CORRUPTION AS AN ISSUE WITHIN THE GAMBIAN CONTEXT

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Dear Editor
Please find attached a short writeup for possible publication. I wrote this as a private Gambian citizen and it is published as a personal private citizen opinion.
Best
Yaya Duwa Sanyang

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CORRUPTION AS AN ISSUE WITHIN THE GAMBIACONTEXT

YAYA DUWA SANYANG

03 DECEMBER 2020

It is a hot issue that has been bandied about perhaps increasingly as a political band wagon. If you want to be accepted and taken seriously as a politician then tacklingcorruption is one sure way to be listened to and even become electable. Many say prostitution is the oldest profession but it must have been closely followed by corruption.  But what really is corruption within the Gambian context and how can we attempt to address it as a society.

Political and pontiff commentators tend to throw platitudes at each other. Corruption destroys the economy. Corruptions curtails development efforts – funds meant for roads, bridges, schools and health facilities are diverted into personal use. Corruption costs lives. I am not sure how useful are these debating gyrations in solving the problem besides stating the obvious.

Elimination of corruption in any society would be challenging. For any Gambian to say he/she has never participated in corruption would stretch the imagination. Even for developed economies many have not eliminated corruption. The best that can be hoped for is to control it to the level that it does not become a menace to the delivery of basic public services. To get to that level, corruption has to be viewed as a societal problem rather than solely as a government policy issue. Government policy and action would be necessary but certainly not sufficient to address corruption. Our society has to develop a repugnance to corruption. Our value system needs to applaud success based on hard work and legal earnings. There has to be some form of level playing field in the strife for each individual to acquire their share of life. Merit and conduct should be lamp posts of judgement. People have to belief and trust this level playing field. At individual level we all have to repute corrupt behaviour and become intolerant to any such attitude. This is a long road.

I will attempt to address corruption as an issue within the Gambian context in three parts. Part one will attempt to clarify what I would consider as corruption within the Gambian context. This would allow a more focuseddiscussion. Part two will review the factors that influence corruption. These are divided into “push” and “pull” factors that contribute to propagate corruption within our society. Part three will attempt to table what can be done at the individual and state level to reduce and even perhaps control the menace.

PART I. What would I consider as corruption within the Gambia

There are many forms of corruption. It is such a common human failing it is surprising that most societies have not done more to address it head on for so long. In many circumstances what constitutes as corrupt may in fact be considered by another person as entitlement. A food seller cheating on the scale may dispute any wrong as there is no compulsion to buy. The government official collecting money to expedite or even short circuit due process may even feel he is extending a favour. Another who accepts payment or a gift to turn a blind eye to law breaking could see himself as doing a “good”wrong and certainly not putting anybody in harm’s way. Often the victim may even feel obliged or even sincerely offer profound gratitude for the favour.

The more conspicuous area of collecting cuts causing public mis-procurement penalties draws the ire of most. By mis-procurement I mean purchase of goods or services that have did not delivered what was paid for. These covers wrong specifications, under supply, over supply and none delivery. For this discussion I consider all forms of corruption big or small to have the same characteristics. These are all various colours of grey. They are wrong actions depicting deliberate intend to cheat for personal benefit. Personal gain need not be proved. Only loss to the public purse need to be proved.

Transparency International on their web page defines corruption as “Abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. This rightfully puts the focus on misuse of political power with global relevance. In the Gambia this type of political corruption is part of a web and in my view not more significant than other parts. We are a small population country with limited natural resources. What affects most Gambians is the corruption encountered in daily delivery of public services and the conspicuous display of what many considered as ill-gotten wealth.

For this discussion I will consider corruption in the Gambia to entail “deliberate misuse of public resources for personal gain”. It could entail both action and no action by the perpetuator (malfeasance and nonfeasance) in case of duty of care. Mal-politics and maladministration which are the abuse of political and government office would fall under misuse of office (government) resources. Deliberate here will connoteproof of intent. Misuse will be limited to use other than what was intended. Given these would leave out the whole gambit of corruption in private business dealings and daily life but I believe most private business are equipped (by law and diligence) to ensure better watch over their hard-earnedresources. Errors of judgement that are not deliberate are thin edge areas of debate. If you punish all wrong judgements you could end up with grid luck of no decision making in publicservices. Personal gain would include resources diverted for individual use but any loss of public funds would be sufficient proof.

Now we come to how does this definition manifest itself in action within our society. A few examples would suffice. The senior public officer who inflates procurement cost of goods or services to get a cut would be considered corrupt. Even here there are variations. The officer who inflates the cost but insist on top quality delivery of service (public building, road, bridges etc) compared to the officer who collects a cut to allow poor quality work. In the grading of bad behaviour, it would be tempting to giving credence to the first and not the second. But these are all shades of bad behaviour. A public officer who allows somebody to break a law even if no funds are collected by the officer would be considered corrupt since there is loss to government.

On the other hand, a public officer who selects his cousin for a vacancy in a process that is stage managed or not without any loss of resources to government would draw moral sanction without being considered corrupt. The public officer who allocates land to people from his district who as Gambians also deserve such allocation cannot be considered corrupt. Except if there is a written law against such behaviour as in the UN system. Both cases are morally repugnant but as long as there is no loss to government in terms of work quality and/or resources it would be hard to fault these as corrupt. These as are value judgements.

PART II. What are the mitigating circumstances?

The question is then raised as to what are the root causes of corruption in the Gambia, how does it manifest itself and what are the options to mitigate deliberate misuse of public resources. I would try to address these issues as I see them within the Gambian context.

The route causes of corruption are hard to pin down in any society. In addition to the basic characteristic we share with other mammals (growth, reproduction etc), human tend to have additional instinctive characteristics. Human always tend to want to consume more of everything beyond what is necessary for life and sustenance. This manifest itself in the desire for more food, fancier houses, bigger car etc. Most other animals would be contended with a belly full and nice place to rest and sleep. Greed beyond basic needs is human. The other additional human characteristic is the urge to get ahead of others – many times for no other reason than just tobe ahead. Human are always competing with each other. We see it daily in our lives. People driving pass other vehicles for 30 seconds gain in time. These two characteristic play critical roles in influencing the behaviour and attitude of those put in public thrust.

In my view there are two groups of influencers to corruption within the public sphere in the Gambia. The first group are what I call pushers. These are societal and assert tremendous pressure to exacerbate the human characteristic outlined above. The other group are pullers – these are not individual in character and are influenced by systemic control measures.

The first pusher would be the desire for what many consider as the “very fine things of life”. The BUGA LUBAA phenomenon has been turned into a national pass time. We all consider people as successful if they have a fancy car, their own compound with a nice well-built house with children in fancy private schools. These is topped by expensive clothing and well graced celebrations. Rarely does anybody question the source of funding without drawing accusing eyes of jealousy.  Village boys or urban poor children have joined the rat race to acquire these finer things of life. It is more than a race. It is perhaps the competition for the basic needs of life that have morphed into taste for luxury. This desire is tameable as it is acquired. Anybody attending a naming ceremony or marriage ceremony could not fail to notice these trapping is full display. Our society collectively groomed this demon. To acquire and maintain these finer trappings a regular source of huge income is needed. The source is usually not relevant to the beneficiaries.

The second pusher is the pressure of the extended family. With fewer bread winners for each family, it usually falls on these few to bring home the daily needs – food, cash power, school cost, medical cost and daily needs. Destitution and quarrels are common where these needs are not met. That one break winner is pushed to do what ever it takes to bring home these daily needs. These needs could seem infinite. Twenty years ago, as children enjoyed the morning hot millet pap with our grandmother in the village. Now that same old woman will not eat any pap without sugar and evaporated Peak Milk. She has acquired taste.  The expectation could be excruciating. We have somebody working in the government raises expectations all round for the family. The government driver who steals a few gallons of fuel to sell to send money home for food. The messenger who steals packets of paper to sell to give money for the kids to attend school. The middle level manager who sells the government issued lap top (claiming it was lost or stolen) to allow him to buy expensive clothing for the wife to attend a wedding. These all fall within the same category. Basic wrong masquerading under strong personal misplaced justification.

The third pusher is the copycat syndrome. The public services seniority levels are uniform. Any two permanent secretaries are expected to have similar earnings. Any two Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) middle level officers or directors are also expected to have similar earnings. The neighbours and families all know this. But if one PS has two cars (one for himself and one for the wife) then the expectation on the other PS is high to deliver similar goods. If one can get away with what he/she is doing then surely you can also get away with it. One GRA officer has two built compounds and sent both parents and aunts for Hajj to Mecca, the pressure on other GRA officer to do the same is high. This is a wild fire human competition just to get ahead aggravated by the winds of over blown egos.

The fourth pusher is desire to display well-to-do-ness. Some can call this unmitigated greed. Our society values people doing well. Conspicuous display of money and wealth. This manifest itself in various ways. We all wear caftan but there are few who wear caftan only made in Dakar. Their shoes come from USA. Their cars are only one of the kind in Gambia. During celebration they only give USD and D200 notes. Their kids attend Marina International. They have 24-hours back-up generators in their houses. You meet them in the streets they are always neatly dressed and well composed. These are the connected people. The desire to join these ‘GOOD PEOPLE’ club could be a powerful driver.

All these pushers in my view are within the control of the person performing the act of corruption. Yes there are mitigating circumstances but it is the individual who makes the choices. There must be people who given the similar circumstances would make different choices.

Now we come to the pullers. The main characteristic here is that these are circumstances that are not within the control of the perpetuator. The responsibility for personal culpability is given. But the individual finds himself or herself in the midst of circumstances and the behaviour is reactionary.

The first of the pullers is the below living wages being paid within the public services. This tends to degrade human dignity at the very basic level. All parents want to provide food, shelter and grooming (education and social responsibility training) for their offspring. Where this basic need falls short then people ca be pulled into directions they would normally not have taken.

What does it require to survive at the basic level in today’sGambia? A family of husband plus one wife and four children living in a rented two-bedroom house in Bundung bore hole. This is a sanitised norm as we all have extended family dependants. This sanitized normal family will require at least D14100 monthly to be assured of the basic needs (rent D2000 plus fish money D6000 plus lunch/transport of school children D2500 plus cash power D600 plus out of pocket expenses D3000). This is more than the basic monthly salary (without allowances) of a Permanent Secretary. If over 90% of Gambians families fall below this level of income and in reality, many tend to survive beyond this basic level – what is the source of additional income. To address corruption this seeming conundrum has to be addressed.  No wrong is justified no matter the rationale. But if people are put in circumstances were basic survival of the family is contrasted with breaking the law, then this falls between a simple moral choice and gruelling person dilemma.

A second puller is the weak controls. The standard practice in the management of public resources is strong controls. By controls I refer to checks and balances put into place to ensure than more than one person makes decisions on receiving and releasing resources (funds, goods and services). This creates levers and levels of control and in some instances at different locations. All to ensure that decisions conform to rules, reduce prejudice, avoids precedent and reduces loss to government.  We will not discuss the various forms of control required to minimise corruption. But only to state that where controls are weak and/or the oversight function on the controls are relaxed the system is open to abuse. This open to abuse exacerbatesthe pressing needs coming from paying below living wages. I sincerely believe majority of human in positions of thrust would confirm and obey the law. But where people feel they could get away with breaking the law or the repercussion of being caught are minimal combined with pressing personal needs, then breaking the law becomes a soft bed to fall on.

There are other pullers like connivance where a group at various levels of the organization agree to defraud the system. Non compliance is seriously punished.  A slight variation of this is when the rot is displayed from the head of the institution. Any attempt to correct from below would be severely dealt with. These compels forces connivance and acquiescence.

I will address the Part III in a subsequent write-up on what actions we as a society can take to minimise corruption within the public domain.

 

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