Opinion: GAMBIA anti corruption efforts since 1994

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Corruption and corrupt practices are some of the direct security, socio-economic, socio-political and socio-psychological issues currently facing The Gambia. In order to combat corruption effectively and efficiently, the network of organized criminals, various forms and drivers of corruption, methods of the corruption rings, a clear recognition of various corrupt practices and proper mechanisms should first be well comprehended.

In line with objectives of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) of shedding light on corruption, corrupt practices and constructive engagements, The Gambia government assented to UNCAC review processes in 2015, which include Gambia’s obligations to domesticate the UNCAC into the laws of The Gambia and submit itself to rigorous assessment. The country is required under the UNCAC also to involve civil societies’active participation in the fight against this menace that could result in discussions, opinions and suggestions to tackle corruption in the Gambia.

However, The Gambia anti-corruption legislation had been pending before managers at the Ministry of Justice for the past thirty-eight months. No one knows when such an important legislation will be tabled before lawmakers at the National Assembly even though the document had been validated twice publicly.

The fight against corruption and corrupt practices are definitely not new in The Gambia.  It has long been recognized by the 1997 Constitution and the laws of The Gambia. Despite this recognition, it’s still a compliance issue that is being neglected in public and private sectors with devastating economic, social, political and cultural consequences.

What is new is the scale and nature of the challenge. The number of Gambians and non-Gambians directly affected by graft is growing with neglectful attitude and increasing number of denials. The Gambia anti-corruption efforts are minimal. Basically, Gambia anti corruption efforts continue to lack the political will. It is a fundamental issue.

There is therefore, urgent need to find new ways to incorporate and implement an anti-corruption mechanism suchthe UNCAC in The Gambia legislation.Another sector of importance is to engage an enlightened civil society to address grand and bureaucratic corruption plus the necessary political and financial support that it desperately needs to address graft in Gambia.

The public and private sector in The Gambia is facing all forms of poor reputational risk management.Increased instances of cronyism, nepotism, patronage, and peddling of influence during electioneering and procurement just to name a few. At the same time, access to public services are not easy and equitable to majority of the population. Many have to pay facilitation fees above the normal charges to officials in order to access the services. The general characteristics of corruption among officials is punctuated by financial fraud and money laundering and third-party activities.

Among public officials is wide spread gratification, fraudulent acquisition and receipt of property. Other forms of corrupt offences are that, many public officials take pride in deliberately frustrating corruption investigation, making false statement and receiving gratifications which to the ordinary person is normal gift but in terms of corruption is referred to as bribery.

The Gambia anti-corruption efforts are generally taken lightly, a situation that is contributing to officials using their positions to collect facilitation fees, take bribes during auction of unserviceable government equipment.

There is wide spread corruption in the form of bribe inpublic procurementoften in the form of giving assistance and awarding contracts to friends and family members. It is also known that insider trading is taking root among procurement officials. This is an emerging daily worrying trend and it must stop.

Indeed, it is known that there are and always have been many government efforts to address corruption in The Gambia. But none of their findings have been made public or taken seriously and neither are offenders prosecuted before Gambia Court of Law. At most a partial report in form of executive summary is often issued.

In July 2004 for example, a Presidential Commission was established to probe the assets and activities of all persons who had served in public office since 22 July 1994, to research into corruption and to work with other ministries and departments to combat the causes and instances of corruption in Gambia. At that time the effort was labelled “Operation No Compromise” and was billed as the first time a sitting African government is probing itself. The Presidential Commission submitted a report to then Gambian President Yahya Jammeh in March 2005. But no elected member of parliament appeared and neither did the President.

Recently, the Janneh Commission was also established to look into the business dealing of former President Yahya Jammeh and his close associates. As usual an executive summary was made public in the form of a press release. I have been informed that it will take another six months for the government to publish the full report detailing the findings of the Janneh Commission. Such a black out on State reporting is fertile grounds for corruption to flourish. The legislation that governs access to information that are in public domain should be reviewed and guaranteed by the new Constitution.

Another issue of importance in the national efforts to curb corruption is the manner in which asset recovery is managed. The question is should recovered asset be paid to treasury from where the money was stolen or should it be channelled directly to the needs of the general public, for example drugs for hospitals or school feeding? Such issues can best be taken care of by well drafted mechanism managed by an open and trusted government.

Appreciatively, there is also exciting new opportunity for government to put in place legislation that addresses the short comings of the criminal code, Anti Money laundering Act, Gambia Procurement Act and other anti-corruption legislations to take the fight on corruption to a realistic level.

A vibrant anti-corruption, anti bribery and risk management movement is emerging twenty-two years after the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia,seven years after the 2012 Gambia Anti-Corruption Commission Act and thirty-two months after thedrafting of the Anti Corruption Bill 2016. Anti-corruption and anti bribery campaigners and activistshave highlighted the cost of public and private sector non-compliance. But compliance is the central role of anti-corruption efforts and respect for right to information, rule of law and civic engagement and donor support and reduction in face-to-face contact in access to public services are the channels to resolve corrupt practices.

The administration of President Adama Barrow should outline The Gambia’s political, administrative and legal battles against corruption and take every necessary measure to implement an open and trusted governance policies. The objective criteria of any anti-corruption efforts in The Gambia must emphasise comprehension of the various types, mechanisms and drivers of corruption and what their impact on development is. A push is also needed to recognize corruption vulnerabilities in public institutions and processes. Furthermore, creativity is required to devise effective tools for preventing corrupt practices and promoting a responsible bureaucracy.

If President Barrow’s administration could recognize the scale of the challenges and realise that his administration cannot achieve its anti-corruption goals without building a public/private network and partnership. It should also recognize that the government assenting to the UNCAC and drafting an Anti-Corruption Bill implies that the government commitsit self to working to create drivers to prevent corrupt practices and promote trusted governance in The Gambia.