It is pointless to state that when people lose faith in an institution, part of the reform items to restore faith in that institution will include the redeployment of people who betrayed the trust of those they were supposed to serve. Whatever their justification may be, they do not deserve to be retained under any circumstance, not especially when a pattern of consistent abuse has been established proving that they have been found wanting in numerous breaches of trust and gross indiscipline.
The Gambia’s former President Yaya Jammeh was not known only for his gross human rights violations or proclamation of ruling for a billion years; he was grossly corrupt and lived like a medieval king with an insatiable greed for luxury cars and materials. He bragged on national television that not even his great grand kids will know what poverty is. For a man whose monthly salary was D2, 744.20 (approximately $54.88) at the time of his ascension, everyone who was not a sycophant knew he was dipping his hands into the national till as well as engaging in illicit activities. Yaya Jammeh became richer than the state he presided over in no time and everywhere one looks there was some property of Yaya Jammeh or some income generating outfit.
When he was ousted in December 2016 by the electorate, the most urgent task of the new government was to establish the facts around the gross violations and indiscipline that pervaded his administration from the economic to human rights and the abuse of the justice system and to put in motion a reform agenda aimed at rectifying wrongs. That entire reform agenda as was envisioned and expected by the Gambian people, is in jeopardy because of the president’s self-serving interests.
To establish the truth surrounding former President Jammeh’s embezzlement of state funds and resources, a commission of inquiry was set up by the new President Adama Barrow on July 12, 2017 to probe various circumstances surrounding the misappropriation of public funds and to make recommendation on how to improve on the supervision of government accounts; also to recover or restore some of the assets and monies pilfered.
After nearly two years of very commendable investigations, that commission, presided over by very credible and competent personnel submitted their findings and recommendations to the President on March 29, 2019. The president had six months during which to review and come up with a publication on the findings of the commission, their recommendations and what steps the government was going to take as recommended by the commission. Barely two weeks before that six month mandate lapses, the president through his cabinet ministers and spokespersons came out with a white paper on September 13, 2019 that seeks to selectively go after perpetrators of the worst economic crimes in our country’s history
To our shock and disappointment, the President has decided to reward some of the culprits adversely mentioned in the report and who have been found to be complicit in the misappropriation of public funds either directly or as accomplices. Further, the commission having recognized how grossly they violated their oaths of office and the public trust recommended several reprimands the least of which was to relief such individuals of their current public charge.
The current minister of finance was the state minister of finance during the period in question and in fact appeared as a witness before the commission. The president’s current chief protocol officer served the former president in the exact same capacity. He too was a witness before the commission. Both men were found to be culpable and the commission recommended their reprimand. But the president, having established close working relationship with the two, has decided that part of the report will not be upheld.
No disciplinary action will be taken against people who are complicit in the embezzlement of billions of dollars’ worth of public resources and finances. Instead, they will continue to serve in their current positions unhindered.
The explanation given by the Justice Minister on behalf of the president was that “the prevailing governance environment created by former President Jammeh at the time…” and that “those who served in public office were mostly motivated by a combination of fear and self-preservation.” Hence they are not liable in any way.
Everybody that is found liable in the criminal enterprise of Yaya Jammeh was operating under the exact same governance environment. With the revelations emerging from the other commission of inquiry into his human rights abuses and the incessant hiring and firing of civil servants, we know that no one was beyond his reach and the state of fear pervades every facet of Gambian life.
So every single person named in that report can claim the same exemption of fear and self-preservation, and they will be justified since the same is applied to other perpetrators?
One has to wonder what is so special about these individuals that they will not only go scot free but are being retained and rewarded under exactly the same terms as they obtained when they served Yaya Jammeh. As far as we know and is evidenced by the lack of constitutional reform, President Barrow has the same powers as President Jammeh. Like Jammeh, he has fired people for political reasons and continues to do so, so who is to say these individuals are not fearful of losing their jobs and hence carry out illicit orders given by Barrow just like they did for Jammeh in attempts at self-preservation?
The culture of corruption and disregard for public welfare continues because every administration creates its own elite group of sacred cows shielded from any prosecution or reprimand. That same rotten culture is what President Barrow is hell-bent on perpetuating and he finds in his Justice Minister a willing accomplice who used his privileged public office to demand state favors for his family for purely private matters in which no benefit accrues to the state and he is unapologetic about it. That is the latest in a series of scandals that caused public outcry from his conduct just within the two years of his tenure.
The question now is, will we sit and watch our country relapse back into decadence and economic mismanagement or are we going to call on our elected representatives and DEMAND that they act in the public interest?