By Dr. Ousman Gajigo
If anyone believes that the Barrow government will turn a new leaf and put the country on a path towards minimal corruption, you should be disabused of that belief given how the government has handled the Janneh Commission report so far.
The first problem is the government’s handling of the report’s release, which gave an indication that some games were about to be played. The government made a big deal of announcing well in advance that the report, together with its white paper, will be released on 13th September. However, when the date came, both the report and the government’s white paper were as difficult to find as a top-secret document. For instance, when I inquired about the document at the government printing office on Friday (13th September) afternoon, the day of the supposed release, I was informed that the document was not yet gazetted and therefore unavailable.
To gazette a document is such a standard process for the release of official documents that it could only mean that the government wanted to limit the circulation of the Janneh Commission report to the general public. There are several government websites through which the report could easily have been uploaded but this has not been done. The public has mostly been reduced to copying the few hard copies and sharing the poor quality versions. To this day, the government has not bothered to easily make available these documents downloadable when it would be almost costless to do so. For instance, it is almost impossible for anyone in the diaspora to read the Janneh Commission report. If the Gambian diaspora wants to know what the government thinks of them, wonder no further.
As more details about the Commission’s report comes out, it becomes clear why the government appears reluctant in fully disseminating the document. In particular, the government’s white paper is an official document for excuse-making. Most of the recommendations of the Janneh Commission were accepted for the simple reason that there is no other tenable position. Where there was room to play games, the government unashamedly did.
Consider the case of Alhagie Ousman Ceesay, the chief protocol officer for Barrow and former chief protocol officer for ex-president Jammeh. This man played a key role in facilitating numerous illegal transactions, including serving as an errand boy in the withdrawals of millions of dollars for both former President Jammeh and the former first lady Zineb Jammeh. The government decided to reject the Commission’s conclusion that the Mr. Ceesay aided and abetted illegal appropriation of public funds and should be fired. This rejection of the Commission’s recommendation beggars belief. Mr. Ceesay had to have known that those withdrawals were inappropriate and not in accordance with any standard or legal procedures. If we should expect anyone to know the proper way of doing things, it should be a protocol officer, since they are all about process.
The government’s argument for rejecting the Commission’s conclusion is grossly inadequate. For instance, the government’s White Paper states that that “the duties and functions of State Protocol Officers are wide and varied…” as if to imply that those duties can include anything under the sun, including clearly abetting the stealing of public funds. The fact of the matter is that every position in the government can be well-defined even if it is not in black and white. The fact that protocol officers may have myriad responsibilities does not free them from the responsibility of using professional judgement and taking responsibility.
The government went on to argument that the Commission did not note any specific violation of policies, guidelines or recommendations to imply that Mr. Ceesay did not do anything wrong. This is blatantly dishonest. It suffices to show that Mr. Ceesay aided and abetted appropriations of public funds by engaging in activities that are well outside of the what should be reasonably expected of the duties of a protocol officer. To protect Mr. Ceesay by appealing to the absence of clearly defined terms of reference for his position is to reveal to all that this government has little regards to ethics and moral judgement.
Perhaps knowing fully well that he would be protected by President Barrow irrespective of the Commission’s findings, Mr. Ceesay expressed no regrets and, according to the Commission’s report, he claimed that he was comfortable in all the roles he played in helping Jammeh as he believed that he was helping his country. If we are to take Mr. Ceesay at his word and believe that he had no inkling that Jammeh was not committing any wrongs in all those dubious financial transactions he participated in, that would be even stronger ground for permanently barring him from serving in a position of trust. For it means that this is a man with no sound judgement, and would gladly replicate his actions if given the opportunity again.
Another highly questionable decision by the government was to simply reprimand the likes of Mambury Njie, the Minister of Finance. Even as the Commission was conducting its hearing, it was clear that Mambury Njie had a hand in many dubious decisions by the government, some of which included activities in clear violations of regulations. Whereas the government attempted to protect Alhagie Ousman Ceesay by claiming that the Commission did not specify his breach of policies and regulations, the government decided to proceed with the protection of Mambury even though the Commission specifically identified Mambury violating established regulations in partnership with Yahya Jammeh. In other words, the government does not care about consistency as long as special individuals are protected.
Mambury Njie currently occupies a key government position – probably the most important ministerial post. This position requires an individual with an unimpeachable character and judgement, as well as having a positive track record. Mambury Njie is simply not that individual. It is not as if he holds a unique qualification for this position that is rare in other candidates. A government that is truly interested in charting a new course of honesty and integrity and making a clear break from the rampant corruption and misappropriation of funds under Jammeh would ditch the likes of Mambury and Ceesay. Even in the absence of the Janneh Commission, Mambury Njie should not be holding a position of trust in a transitional administration given the prominent role he played in the Jammeh dictatorship. Instead, we observe that the only decision with regards to Mambury is reprimand and have him “… admonished and warned against such conduct in the future” as if all he did was staying up later than a curfew.
In virtually all the areas where the government rejected the Commission’s recommendations, an objective analysis can show that the government made the wrong decision. In particular, the government’s argument where it tries to challenge the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations are laughably sophomoric. This was particularly the case for the government’s decision to limit the consequences for the former ministers, Fatou Mass Jobe and Sira Wally Ndow. The poor quality of the government’s arguments should not be surprising, given the leadership of the ministry taking the lead in the government’s handling of the Janneh Commission findings. Yet, another episode that removes all doubt about Mr. Tambedou’s incompetence and unfitness for the office of Attorney General and Minister of Justice.
The government has failed in its responsibility in acting appropriately on the recommendations of the Janneh Commission in good faith. It has revealed that there is a class of individuals that the government would go to extraordinary length to protect. One wonders whether these individuals are being kept in government because Barrow needs them to perform similar dubious but politically beneficial actions in the future or simply because key members of the administrators have personal connections to them or that Barrow and his advisors simply cannot imagine that other Gambians are more than capable of filling the positions occupied by these questionable individuals.
Needless to say, none of these reasons reflect well on the government. For whatever reasons that these individuals of questionable characters are being kept in the government, we can be certain that the Barrow government will continue many of the key activities of the Jammeh regime either by intent or unwittingly. It is for this reason that Barrow’s time in the Statehouse needs to be kept as brief as possible.
Ousman Gajigo is an economist. He has held positions with the African Development Bank, the UN, the World Bank and Columbia University. He holds a PhD in development economics. He is currently an international consultant and also runs a farm in The Gambia.