‘Corruption’ has been a household word in our society for many years. Everywhere one goes in the country, one hears talk of ‘rampant corruption’ in the country, especially among the top echelon in public institutions. For the ordinary Gambian, corruption is the giving and taking of bribes, or the misuse of public funds and property for individual benefit. Corruption is much more than this. It includes nepotism, cronyism, patronage, influence peddling, parochialism, money laundering, graft and embezzlement, all of which are harmful to a society’s wellbeing. Unfortunately, these corrupt practices are not much talked about, or investigated, to the extent they should be.
What is most detrimental to a society is grand corruption, the abuse of high-level power to benefit a few at the expense of the many. Is corruption in high-places on the increase in our society? Were you to ask the ordinary Gambian on the streets this question, the likely response would be in the affirmative, although there is no empirical evidence to support that view. The pervasiveness of corruption in its various dimensions is difficult to determine.
The recently concluded, much-touted Janneh Commission revealed the magnitude of corruption, financial mismanagement and abuse of office that some public officials in the Yahya Jammeh era were involved in. Who would have thought that those top government officials who testified and admitted to having been involved in those unspeakable acts, could do such horrendous things? Had the Commission not been instituted, would the level of corruption that existed in the Jammeh administration ever have come to light?
How much have things changed since President Barrow came to power? Corruption, in its various forms, has become deeply enmeshed in our society’s daily public and private transactions. People at different levels of the society see corruption as a way to get by. We continue to see certain categories of public officials, whose emoluments cannot give them the material possessions they have and the lifestyles they live, flaunting their ill-gotten wealth. How else could such people afford to own luxurious four-by-four vehicles, reside in huge houses, and possess numerous properties, if not from receiving huge kickbacks or bribes from unscrupulous businessmen, or dipping into government coffers, or engaging in other illegal activities?
In this new political order, nepotism and cronyism seem to have become the norm and not the exception. If the appointments by President Barrow of close associates, party turncoats, and opportunists as ‘advisers’, whose educational backgrounds are low, and lacking experience in governance, are not clear and unjustified cases of cronyism, I wonder what they are. Shouldn’t we, as Gambians who have witnessed massive corruption among top public officials in the Jammeh regime, be outraged by the level of patronage we are witnessing in the Barrow administration?
We have yet to see what action the Barrow administration would take to recover the massive sums of money that the country has been deprived of by a handful of greedy, chronically-corrupt, government and quasi-government institutions functionaries, who put self-interest before that of the nation. All those culprits of corruption in the Jammeh administration are going about their daily business as if they have done nothing wrong, enjoying their ill-gotten wealth, with the confidence that they would go scot-free.
I cannot recall ever hearing Barrow, since coming to power, speak about dealing with institutional corruption. Instead, he is perpetuating the practice by surrounding himself with so-called advisers with tainted characters whose goal is to enrich themselves through corrupt means. The staff increase at his office is cronyism of the first order. It is simply a way of President Barrow putting jobless close friends and loyalists on Government payroll and giving them easy access to the corridors of power. True, nation-loving Gambians should call him out on the caliber of advisers he has chosen.
One domain in which corruption is becoming entrenched is the procurement of goods and services by Government. The authority, independence and impartiality of the Gambia Public Procurement Agency have been compromised or undermined by the very government whose interest it is established to safeguard, due to corruption. It is an open secret that the contract awarded to Gai Enterprises to upgrade the streets of our capital city and seat of administration, did not follow the stringent tender process laid down by Government, but was negotiated on directive from above. This blatant abuse of power raised public outcry, but it fell on deaf ears. Undoubtedly, a number of Government officials benefited handsomely from such a deal.
We await the day that President Barrow will pursue legal avenues to bring corrupt Government officials, past and present, to book. But, does he have the moral authority to do so, when he is as guilty for accepting a gift of houses in Dakar from a Gambia-based Senegalese businessman, shortly after his inauguration? Is this not incontrovertible evidence that he has been compromised or corrupted, or can easily be? What would we call the receiving of a fleet of vehicles as gifts from an anonymous donor? Which businessman would generously give such high-priced commodities without looking forward to someday being accorded preferential treatment when the need arises? One good turn deserves another!
President Barrow’s apparent reluctance or resolve to prosecute erstwhile top government officials of the former regime, culpable of misappropriation and misuse of public funds, will send a wrong signal to those currently in positions of responsibility in both public and quasi-government institutions, and might embolden them to do the same as, or worse than their predecessors. Not taking prompt action to stem the rising tide of corruption in high places is detrimental to our financially-wounded and economically-fragile nation.
Rising and unfettered corruption will certainly ruin our society, economically, ethically and politically, and we, as a people, should fight against it forcefully, if not to stamp it out, to minimize it. Corruption, in whatever form, is deleterious to our society and inimical to our socio-economic progress.
Burang Goree-Ndiaye teaches Geography at the University of The Gambia. He initiated and hosted the popular weekly talk-show, STRAIGHT TALK, on West Coast Radio.