foundations must be laid for it, in terms of the real recovery by the people of their control over national affairs and their subsequent realisation that government must serve national and social, as opposed to individual and personal interests. The democratisation of political power, as much as, indeed as an indispensable corollary to, the democratisation of governance for the recovery of state properties and the enforcement of national discipline, is an indispensable imperative.
There is need, therefore, that the on-going Janneh Commission as well as the upcoming Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) be seen, and understood, as the creation of the bases for participatory democracy: the creation of the Commissions as the basic vehicle not only for knowing who committed what corrupt act, as well as the cost of indiscipline and carefree attitude to the state, but also for the restoration of political power to its rightful owners, the people. The penalties from the commissions must be severe enough so that, they will serve as a deterrent to future mischief-making by both civil servants and the military.
The methods and operations of the Janneh Commission are, up to this point in time, essentially democratic in character; this will serve as the key to their success in developing that collective spirit so necessary to the epic task of nation building, but which once we lacked so conspicuously.
The basis of participatory democracy that the commissions represent are the people; and although cheated and abused citizens are the ones expected to participate in the deliberations, anyone with evidence of corrupt practices is not denied participation. This principle is central to the commissions of enquiry: if discussions are not truly democratic, if again the 22-year state of emergency were to prevail, no consensus in its true sense can be realised. But democratic participation assures responsibility, awareness, commitment, a willingness to work and expose corruption, a determination to defend and finish the tasks ahead, to achieve certain goals.
Participatory democracy, therefore, represents an indigenous state-of-the-art creation of the democratic instrumentalities which would eventually restore power to the people; initiate political development even during a period of crisis to the extent that a new covenant of faith between leader and people may develop; lay the groundwork for the restoration of normal political processes; and, hopefully, develop our political institutions so that the government will be, eventually, the people.
We hope, thereby, to go beyond the concept of the “consent of the governed” into a situation in which the governed not only participate in the political processes but are themselves their own governors.
A typical example in this regard is what we learnt of Kalidou Bayo’s refusal to be a signatory to an account. This is what we expect from seasoned and responsible civil servants, especially those mindful of their profession and family name. This is the very opposite of the irredeemably corrupt Dr Badara Loum, a former permanent secretary at the Department of State for Agriculture (DoSA) whose main concern was making money and travelling. Dr Badara Loum has directed a project coordinator to forcefully include his name as a signatory to a project account. Through the action of corrupt NIAs, corrupt police investigators, a corrupt Nigerian prosecutor, Badara escaped conviction from the celebrated multi-million dalasi fertilizer criminal case which he, in the privacy of his conscience and in the enclosure of the confessional, must admit he alone has generated with the tacit support of Yankuba Touray (former minister).
Dr Badara Loum and Yankuba Touray are a pair of irredeemably corrupt money and power grabbers. The duo are grazed with an almost Sybaritic dream for power and material benefits. What is to them the fate of an innocent citizen-civil servant detained in Mile II central prisons for 104 days, subsequently charged for a crime he is innocent of. This citizen stood with Dr Badara Loum, shoulder to shoulder, in the witness box for almost five years. Yet, his conscience was able to tolerate that? Yankuba Touray and Dr Badara Loum can divert Seventy Thousand United States Dollars (US$70,000) donated by the Embassy of the Republic of China on Taiwan, meant to sensitise farmers on bird flu.
This perversion of the civil service process by a minister and his permanent secretary is especially evil in a resource-poor agrarian society, where the government, through its Department of State for Agriculture must exist for one purpose, and one purpose alone: to develop the mechanisms and the bases for the achievement of that society for which the resource-poor subsistence farmers – the overwhelming majority of the population – have been historically clamouring. It will not do simply to describe the destitute position of the poor, to note it existence and then divert money allocated for their cause – to do so merely incurred the condemnation of history and risked a production collapse in which the entire nation suffered.
The civil service process must serve that destitute situation rather than fan it further by diverting a significant financial resource allocated to them; it must respond to it rather than corruptly repress it. Yankuba Touray and Dr Badara Loum must be made to answer, but when they do, they must bear in mind the pain and agony their corrupt action heaped on resource-poor subsistence farmers they were employed to serve.
Suruwa Wawa Jaiteh, a native of Bakau, served as a permanent secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture. He is now a private consultant.