menace of corruption has led the UN Resident Coordinator in The Gambia to
describe corruption has the biggest threat to development.
Madam Ade Mamonyane Lekoetje made this averring pronouncement while delivering a statement yesterday at the opening ceremony of a three-day stakeholder workshop on ‘The Gambian Anti–Corruption Bill’ held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel.
“Corruption is undoubtedly the biggest challenge to development,” the UN Resident Coordinator said, pointing out that the dishonest practice “stifles economic growth and diverts funds from vital public services and undermines efficiency”.
“This reality of corruption and its devastating effects make it important for every government, the United Nations System, development partners and every Gambian to work to end corruption,” she said, calling on all and sundry to make combating corruption their concern.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted the ECOWAS Protocol on the Fight against Corruption in 2001 but the protocol has not entered into force due to a lack of ratifications as only 8 countries have so far ratified, making it difficult to collectively fight corruption in the region.
And as this snail’s pace in ratifying the ECOWAS Protocol on the Fight against Corruption drags on, the latest ratings by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) show that West African countries have “disproportionately higher levels of corruption” than countries in other regions.
Madam Ade Lekoetje said that, following the democratic transition in January 2017 that received support from ECOWAS and globally, The Gambia has a unique opportunity to be the champion of anti-corruption and democracy in the region.
This is deduced from the fact that in 2003, the African Union adopted the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption to address corruption in the public and private sectors, and The Gambia happens to be among the 37 African countries that have ratified the convention to date.
Also, in December 2005, the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) came into force and it has been ratified by 155 States, including The Gambia. The Convention obliges States to prevent and criminalize corruption; to promote international cooperation; to recover stolen assets generated by corruption and to improve technical assistance and information exchange in both the private and public sectors. “Specifically, Article 6 of the convention requires countries to establish independent anti-corruption bodies,” the UN country representative said.
At the national level, she noted, efforts have been made to combat corruption through legislations. “The Criminal Code was passed in 1979 to provide a legal platform for fighting corruption,” she expatiated: “In 1982, the Evaluation of Assets and Prevention of Corrupt Practices Bill was passed by the parliament while in 2012, the Gambia Anti-Corruption Act was established to fight corruption. The law provided for the setting up of a permanent six-member Commission mandated to investigate and prosecute all crimes of corruption committed by Gambians within and outside the country.”
Madam Lekoetje said that “today, according to the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International, The Gambia is currently 145 out of 175 countries in the list of least corrupt nations, which is a positive trend”.
Veering onto the Anti-Corruption Bill and the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Commission in The Gambia, the UN Country representative said this establishment is long overdue.
“Independent and well financed anti-corruption agencies are known to be effective in preventing and reducing corruption, saving countries resources that are important for development,” she said, adding that there is more emerging evidence on correlations between corruption and development and countries scoring low on corruption prevalence or perceptions tend to be countries that enjoy greater prosperity, opportunity, and individual liberty.
“But an Anti-Corruption Commission in The Gambia will not succeed if other relevant institutional reforms are not in place,” she noted, saying that research shows that higher-ranked countries in the corruption perception index tend to have higher degrees of press freedom, access to information about public expenditure, stronger standards of integrity for public officials, respect for human rights and independent judicial systems.
She said further: “I am glad the new government has committed to undertake various institutional reforms that will ultimately aid the war against corruption, especially the freedom of information bill that is currently in the formulation stage. The United Nations will continue to assist the government to carry out these and other reforms.”
Substantial reduction of corruption is pertinent in 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, she said, adding that the new National Development Plan (NDP) for The Gambia and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF 2017-2021) have mainstreamed SDG 16 and its targets as a deliberate effort to combat corruption in The Gambia.
In this crusade, the UN coordinator noted, the role of the civil society and media in the fight against corruption cannot be overemphasized. “As awareness creation and advocacy bodies, CSOs and the media can play an important role in creating awareness on the devastating effects of corruption and also holding leaders accountable,” she affirmed. “For example, the radio and TV can advance discussions on corruption during which there will be increased knowledge about harmful effects of corruption to the country. It is therefore important to involve the civil society and the media in all stages of the bill formulation and other related reforms.”
Concluding, Madam Lekoetje said the UN is fully committed to promoting government efforts to eradicate corruption, as she congratulated the Ministry of Justice for “working tirelessly to draft the Anti-Corruption Bill” and all development partners for their support.