By Madi Jobarteh
The news that a businessman in Senegal donated two multimillion dalasi houses to Pres. Adama Barrow is a matter of serious concern that directly threatens our democracy. The fact that the businessman said his gift is to show appreciate for his business gains in the Gambia potentially compromises the integrity of the president. This is because such a gift has automatically become license for which the businessman could potentially obtain more contracts in the Gambia beyond and above what he deserves. For that matter, this gift must be rejected and returned to the owner. If the gift cannot be returned, then it must be transferred to state ownership.
In the first place, Section 222 which establishes the Code of Conduct for Public Officers in our Constitution states in subsection 11 that,
“A public officer shall not ask for or accept any property or benefits of any kind for himself or herself or any other person on account of anything done or omitted to be done by him or her in the course of his or her duties. The receipt of any gift or benefit from or on behalf of a commercial firm, business enterprise or a person having or negotiating a contract with the government shall be deemed to be in contravention of this paragraph unless the contrary is established.”
Hence as per this paragraph, this gift is from a businessman who had once done business in the Gambia. Such business transaction may not have been a government contract, but the fact that the man gave this gift to the head of state, could potentially compromise the state when this businessman comes back again in future to seek any contracts. Thus for the purpose of probity and constitutionality, Barrow should return the gift. Subsection 12 of this same Code of Conduct went further to state that,
“A public officer shall only accept gifts or benefits from relatives and friends to such extent and on such occasions as are customary. However, the receipt of any gift or donation by a public officer on any public or official occasions shall, if surrendered to the office, department or agency represented by the public officer, not be treated as a contravention of this Code.”
In line with this paragraph it is also clear that this gift is not customary and it is not from a friend or relative of the president. This is a businessman from a foreign country giving a gift worth millions of dalasi. Hence where Barrow fails to return it, he must therefore declare the gift to the National Assembly so that the gift is transferred to state ownership.
Gambians must tell this Senegalese businessman that he has injured our democracy and government with his gift. If indeed he wishes to show appreciation to the Gambia for his successful business transactions in the country, let us tell him to donate to hospitals, schools or build water taps or undertake other community projects in the Gambia. In that way he would serve the Gambian people directly than to hand over a set of two houses in a posh area to our president alone. Barrow does not own the Gambia. Gambians own the Gambia and anyone who wishes to pay gratitude to Gambians must do so to Gambians and not to one person even if he or she is the president. This businessman’s gift is outlandish and uncustomary and a threat.
The issue of gifts is a major concern in a democracy. While gifts are a feature of human relations, however when it comes to the business of public office, gifts have also become very powerful tools for corruption, patronage and abuse. This is why in many democracies public officers are prevented from giving or receiving gifts. For example in Canada the Federal Accountability Act states that all gifts over $200 must be declared to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner. All presents worth more than $1000 must be forfeited to the Crown. In the US, gifts to the president are handed over to the National Archives.
These measures are in many democracies, which are similar to our own Code of Conduct and meant to ensure that public office is not used for self-aggrandizement. Secondly, they serve to ensure that citizens and other people do not buy favours from public officials or put them in compromising positions. This is also the reason why public officials are required to declare their assets under Section 223 of our Constitution so as to ensure that public property and public funds are not diverted into personal pockets of public officers. All of these are meant to ensure that we have a transparent and accountable governance system where public institutions and public officers are efficient and execute their functions without fear or favour. This is the path to combatting corruption.
I am therefore calling on fellow Gambians to impress on Pres. Adama Barrow to reject and return this gift and to inform the Senegalese businessman to take back his gift and help to protect Gambian democracy. We do not want to continue this same poisonous practice under Jawara and Jammeh into the New Gambia that we wish to build. Let us respect our Constitution and the rule of law and defend our democracy to ensure it is clean and clear.
God Bless The Gambia.