The Need for Strong Government Institutions

Is it I who is suffering watching the Janneh Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, or is it everyone? It is painful to watch! When positions in government and parastatals are meted out based solely on Tribe and Patronage, this is the kind of outcome one would expect. As the old adage says: Garbage in—Garbage out! Let us not forget the fact that the Butcher/Dictator did not operate in a vacuum. He had enablers: his Secretary Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, and the Governors of the Central Bank. The scary part is that some of these civil servants have graduate degrees (Masters or PhDs). Any graduate degree holder whose certificate is worth the paper it is written on, should know better. I sat in Finance, Economics, and Accounting graduate classes, one of the topics the professors emphasise is “Ethics”. The Butcher/Dictator’s enablers threw Ethics and Integrity out the window.

First, how did a twenty-something-year-old Momodou Sabally become the Secretary General? Eric Christensen, Jabez Ayo Langley, and Sara Janha did not become Secretary Generals in their twenties. Second, how did a twenty-something-year-old Sanna Jarju become the Chief Protocol Officer of the President? Sheikh Jeng, Modou Bobb, and Ebou Ndure did not rise to the Chief of Protocol position in their twenties. Patronage and Tribalism became the criteria for having high profile government jobs. It became abundantly clear during the Janneh Commission hearings that some of the witnesses were woefully unqualified for the positions they held. As a result, their loyalty was to the Butcher/Dictator—not to the Gambian Constitution, Civil Service Code of Conduct, or the Parastatals’ Charter.   Don’t experience, education, and maturity matter? Civil Servants should have a basic knowledge of the departments or parastatals they are entrusted to run. This comes about through years of experience working and learning the ins—and–outs of running a department or parastatal.

The late Ousainou Njie, Bakary Darboe, Abdoulie Bojang, Ousman Batchilly, late H. R. Monday Jr., Late Sulayman Masaneh Ceesay, Late Babou Jobe, Edward Sowe Jr., T.G.G. Senghore, Geoffrey Renner, Chilly Francis Blaine, Bolong Sonko, Demba Ndow–I can go on–and on–and on–did not become Permanent Secretaries, Managing Directors, or Governors of the Central Bank immediately after graduating from college or high school. They worked as Commissioners (in some instances as Assistant Commissioners), or Assistant Secretaries for years before they attained their positions of power. There was a system in place, whereby the Personnel Management Office (PMO) managed the hiring of civil servants. Instead, the Butcher/Dictator hired and fired people, as he wished; he withdrew money from the Central Bank anytime he chose to. Cheques drawn against Government accounts at the Central Bank are supposed to be signed by 2 senior employees of the Accountant General’s department. Where is the accountability?

Momodou Lamin Gibba’s testimony was very telling! He said on one occasion, he sent money to the Butcher/Dictator, after receiving a telephone call from him. There was no paper trail of the delivery of the Social Security Corporation’s money to the Butcher/Dictator. Should we take Mr. Gibba’s statement at face value and believe that he did deliver the money to the Butcher/Dictator? That is a decision the Commissioners will have to make, on behalf of the Gambian people. I can bet my last butut that the Butcher/Dictator would deny that he received that money from Mr. Gibba, if he were sitting before the Commission, today.  Mr. Gibba said he knew what he did was wrong, but he did it–anyway.  That is frighteningly disturbing! Edward Graham said it was not his responsibility to protect the assets of the Social Security Corporation. According to him, that was the responsibility of the Butcher/Dictator. Obviously, Mr. Graham should never have been within a mile of the office of the Managing Director of Social Security Corporation. His abdication of his responsibility as the custodian of Social Security Corporation’s funds is shockingly beyond belief. His ignorance and arrogance displayed before the commission are jarring and unreal! Only Momodou Sabally’s comes close.

During the days of the Butcher/Dictator, the State House became the centre of power. The concentration of power in the State House enabled Saul Badgie to withdraw money from the Central Bank, with little or no paperwork. The Butcher/Dictator and his cronies at the State House, unfortunately, became the judges, prosecutors, and jurors in the Gambia. He deliberately incapacitated the Legislative and Judicial branches of government. The Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government should be co-equal partners of government. The Media should act as the 4th (unofficial) branch of government, as watchdogs.  Democracy demands a watchful eye.

Momodou Sabally and Edward Graham gleefully accepted the positions offered to them by the Butcher/Dictator. Their only qualification was blind loyalty to him. It was also for self-aggrandisement, and a shortcut to fame and prosperity. We should be very mindful, because, unfortunately, there is no shortage of the likes of Sabally and Graham in the Gambia. God forbid, a future Butcher/Dictator will have no difficulty finding their ilk in Gambia. That is a shame on us! It is a tragic, fitting culmination of a society’s glorification of instant wealth, regardless of its source. We can blame the Butcher/Dictator for everything under the sun–but not glorification of stealing of government resources. That predates his regime!    Somehow our society puts these criminals on a pedestal, instead of seeing them for what they are: thieves and criminals. They should be shunned by society, not idolised. You can luck up all the witnesses before the Janneh Commission and throw the keys into the ocean—there will still be no shortage in supply of the unscrupulous Momodou Saballys and the Edward Grahams.

Besides Momodou Sabally and Edward Graham, who take Gambians to be suckers and idiots, I sympathise with the rest of the witnesses before the Commission. They carried out the orders given to them by the Butcher/Dictator because the institutions of government were weak. The president should not be able to fire civil servants, as he desired. The Judicial and the Legislative branches of government should be empowered to protect them from the whims of a capricious Dictator.  The questions the witnesses asked themselves were: who would feed my family if I lose my job? Who would pay my kids’ medical bills? These are really difficult questions to answer when you are a pay cheque away from financial ruin. The Butcher/Dictator instilled so much fear into the collective Gambian psyche, that everyone became a reluctant “Hostage-of Fear”. The instillation of fear into the Gambian psyche began with the killing of Koro Ceesay, former Minister of Finance.

I cannot even begin to contemplate an Eric Christensen, a Jabez Langley, or a Sarra Janha, former Secretary Generals, openly and knowingly breaking the law in order to curry favour with Sir Dawda. These civil servants were promoted to the highest positions in the Civil Service based on seniority, experience, and education. In the same breath, I cannot imagine D.T. Davis, former Accountant General, outsourcing his responsibilities to the State House. Furthermore, I cannot imagine Mrs. Langley, former Personnel Management Officer (PMO) shirking her role in the hiring of civil servants, to the State House. My question becomes: what would Eric Christensen, former Secretary General; Emmanuel Nying, former Director of Telecoms (later to become GAMTEL); or late H.R. Monday Jr., and late Sheriff Ceesay, former Governors of Central Bank would have done if they served under the Butcher/Dictator and faced a similar situation? My hunch is, some of them would have resigned rather than compromise their integrity. Well–I guess we will never know the true answer to my question.

At the bare minimum, the likes of Momodou Sabally and Edward Graham should be banned from working for the Gambia government–for life. Mohammed Bazzi should be banned from bidding for government contracts. Government institutions should be free from manipulation by the State House. Having strong institutions of government are the only safeguards against usurpation of power by a would-be future Butcher/Dictator. Strong government institutions not only protect civil servants, they protect the disadvantaged citizens, and minority tribes.

We saw what happened under the APRC government, where a small tribe and its region received a disproportionate share of the government’s resources, due to having its son in the State House. Their mentality, to quote Professor Lumumba: “it is our time to eat”. It is akin to cattle vying for feed in a trough. Such a behavior does not advance the welfare of a country’s citizens.  In such an environment, only the well-connected rise to positions of power, not the most qualified.

The hiring of civil servants should be handled by the Personnel Management Office (PMO), and their promotion and firing should be handled by the permanent secretaries and directors of the departments. Meanwhile, the managing directors and board of directors should play a similar role for employees of parastatals.

The lack of integrity, honesty, and adherence to the Codes of Conduct unearthed about the Butcher/Dictator and some of the witnesses before the Commission is quite troublesome, to say the least.  It is the responsibility of the leaders of our country to set good examples, which entail no tolerance for the swindling of government resources, with impunity, and no one to be too big to go to jail. That will dissuade looters of the Treasury.

After watching these hearings–if nothing else–we can all agree on a few truisms: Experience Matters! Education Matters! Honesty Matters! Ethics Matter! Integrity Matters! Maturity Matters! No wonder Albert Einstein said “The only source of knowledge is experience”.

Uuuhhhhhh! Pardon me for going off on a tangent, but I wonder what Halifa Sallah and his fellow skeptics think of the Constitutionality of the seizure of the assets of the Butcher/Dictator, after the revelations of massive financial misappropriations before the Janneh Commission?

Written By Tumbul Trawally

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