A leaked letter dated 13th August, 2019, with Reference number GPA/504/VOL.4(55), from the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA), has shown the approval of a financial transfer of D744, 941.00 from the GPA’s current account No. 111-00068902 at Trust Bank Gambia Ltd, to Bafaad Enterprise’s account No. 11000211501. The said transfer, according to the letter, represents a 20% payment for the construction of a police station in President Barrow’s village, Mankamang Kunda in the Upper River Region (URR).
However, within 24hrs the management of GPA issued a press release denying that President Barrow gave an executive order to its Managing Director Ousman Jobarteh to finance the construction of the said police station. The release indicated that the Inspector General of police, Alhagie Mamour Jobe requested for the GPA to finance the construction of 3 police stations in URR; Bakadagi, Mankamang Kunda and Fatoto.
This issue sparked debate among Gambians especially on social media, with many of them speculating that President Adama Barrow may have had a hand in the saga, for the construction of a police station in his birthplace.
The decision of the IGP to request for financing of the construction of 3 police stations all in URR, including the president’s village (Mankamang Kunda), could suggest that there is political interference in his job.
Bakadagi and Fatoto Police Stations have been existing for many years and it is understandable if the police high command deem it necessary to upgrade or build new stations to replace the old stations in the two communities.
However, is Mankamang Kunda more strategic than other areas in the country that equally need police stations? There are many areas, including the Kombos where the crime rate is increasing on a daily basis and are more in urgent need of police station or increased security presence than a small settlement like Mankamang Kunda.
Besides, Mankamang Kunda is not far from Bakadagi (approximately 10 kilometers away) and if the police in Bakadagi are equipped and provided with resources and capacity, they can patrol within and around Mankamang Kunda in addition to the security forces that are already stationed there since 2017 when President Barrow took over power.
The amount of money targeted for this project could have been used to provide more equipment for the police officers in the Greater Banjul Area and the Kombos, who are trying their best to prevent the growing crime rate in the country on a daily basis. Better still, it could also be used to support the police officers or to renovate some police stations in the country.
Moreover, the Gambia Police Force did not have any new intake (recruits) since 2016.
A moratorium was put on all the security units of the country to suspend recruitment of new batches until the Security Sector Reform (SSR) is completed. So why would there be any need to build a new station when recruitment has not been resumed yet?
Could it also be that President Barrow is trying to secure his yard before the planned “3 years jotna” protest?
The central government must be ready to invest heavily in the security sector rather than rely on parastatals or government institutions like GPA to finance its projects. Some of these projects could have been included in the Annual Budget of the Interior Ministry instead of sitting down until the 8th month of the year (last quarter of the year) and you begin to think about such. What kind of an emergency situation is this?
Despite its corporate social responsibilities, the GPA has other pressing issues that it should take care of, including the welfare of its staff.
The police command must be held to account. With his over 35 years of experience in the force, the IGP Mamour Jobe ought to know better. Otherwise this could suggest that the police force is currently faced with leadership or management challenges; thus a close scrutiny of the police command’s decision to make this financing request would prompt such questions as:
Where is the Interior Ministry’s budget? Where is the government’s emergency fund?
Where are the private companies and individual philanthropists?
In light of the current circumstance, it is evident that the Gambia Police Force needs serious reforms. The current dispensation and democratic aspiration demand our police force be manned by highly skilled and competent leadership. We need a police force that will have a better understanding of the law and work towards addressing the country’s challenging human rights situation. The Force must be passionate about change and the IGP should have a vision, and develop a strategy and build a force structure around it. He should re-organize the police force and conceptualize his desired objectives that he wants to achieve.
Should there be any need for a reminder, for 22 years under former president Jammeh’s rule, the government built only one police station which is the new Sibanor Police Station. It was inaugurated in July 2009 and I covered the inauguration of the said station for the Daily Observer at the time.
The old Sibanor Police Station was rented to the then Gendarmerie by a Lebanese -Gambian businessman called Anthony Tabane who died some years ago. During the amalgamation in 1992, the said station was changed to Sibanor Police Station and was rented by the police until 2009 when a new one was constructed and inaugurated.
In 1973, there was a major renovation of police stations and government headquarters across the country and this was sponsored by the Gambia government. Since then, there was no major renovation until 2012 when the Old Police Lines in Banjul was renovated through the support of the Taiwanese government.
In all other instances, police stations were built or renovated either from police fund or by individuals, communities, and/or private companies.
Bakoteh, Ndungu Kebbeh, Bureng, Kerr Jain Police Stations and Barra Police Quarters were all built from the police fund, whilst the Wellingara Police Station was a joint project of the police and the community.
The Brikama Salanding Police Station was built from the police fund, supported by one Mr. Ali, the contractor of the Darsilarmeh road construction project. The Police Band (band house) was built from the police fund with the support of Guaranty Trust Bank; Kabafita Police Station was built by Hamidou Jah of Jah Oil; Brusubi Police Station was built by Africell; and the Old Jeshwang Police Station was built by Boy Conteh.
The Basse Police Station and Quarters, Yundum Police Station, the Police Garage, Kaur and Kuntaur Police Stations were renovated from police funds, while Bansang Police Station was built in 2008 by Lawyer Lamin Jobarteh, who is also a former Justice Minister.
All the above mentioned projects, with the exception of Sibanor and Bansang, were achieved during former IGP Yankuba Sonko’s tenure. Moreover, 60% of the police uniform supplies and 35% of police vehicles during former IGP Yankuba Sonko’s time were from police fund. The Sibanor project was achieved in 2009 by former IGP Ensa Badjie widely known as Jesus. During this period, Yankuba Sonko was deputy IGP.
Coming back to Bakadagi Police Station, this station was rented to the Gambia Police Force some years ago by Ebrima Njie, the proprietor of Bakadagi Hotel. During this period, cattle rustling, robbery and other petty crimes were very rampant in this area because of the weekly market (Lumo) in Sareh Bojo, which is not far from Bakadagi.
President Barrow himself should address the country now and should also call for a national dialogue to engage all stakeholders and people from various walks of life, including politicians, the youth, women, security, human rights defenders, religious leaders, opinion leaders, civil society organisations and rights groups. He should also try to find a peaceful solution to any looming threat or the growing crime rate in the country.
Assan Sallah is a Gambian journalist living in Germany. He was news editor and security affairs reporter at the Daily Observer. He fled into exile in 2013