By Dr Omar Janneh (PhD)
Close scrutiny of the TRRC Act, 2017 highlights many problems with it: Excessive Executive involvement (TRRC Act; section 5(1-3); 10(1-3); 12; 22(2)(6). Besides, the Act promises victims what no state can deliver (TRRC Act, 2017; section 20) [– because the rights abuses are wide-ranging, with many absent victims and perpetrators], without the state going out to beg. Is there any dignity in begging and when will we stop it? Most states (e.g., Liberia, Sierra Leone, and South Africa) that have gone through truth commissions have been unable to fulfill the financial obligations that result from the recommendations of their truth and reconciliation commissions, namely the payment of reparations.
In our own case, due largely to the many other competing priorities The Gambia government is faced with, we will be unable to fulfill what the TRRC Act, 2017 promises. There is ample experience elsewhere showing the unlikelihood of the international community to step in and front load the type of financial commitment needed for reparation. On the contrary, it’s often the perpetrators (Sierra Leone/Liberia) that seem to benefit the most through demobilisation processes that often include financial incentives for fighters to lay down their arms. This is important to address head on for a number of reasons and not least the issue of expectations of the general public.
And do we believe that donors will fulfill their pledges (in full) on a cause that is littered with flaws?
I think we must also remember that donors have to have a justification for use of (public) funds.
It is still a mystery to me why The Gambia Bar Association has taken a silent view of the situation unfolding in The Gambia in regards to the TRRC. First, I hope the members have seen the TRRC Act, 2017 and have had the chance to scrutinise and comment on it. If they did, what is their position on it? The Gambia Bar Association cannot remain silent over an issue of national importance, which poses serious threat to the integrity of the justice system in the country. But first, how did such a problematic Act pass the close scrutiny of our Parliamentarians – is this truly the new Gambia? It is true that any sovereign country can do what it pleases; this is what the previous government did and the result has been….. We must know that the eyes of the international community: UN, donor agencies, and regional partners are on us; they want to see our TRRC succeed, but we are not on the correct path to success. Can we afford to make The Gambia a laughing stock of the world, yet again?
In a previous piece, the point that the TRRC Act, 2017 may have been a work of fiction or plagiarised was made. The reason for such a (provocative) description was because it seems surprising that section 17 (1-4) of the TRRC Act, 2017 is not being observed in the appointments to the Commission. If the Executive cannot even follow the Act, can we Trust them with presiding over the TRRC? For the purpose of clarity, the recent appointments to the TRRC do not seem to pass the disclosure of interest test which the Act categorically makes mention of (TRRC Act, section 17 (1-4) and the interview panel have seemingly failed in their duties as well. To add fuel to fire, we have conflicted staff in the Commission also appointing conflicted individuals to the Commission. When will the normalisation of mediocrity stop in the (new) Gambia? Are they taking us for fools?
Further, it is my view that the spirit of the TRRC Act is being misinterpreted to give excessive powers to the Secretariat. The recent appointment of the (conflicted) Director of Research and Investigations of the TRRC should not have been left to 3 individuals, two of whom are hugely inexperienced with the experience of the third unclear. Individuals must be appointed with utmost regard to the Act; and with demonstrable relevant experience – the skills, and experience of the appointees must closely match the duties and responsibilities of the advertised posts, which may only be fulfilled if the posts are advertised as widely as possible – not Facebook. It is true that the Act empowers the Executive Secretary to appoint staff to the Commission as the Commission may require [TRRC Act, 24(1)(3)], but it is my strong view that the Executive (knowingly) allowed the (conflicted) Executive Secretary to exercise too much power in the functioning of the TRRC. Notwithstanding this flaw, the composition of the interview panel must not be heavily biased towards inexperienced and conflicted individual(s). We must exercise caution and not allow the TRRC to be the pet project of any individual(s).
The importance of perception cannot be overemphasised in the work of any truth commission. Indeed, it is the heartbeat (– occupies at least 90% of the centrepiece) of the Commission’s work; if it is lost, then it is not worth the effort; and may cause more damage than good. My modest assessment of The Gambia’s TRRC so far is that it does not pass the test of (public) perception of impartiality. I think a great majority of Gambians want to see justice served, and most likely want to see it served following due process, i.e., international standards of fairness, and impartiality.
To that end, I think many objectively-minded people would be of the view that we do not need to make appointments to the TRRC that are seemingly biased to get to the truth of what happened during The Gambia’s dark years (1994-2016). I am still of the view that the timing of the TRRC is wrong, the appointments made so far have much to be desired, and we probably have worse news to come our way. Therefore, the future of the Gambia’s TRRC is very bleak; we must brace ourselves for its spectacular failure. I think (good) governments/leaders care about their legacy enough to want to stay up even after they have left office. What would be the legacy of our current leadership?