I yesterday had a glimpse of the session of the Gambia National Assembly’s Select Committee on Public Finance cross-examining Finance minister Mr. Mamburay Njie on certain financial procedures/irregularities apparently in conflict with, if I get it right, prevailing constitutional imperatives on how “virement”  of funds in particular are conducted by the government. As wonted, the NAMS and the speaker performed brilliantly although one questions the poor message they were inadvertently sending to the public for their careless appearances on social distancing and other preventive protocols from the coronavirus pandemic. Unless they are among the majority of Gambians still skeptical about the existence or deadliness of the novel coronavirus, I believe they should have as lawmakers sent better examples by everybody, at least, wearing face masks and hand gloves.

If for instance Hon. Sidia Jatta and Hon. Yakumba Jaiteh were infected, which is possible in cases of asymptomatic persons, everybody present would have come in contact with the virus and possibly infected. Asymptomatic individuals meaning those carrying the coronavirus but don’t necessarily develop COVID-19 the disease because of their strong immune systems but are said to constitute the majority around the globe. According to scientists, the highly infectious and resilient virus has survivability rate on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours and could be airborne for quite awhile. Hon. Jatta and Hon. Jaiteh had no masks on and none of the NAMs had gloves on. Besides, they all were using the same microphone rotated from speaker to speaker with some touching their faces which is prohibited to avoid infection. They really were not good examples to the public if they genuinely believe in the prevalence of the Chinese-engendered pandemic that seemed to prompt their gathering in the first place. Not too impressive, in the final analysis.

I was however more impressed by the appearance of finance minister Mr. Mamburay Njie.  Not only because he all along wore a mask, even when speaking on the mic,  but more importantly because of  his frequent willingness to face unconditional scrutiny or questioning from the National Assembly (NA) and the free independent press. His reliance on old financial procedures, using the same old guidelines but now being challenged as counterproductive, unethical and even, in some ways fraudulent seemed to have always been the standard procedure ever since. He kept on referencing a “2014 regulation” which is fairly recent and perhaps attributable to ex-president Jammeh’s “illegal interferences” but as far as “virements” are concerned the practice has been going on in the Gambia since time immemorial. Whether or not the procedure was usually endorsed by lawmakers is above my pay grade; but if it was, then the NAMs should find it easy to just go back to the good-old ways. But if not, then I think Mr. Njie deserve a break this time for being accused of incompetence or whatever, as long as there are no new guidelines to replace the old ones. And I also have doubts over the possibility of producing one any time soon in the absence of an approved new constitution from where such I suppose regulations are predicated. However, if new financial regulations can be promulgated that will not be affected by the new constitution, whenever approved, then I think the NA or government should urgently work on producing one.

Listening to the argument of the lawmakers, I think they ended up exposing to Gambians certain flawed financial guidelines often conducive for corrupt practices, the root cause of Gambia’s backwardness. But  again, thanks to the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, our lawmakers are increasingly getting emboldened to scrutinize and challenge government officials and their unorthodox activities. If this tradition continues and expands to all government departments and ministries indefinitely, I bet my last penny that the country will soon make this cancer of corruption a phenomenon of the past.

I am supporting Minister Njie because of his confidence, coupled with his knowledge of the only available guidelines and of course his eloquence in explaining himself calmly to both the NA and independent press. Temperamentally, he is way more refined than Vice President Dr. Isatou Touray and without doubt bolder than President Adama Barrow and most of his top crew members.

Every competent member of the Gambia government in such positions should carry the same qualities in order to be accorded merited respect as leaders, from the president to, let’s say, the deputy permanent secretary cadre.

As a matter of fact, with perhaps the exception of one or two government ministers, I don’t think most of them can withstand the rigorous examination Mr. Njie was yesterday subjected to. Most of his peers prefer reading prepared speeches and calling it a day.

That said, it is believed that Government corruption in the Gambia is more pervasive in contract biddings and purchasing-invoices after of course traveling and the per diem racket. New financial regulations to shift the responsibility of vetting and approving contractors and suppliers should involve incorruptible NAMS.

But when it comes to the travel and per diem racket, the country needs a very serious commission just for that. When government officials are reported to be searching the internet to see where they can be invited to attend international meetings or travel so many times to be nicknamed international airlines, then most traveling becomes suspicious and probably inessential. It makes little or no sense for travelers attending meetings in Guinea Bissau, Ghana or Senegal to be paid the same amount of per diems like those going to Germany, the UK or USA. A special committee, well equipped and committed to stop the racket can determine the cost of lodging and feeding an envoy in any part of the world with the help of our diplomats well before a traveler leaves the country to wherever. Meetings attended should also be well studied to determine their importance, profitability and general benefit to the nation and whether our diplomats designated in the country of travel cannot attend on behalf of the government. Trips that are approved will also require the traveler to surrender all receipt of their expenditures upon their return to the Gambia. They will also submit written report to the government and NA about the outcome and duration of every trip with the expectations of being summoned to answer questions by the NA when necessary.

That, in my view, will soon make traveling unattractive with fewer interested  in attending international meetings and saving us millions of dalasis needed elsewhere. Many a times meetings organized abroad are fully paid for by the hosts including feeding and lodging expenses. Per diems paid for such meetings should cease, or cut down to a reasonable amount.

Finally, I don’t know whether it exists, an “Intelligence and National Security Commission” at the NA, but if it does I think it is well overdue to invite the concerned minister(S) to discuss how long the ECOMIG/Senegalese forces are to remain in the Gambia and for what reason. If none of the ministries takes responsibility then President Barrow must show up for the session. He once said that in addition to having the Gambia Armed Forces, the police forces and the SIS under his command, ECOMIG was also in the country for his security.

What does that mean to the Gambia if Barrow loses the 2021 election? If the terms and conditions of the foreign forces’ presences in the country is not officially clarified and constitutionally ratified how does Senegal hope to work with his successor?

Most Gambians are still in denial that ECOMIG is basically under the control of France and Senegal, but if the contingent was a proportionately distributed West African force then the three commanders who had so far commanded the troops since their deployment in 2017 would have reflected a Ghanian, Nigerian or Togolese  assuming leadership and not always Senegalese.

Failure to address the ECOMIG dilemma is what I will continue to highlight as one of the most security threats to the future of the nation than anything imaginable. Just wait and see.

On an unrelated matter but too hot to be ignored, I notice a recent article on the Freedom Newspaper authored by the rascal Dida Halaki still sniping randomly at folks for his ultra objectives. I have briefly commented on the article but I need to further share that here.

Mr. Halaki,

I don’t need your sympathy over my incarceration at Mile Two. Trying to be sarcastic by pluralizing the “crazies”  attacking Essa Faal only to discuss Dr. Carrol’s “unreasonable” statement of his claim of seniority over Mr. Faal simply exposes your pettiness. If Mr. Carol had just stopped at saying that without including his realization of Faal’s presidential ambition, you probably wouldn’t have tried to ridicule him. But the joke or craziness is more on you. Institutions, including the army have similar benchmark to determine seniority when commissioned officers in particular are enlisted at the same time. Some are stratified on alphabetical names while others on time of being handed the commissioning button. Mr. Carol may have been conveying the judicial way of establishing their hierarchy where such  is imperative. So please spare me your foolish sarcasm.

I have always maintained that my incarceration at Mile Two was after all more of a blessing than a curse because of my limited understanding of my associates at the time. I didn’t know how deadly or stupid some of them were. If Jammeh wasn’t their leaders I probably would have died or leave the country long before.

It is my firm belief that the chances of surviving my first appointment as minister of trade and industry in the AFPRC government were rather slim, in that I always challenge what I consider wrong or unfair which could have put me in a collision course with the psychopaths. Yes, I  could  have suffered the faith of ex-foreign minister Ousman Koro Ceesay whom his acquaintances normally describe as my kind, quick to question what he misunderstood and committed to rectifying irregularities.

Anyway by mentioning Chongan again, you reminded me of what you said that he also in his book talked about my madness even though you read in my first publication that Mr Ebrima Chongan, Mr. Babooucarr Jeng and Mr. Mamat Cham were not present during the eleven-days of my “madness”. I also read Chongan’s book where he made it abundantly clear that they were isolated incommunicado and therefore was not aware of what had happened at our location for six months.

Also in my recent paper  that prompted your attack against me I commended Chongan and Jeng for being honest and not fall for the TRRC’s smear campaign against me unlike Mamat Cham. Chongan is my friend and brother and we are always talking to each other. He should have confronted me and not an opportunistic snitch like you. Why attempting to justify my craziness if you really believe that I am crazy? Is that not craziness showing in you?

However with all details provided, unless you want to prove a level of senility that  is impairing your sense of good judgement, bringing up the the story of Chongan and my madness is tantamount to idiocy.

Thanks for reading.

Samsudeen Sarr

New York City.

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