President Adama Barrow’s nonchalance to uproot corruption is not going to help him to win the 2021 Presidential elections
When Gambians said goodbye to our longtime ruler who looted or misappropriated at least US Dollar 900 million, there was hope that the massive scale of corruption that lasted for more than two decades would be a thing of the past. President Barrow’s total indifference to this growing phenomenon which is an existential threat for a government with just seven months left on the clock is a cause for serious concern.
Under Yaya Jammeh, Hundreds of millions of dollars were embezzled from GAMTEL, Social Security Housing and Finance Corporation, GNPC (the state-run oil company), and the nation’s Central Bank. The staggering scale of corruption perpetrated with the complicity of a powerful circle of friends and enablers upended the structure of the fragile Gambian economy with unpredictable socioeconomic consequences the effects of which still have a rippling effect on the government finances.
None of Jammeh’s plundering would have been possible without the close network of advisers and cronies he posted to key positions and shuffled around at will. Some were often used as signatories to bank accounts including past secretaries-general, protocol officers who were all complicit in the massive scale of Yaya Jammeh’s corruption. His right-hand man, General Sulayman Badgie, was using text messages to collect cash from the central bank purportedly on behalf of Yaya Jammeh.
For an elected president whose monthly take-home pay was not more than D170, 000 per month, few questioned the illegality of operating different businesses, withdrawing cash from dormant accounts at the central bank which was treated as his slush fund, whilst diverting more than $1 million from the ports authority to sponsor a beauty pageant with mostly contestants from the United States.
But state-sponsored corruption and graft are still very much alive today as they were back then. The U.S. State Department in its investment climate 2019 statement highlighted the state of corruption in the country which needs adjustments. It went further to state that the laws established to combat corruption among public officials are generally ineffective. The anti-corruption bill is still lying at the national assembly for more than two years now and Barrow’s government has not shown any interest in getting the bill passed.
In 2020, Gambia’s ranking in the Transparency International annual Corruption Perception Index dropped from 96th position to the Gambia is the 102 least corrupt nation out of 180 countries. This is a drop from the 96th position in 2019 to being the 102 least corrupt nation out of 180 countries in 2020. Whilst the country continues to be ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world, tackling the menace of systemic corruption and strengthening democratic institutions like a free media, checks, and balances on power, and an independent judiciary must be taken to the forefront of the political agenda.
Confronting corruption should be a national crusade likened to the fight against the coronavirus.
The most devastating pandemic facing this country is not covid-19, it is corruption. While the country has signed and ratified the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption as well as the United Nations Anticorruption Convention, Gambia is the only country within the sub-region without a functioning anti-corruption agency or commission. There are 14 (fourteen) West African countries that had created national anti-corruption institutions to fight against corruption in the region, and Gambia is the only country that has yet to be a member of NACIWA (Network of National Institutions for the Fight Against Corruption in West Africa,) a regional anti-corruption initiative By ECOWAS.
Without a strong anti-corruption institution, impunity becomes the foundation upon which systems of corruption are built. And not demolishing impunity, all our efforts in the fight against corruption and graft in the public service will be in vain because grand corruption erodes social trust and contributes to reinforcing dysfunctional norms in a society.
There are steps we can take to stop the cycle, beginning with actualizing the anti-corruption bill still pending in parliament and prioritizing the introduction of the asset declaration form by ministers and other top public officers in a position of trust. Expedite the introduction of transparent legal, regulatory, and accounting systems in the public service consistent with international norms. Set up a fully functional independent prosecutorial court to handle all matters dealing with corruption and graft, and including anti-corruption curricula in schools and university lecture rooms.
Today, the fragmentation in the political landscape and the steeply rising costs of living are not the only threats to our socio-economic development, but the increasing number of reported corruption cases in the public service still not investigated for lack of political will is becoming of immense concern to the citizenry. Unless President Barrow start show commitment to tackling corruption and getting rid of those underlying enablers of graft planted into key positions of his government to continue the stealing, he will be remembered as the president who surrounds himself with a retinue of enablers running his government behind the scenes still reading from the same book of Yaya Jammeh.
Overcoming corruption challenges should be the key determinant of who will lead Gambians in the 2021 Presidential elections.
Written by: Morro Gaye