Questions and more about the allegations of conflicts of interests in The Gambia’s TRRC
Dr. Omar Janneh
A study asked some individuals if gifts/kickbacks could sway their attitudes and behaviours and those of their peers. While about 60% answered that gifts did not affect their work, only 16% believed other individuals were similarly unaffected. This appears to suggest that we have a tendency to condone our own actions while condemning (criticising) the behaviour of others for the same actions. Thus there may be a gap in our awareness about conflict of interest which makes us biased towards our own actions. Basically, it is not easy for an individual to associate conflict of interest with their attitudes and actions, so they are unlikely to criticise self for their actions. It is also not possible for poorly set-up organisations/institutions to monitor, enforce and comply with conflict of interest issues. However, in the case of The Gambia’s TRRC, it may be easy to track conflict of interest issues because the nature of information flow seems one-directional. Thus compiling and maintaining data on potentially conflicted individual(s) may be easy to acquire.
Public servants and all of us must engage in thoughtful actions in whatever they/we do to help mitigate conflict of interest. In order to avoid conflict of interest and reduce criticisms, we must exercise thoughtful judgement in both our actions and how others would perceive our actions, because they will scrutinise, judge and criticise us. When we allege that there is a conflict of interest, we believe or suspect that the individual concerned has some personal interest in something, which may affect their judgement; that there is an element of mismatch between the aims of the parties or individuals concerned. Unfortunately, allegations of conflict of interest, if proven, tend to stick which tends to have negative reputational consequences at both individual, institutional and organisational levels.
We must help enlighten each other by encouraging critical discourse. We must encourage each other to scrutinise what is being thrown at us from a kaleidoscope of sources most of which are untruths. Yes, let us scrutinise everything, including the content of this and other articles. We must teach the skills to demystify what we read or hear about and to debate these issues using facts. ; That way we can avoid accepting things that are objectionable or untruths. These statements lead me to the substantive issue at the heart of this article, i.e., the kind of conversation that Mr. Mam Mustapha Kah’s Open Debate Banjul Organisation advocates. Although it may be uncomfortable for Mr. Kah to be the subject of the ongoing discussions, it is hoped that Mr. Kah would welcome the public debate his alleged actions created. If nothing else, he may learn to do things differently and positively better than his best. In fact, it would be refreshing for him to come out and address the allegations by engaging in the debate he advocates rather than sit on the mute button and let the Executive Secretary of the TRRC come out to attempt to clarify the issues on his behalf. The Executive Secretary’s make-believe article appears to show his apparent lack of understanding of what conflict of interest is or his deliberate indifference to it. In my view, it is not up to the Executive Secretary, who is deeply conflicted anyway to attempt to clear the air about alleged conflict of interest surrounding the work of a TRRC Commissioner.
In regards to the alleged conflict of interest labelled against Mr. Kah that he benefitted from TRRC funds to promote public debates organised by his organisation, it may be possible to objectively decipher if Mr. Kah was conflicted if we had answers to some questions such as:
- Is the Banjul Open Debate Organisation the same as the Debate Gambia Association which was founded by Mr. Kah in 2014 and reported to be registered in his name? If Debate Gambia Association is the same as Banjul Open Debate Organisation, it would be clear that that Mr. Kah registered his Organisation/Association before he was appointed TRRC Commissioner. The question we may then ask is whether he declared the existence of the Organisation/Association to the TRRC before he was appointed?
- Where is the Constitution or terms of reference of the Organisation/Association?
- What strategies does the Organisation/Association use to acquire funds to help achieve its aims and objectives? In other words, what sources of funding sustain the activities of Mr. Kah’s Organisation/Association?
- Does Mr. Kah acquire part of the funding for his Association/Organisation’s activities (e.g., to pay his staff salaries, pay bills, rent halls, etc.) using income generated from his own work or from grants? If Mr. Kah supports his Organisation from his own income, can he reveal his source(s) of income?
- Can Mr. Kah reveal the sources of grants his Organisation/Association received from the time he accepted employment with the TRRC to date?
- Overall, could Mr. Kah publish his Organisation/Association’s income and expenditure report? This will show a number of things asked above, including whether Mr. Kah directly benefits from the Organisation/Association.
With the TRRC (http://www.trrc.gm) drawn into these allegations, I think it will be important for the TRRC to publish when the time is right, the auditor’s report of how its funds are acquired and importantly used. I think this may clarify or shed some light on the conflict of interest allegations on this matter. We need hard facts, not make-believe statements so that we can decide for ourselves. We are an intelligent people that deserve better because we know better.
The aims and objectives of Debate Gambia Association, if it is the same as the Banjul Open Debate Organisation are quite clear and admirable. It also seems that the debating championships the Association/Organisation organises (Banjul Open Debate Championships) are important. Available evidence suggests that the Association/organisation organises public debates about the role of the TRRC and how former alleged offenders should be treated. It is my hope that similar discussions also look at the needs of victims and that the Organisation/Association’s activities complements some of the work done at the Victims’ Centre (Gambia centre for victims of human rights violations). Now that the TRRC is underway, these are important conversations to be had at the present time.
Based on what we know now, time will tell if other staff in the TRRC could be inadvertently conflicted by being involved in activities that may be undesirable. For example, with the TRRC ongoing, should it be acceptable (in the “new” Gambia) for TRRC staff to get paid for appearing on TV, radio, forums, etc. – supposing this occurs? Is it ok to dismiss such questions as hypothetical and that they conflate private with public matters – that individuals who serve, e.g., on the TRRC can do paid private work and keep all of the money without declaring it while the TRRC is still ongoing? My view is that the TRRC staff must display exemplary moral character, thoughtfulness and leadership in going about their very sensitive work; that they must do everything possible not to unduly benefit from their activities, at the very least while the Commission is ongoing. Instead, they must be prepared to sacrifice in doing what is right for the benefit of the victims; doing otherwise would be akin to abuse of their position. I also hold the view that should the staff earn additional income from private work, they should consider donating some or all of that money to the Victims’ Centre. Clearly such generosity may improve the public trust in the work of the TRRC and repair any reputational damage that may be caused by conflict of interest allegations against the staff.
We recently heard that QTV was contracted to cover the TRRC proceedings on the basis of the reduced cost QTV charged versus GRTS, the state TV. To most of us, this seems logical and sensible, but that’s until the GRTS came out to tell us their version of the story. It now seems that there may be more to the issuing of this contract to QTV than meets the eye. Based on the detailed information provided by the GRTS and the relative absence of the same in the article published by the Executive Secretary of the TRRC, it seems to me, at least for now, that the GRTS offered better value for money than QTV. I have come to this conclusion because a Communication Unit that has so far shown their incapacity to take charge of their duties and also took nearly a year to create a website may not be skilled enough to understand and competently decide on what is required to cover the proceedings of the TRRC. Available evidence shows that the GRTS has a proven track record: It covered the Janneh Commission and is covering the CRC. What also looks dubious to me is the very short time given by the TRRC to GRTS to prepare their bid. According to the article by the GRTS, they received the invite from the TRRC to bid on December 21, 2018 which was a Friday and therefore a very unproductive day in The Gambia as the weekend starts at 12:30hrs when the offices shut for prayers. They were asked to submit their proposal, in both soft and hard copies, as well as present the proposal on Monday, December 24, 2018 at 13:00 GMT. This seems an unreasonable short turnaround time, so close to Christmas and therefore begs the questions: Did all of the other interested parties: GRTS, QTV, Impact Palace (EyeAfrica TV), Mediamatic (Paradise TV), and State of Mic receive the invitation to bid for the contract to cover the TRRC proceedings on December 21, 2018? Were they also asked to submit and present their proposal on December 24, 2018? We may never know the answers to these questions or we may be in for a long wait – a mere press release without hard evidence won’t do. Until we know the facts, we are at liberty to infer from the detailed version of events presented by GRTS, in context of what emerged from the TRRC so far, that the invitation to bid for this contract was not advertised on radio or in the papers (or dare I say it, Facebook), in a timely manner, so that all of the interested media houses can receive and react to the advert at the same time. And the fact that the GRTS provided a lot of prior support to the TRRC (in its formative stages) only to be now dumped on monetary grounds justifiably hurts. One would have thought that as a national project, the state broadcaster GRTS should cover the TRRC. Would we ever know if there could have been other reasons why the contract was offered to QTV and not GRTS? Could other media houses work with QTV to cover the TRRC proceedings or would the remaining media houses unite in solidarity with GRTS and boycott the coverage of the TRRC proceedings? I very much hope not. In any case, we hope that the viewers in the provinces are able to tune into QTV.
It will not be out of place to make this point here. On Thursday, August 2, 2018 (at 15:09hrs), the TRRC Secretariat sent an email inviting an applicant resident in the UK to attend an interview on Monday, August 6, at 11:30hrs in Banjul (at the conference room of the Ministry of Justice). The applicant was advised to confirm their availability by Friday, August 3, 2018. Clearly, the applicant could not be there on time –even if they had their own private jet – and the interview was held over skype. For that particular post, the Secretariat claimed that 4 people interviewed the applicants for the role, but this applicant was interviewed by 3 individuals not 4. As if that is not dodgy enough, there were known cases where only one person interviewed some applicants for some posts – basically there were inconsistencies. Thus it seems that the hiring of staff and the awarding of contract(s) by the TRRC may have much to be desired – they seem to have a sleazy pattern to them. It looks like if they do not want you in, they give you limited time to prepare or do not bother following due process.
Power can cause different things to different people. It is definitely exceedingly intoxicating and addictive and one does not have to be on the power pill for long to become addicted to it. There is ample evidence that even those who enter public service with the best of intentions are prone to abuse power. To avoid the intoxicating and abusive effects of power, we must be thoughtful and careful of our habits, be they good, bad and definitely if they are ugly. Overall, most critics do not criticise or express their views about something out of the necessity to step on the toes of other individuals. Further, it is not because the critic was created with some evil inside which may be the cause of their unfavourable attitudes and actions towards another. In other words, criticisms are not a manifestation of the inherent evil in the critic. People usually criticise because they care and are sufficiently passionate about the things they talk about, which probably affect their lives, the lives of others and so on that they care deeply about. It is up to the individual being criticised to do the needful, including but not limited to: grow a thick skin and carry on as normal, come out fighting or take a considered view of the criticisms and work to engage each other constructively with a view to making things better. Thus it seems that there can be some hope that good can come out of criticisms. Indeed it may have contributed to sending Dictator Jammeh out of our hairs to Equatorial Guinea. In the case of Dictator Jammeh, he took the option to not only carry on as normal, but he escalated his brutality against his own people and when we (in private and in public) formed a unified force against him, he didn’t stand a chance. What this suggests is that if we are serious about putting The Gambia on a sound footing, we must be prepared to scrutinise and criticise, whenever necessary, the activities of those who serve us so that we can get them to do better than their best. If there is some hope that criticising can give rise to some people doing their best, then it is worth it. If we fail to do it because we do not want to upset people’s sensibilities, it is likely that some people will serve themselves, ruin their reputation, our institutions and the country. This may be a high price to pay.