Why are the ministries of justice and sports and Parliament closing their eyes to the GFF tax fraud saga?

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By Madi Jobarteh

It is indeed mindboggling that tax fraud has been discovered in the Gambia Football Federation by the Gambia Police Force and confirmed by the Ministry of Justice yet GFF is allowed to function as if nothing has happened. What is even more mindboggling is the way and manner the National Assembly and the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Sports all act in unison in pushing this apparent misconduct under the carpet. By all indications legal action should have been taken against GFF.

Why therefore has this not been the case in a government that claims to have ended a culture of corruption and impunity in the Gambia? This particular story is most interesting if one follows the facts.

First, it was the National Assembly Select Committee that requested the Gambia Police Force to investigate alleged tax fraud in the Gambia Football Federation. When the police concluded their investigation, they sent the report to the National Assembly on 17th July 2018. They also informed parliament that they had passed the report to the Ministry of Justice for legal advice.

On 30th July 2018 the Ministry of Justice wrote back to the IGP to give their legal opinion on the report. In their legal opinion, the Ministry said there was more than a million dalasi of unpaid taxes by GFF. They advised that the IGP refers the matter to the Commissioner General of GRA to institute proceedings against GFF.

Meantime on 1st August 2018 the National Assembly select committee on sports submitted the same police report to the National Sports Council, stating “for your records and action”.

Therefore, acting on the investigation report from the IGP and confirmed by the AG, the National Sports Council indeed took the right direction when on August 7 they decided to suspend those responsible. This decision is also backed by the letter from the National Assembly which asked the NSC to take “action”. Since the National Assembly did not specify this “action” it must be the case that any action taken by the NSC is indeed in line with the order of the National Assembly.

But with sheer amazement, within 24 hours of the NSC decision the Ministry of Youth and Sports suddenly revoked the suspension of GFF officials even though the NSC was acting according to the NSC Act. Interestingly the Minister of Youth and Sports was reported in the media saying that he had called all parties to his office to thrash out the problem and so that all candidates can take part in the congress on August 18.

How can a discussion in an office thrash out tax fraud that was investigated and confirmed by the police? For God’s sake that is a matter for the revenue authority and the courts!

A day after that dramatic decision by the Sports Ministry, on August 9 it was the turn of the National Assembly Select Committee to write a threatening letter to NSC to retract their suspension letter before the end of that day! The parliament claimed they never asked the NSC to suspend anyone. But the question is, what does the Select Committee mean “for your records and action” in their letter when they submitted the police investigation report to NSC?

Consequently, the NSC had no choice but to retract their suspension letter that same day on August 9.

As if that was not enough, the Ministry of Justice of all places now decided to join the circus by also issuing a shameful press release on August 10 that their legal opinion provided on the police report did not find anyone criminally culpable nor did they recommend the suspension of three GFF officials! How on earth could a bunch of legal minds say such when they clearly stated in their legal opinion that GFF was liable for unpaid taxes of up to a million dalasi!

What kind of game are the Parliament and these Government ministries playing with Gambians? The police are the constitutionally and legally mandated body to conduct investigations into the relevant issues in this matter. After the police conducted their job thoroughly what was expected is the relevant government institutions to take the necessary action.

Where there is abuse of office in any public institution or perpetrated by any public official, the expectation is that the rule of law must apply so that there is accountability. Why therefore was abuse of office in the form of tax fraud being detected in a public institution, i.e. GFF only for the relevant parliamentary and Executive institutions to not only close their eyes to gross violation but to go further to defend such abuse of office.

The GFF Congress on August 18 should not hold until this matter is resolved. A police report that has discovered a criminal act cannot be brushed under the carpet. Someone must answer for the misconduct. It is therefore gravely disappointing that the Minister of Justice and the Minster of Sports and the Chair of the National Assembly Select Committee would fail to fulfill their mandate but to close their eyes to abuse thereby giving way to impunity. Shame!

Stakeholders in the GFF must take this matter to the high court to seek an injunction that the congress be suspended until there is accountability for tax fraud inside GFF.

This article was published before the GFF election over the weekend