By Madi Jobarteh
It is indeed disappointing and outrageous that such national documents as diplomatic passports could be given to family members of ministers. That does not tell well at all! As the name and purpose imply a diplomatic passport is only for diplomats and persons performing diplomatic functions or conducting services for The Gambia in the international scene.
Diplomatic passports therefore cannot be for persons running their personal or family or business affairs. Hence it is unjustified to give the national diplomatic passport to any human being who is not a diplomat or performing functions for The Gambia Government in the international stage.
The important point however is that, family or no family, our diplomatic passports were and continue to be indiscriminately handed over to all sorts of undeserving citizens and non-citizens alike during the Jammeh era as well as under the Barrow Government! This only tantamount to bastardizing our sovereignty and dignity as a nation.
There cannot be any justification for giving diplomatic passports to people who don’t deserve it no matter how well intention and humanitarian the justification. Therefore, I have considered the Minister of Justice’s request letter and I appreciate that the reasons therein are purely humanitarian. As a son myself I would also want the same comforts for my mom. But the Minister is the legal advisor of the Government hence he should be the one to give advice to colleagues and public servants about the legality of issues, decisions and actions.
Therefore, the idea that the Justice Minister would ask someone else’s opinion about such a legal issue is untenable. He should have known all by himself, by virtue of his position and function and knowledge of the law which kind of persons qualify for a diplomatic passport. If the Minister of Justice doesn’t know that then woe betide The Gambia! The Gambia has three kinds of passports – ordinary, service and diplomatic passports and who qualifies for what passport should be known to the Minister upfront!
If the justice Minister could therefore enjoy this privilege for his family what stops any other Minister from seeking the same? What about ambassadors or top government officials also seeking diplomatic passports for their families? What would all this mean for our country where some would even secure diplomatic passports for their local and foreign friends, not to mention boyfriends and girlfriends? Therefore, let us not rationalize this matter just because the Minister appeared to have followed due process! The idea should not have occurred to him in the first place.
What this episode exposes is that for years there have been several malpractices and unprofessional attitudes taking place in our public sector without accountability. We have come to normalize the abnormal to the point that no one understands the systems and procedures anymore. This has been the reason for lack of transparency and accountability hence the proliferation of corruption, injustice and inefficiency of public institutions!
But these malpractices have to stop otherwise there will be no system change. None more than the Minister of Justice should lead that system change at the Government level. He should be seen insisting on rule of law, transparency, accountability and probity. He cannot lower the bar!
The sanity or health of the public service lies entirely between the Minister of Justice and the Secretary General. They must not only ensure the prevalence and adherence to the rule of law but also ensure ethical conduct by all. Therefore, it was bad judgment on the part of the Minister of Justice and Secretary General to conceive of this idea much more to put it into writing and place it before the President.
I think the time is still not late to cleanse our public service system. This Government has woefully failed to do that necessary and urgent undertaking for three years now and this is why the issue of diplomatic passports is now a scandal. The Barrow Government just continued with the same approach as the previous regime and today our diplomatic passports are in the hands of imams, priests, NGO leaders, business leaders, private citizens, foreigners and criminals! This must stop and all diplomatic passports must now be recalled in order to account for them.
Therefore, let us demand that the foreign ministry publish all names of people who hold Gambian diplomatic passports from 1994 to 2019. All non-deserving holders must be revoked forthwith. Diplomatic passports are not a matter of confidentiality! They are public documents and anyone who has it must be deserving of it. Hence the Gambia Government should be in a position to disclose who holds our diplomatic passports and why!
Furthermore, this matter requires a national inquiry as it deals with national security and our international reputation directly. Where foreign criminals could obtain our national document, it means the reputation and image of our country is at risk. Who knows what these dubious individuals are engaged in hence putting the name of our country into disrepute!
But even family members could also undermine or threaten national security and national reputation for they could as well engage in criminal activity using diplomatic passports! This is why diplomatic passports must be very scare and difficult to obtain for anyone who holds it also carry the image and reputation of the Gambian nation in your hand!
A holder of our diplomatic passport, by his or her (mis)conduct, can potentially cause The Gambia to lose international standing and trust hence threaten national interests. This is why some governments do not recognize the diplomatic passports or even ordinary passports of other countries because of the dubious activities of holders of that passport.
The National Assembly must therefore institute an inquiry so that proper and hard sanctions are imposed on perpetrators. It is clear that The Gambia Government will not exercise accountable leadership by being transparent about this issue. They will rather misinform, mislead, distort and derail the matter as usual. So, let the National Assembly come to the salvation of the country. Now!
I hope our NAMs would not fail us this time around. This is because there have been numerous instances where the National Assembly could and should have stepped up to invoke their full constitutional powers to salvage the country yet failed to do so. By so doing they failed to hold the Government accountable and therefore allowed violations of the Constitution and abuse of rights and plunder of public resources to prevail unaddressed hence allow impunity to persist! I hope this time they will not hesitate and fail!
Time will tell.
For the Gambia Our Homeland