opinion: Michael O. Davies – Secretary Anti Corruption

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Adama Barrow administration has an ambitious vision to create a more just and prosperous Gambia for all residents. The President hopes to achieve the National Development Plan covering areas from education and healthcare to poverty reduction, the climate crisisand stolen assets recovery by the year 2021.

Diverse as these aims are, they have one thing in common: they cannot be achieved if democratic institutions are weak and vital funds are lost to corruption.

The National Development Plan 2018 - 2021had failed anti-corruption organisations as it did not emphasise the importance of promoting transparency, accountability and anti-corruption for sustainable development, and did not make an explicit link between corruption, peace,easy and equitable access to public services by all.

A new survey conducted by Anti-Corruption Coalition (Gambia) titled: “Perceptions of Corruption in The Gambia” shows the scale of the obstacle that corruption poses to sustainable economic, political and social development in The Gambia. When over half of Gambian citizens, particularly the poorest and youngest, have to pay bribes to get hospital treatment,admission to educational institutions, or national ID cards, then the National Development Plan that works for everybody remains a distant dream.

The current Coalition government has not established anti-corruption as a national imperative on which hinges the achievement of all the national development plans or reforms. It can be said that the National Development Plan is deeply rooted in human rights and highlights the importance of strengthening institutions and governance in a collective effort to ensure inclusive societies.

That’s why Anti Corruption Coalition (Gambia) is asking the administration of President Adama Barrow to put in place the necessary mechanisms, publish unabridged version of the Janneh Commission report, submit The Gambia periodic country report on anti-corruption progress each year to treaty bodies and inform the National Assembly, so that all the other national plans can actually be achieved.

It is an open secret that The Gambia is classified globally as a high-risk country in terms of doing business. Issues like processing documents for acquisition of land, utility connections and taking too long to file tax returns are some of the challenges contributing topoor risk management in The Gambia.Nevertheless, The Gambia stands at the threshold of opportunity to advance a high standard anti-corruption agenda through the implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruptionwhich has now reached near-universal ratification, providing a comprehensive framework to fight corruption in alignment with the National Development Plan 2018 – 2021 (NDP). The Country is also opportune to seek appropriate technical assistance from treaty bodies such as the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption and United Nations Convention against Corruption to source an effective and efficient Gambia anti-corruption legislation and an independent anti-corruption commission.

The country has to admit that corruption is a complex challenge that continues to persist in public and private sectors. It has a direct impact on the three dimensions of any national development plan that the President has in mind – social, economic and environmental – and affects each sector of the national development plan: people, land, prosperity, peace and partnerships.”

The Gambia has made little progress making corruption a grievous pressing challenge. Let us not try to substitute the damages; the naked truth is that, resources lost through corruption exceed the estimated 4billion dollars required to implement the NDP. Money lost to corruption is essentially development denied to those most at risk of being left behind.

The NDP clock is set backwards when “aid is siphoned off by the corrupt, when politicians come under undue influence from vested interests or when citizens are unable to hold the government to account or when national procurement is dominated by shell companies owned by public officials”.

Clearly the key role anti-corruption plays in the implementation of national development agenda cannot be relegated.

The country must increase its efforts to reduce corruption. This is a mustand it is not yet an important component of the national plan of action to improve the lives of Gambians.Yet it is an obligation of all State party to Anti Corruption treaties to address, “The scale of the challenge and its impact on sustainable development should compel the government to review its inadequacies as soon as possible and set concrete, advanced indicators to measure its progress in the fight against corruption”.

Whether the current administration’s focus is ending hunger and poverty, ensuring access to health, education, and clean water for all, or protecting marine environments and combatting climate change, or pursuing stolen asset recovery, fighting corruption should be an essential pre-requisite for advancing President Adama Barrow’s National Development Plan 2018 - 2021.