Repairing the Past. Building The Future. Lessons of the Janneh Commission

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The easiest thing any current government can do is to unravel or condemn or reverse the decisions, the actions and inactions of the previous government. We had seen this when Yaya Jammeh took over in 1994 and set up several commissions of enquiry to expose and lambast the ousted PPP government. Currently we are also seeing how US Pres. Donald Trump spares no effort to disparage the Obama Administration as an American disaster as he reverses each and every decision of that government. Therefore the fact that the Barrow Administration has set up a commission of enquiry to expose the corruption of Yaya Jammeh and the APRC regime is not new.

That notwithstanding the need to expose the wrongs of the past is a necessary step in repairing the society in order to build a more durable future. Therefore the Janneh Commission is indeed a welcome move. The testimonies that are emerging so far are indeed perplexing. But indeed the fact that these ungodly and unpatriotic decisions and actions were conceived and carried out by fellow Gambians under the auspices of Yaya Jammeh and APRC must not be a surprise to any Gambian. That Yaya Jammeh was corrupt who lacks any iota of conscience is as clear as midday sun. We all knew that it was our sovereign public resources that Yaya Jammeh was splashing like a child playing with seawater.

What we did not know in detail was how he was doing it and with who, when and where. Thus this commission is helping us to realize how Yaya Jammeh abused entrusted power against the very people that borrowed him such power. It also exposes the role and contribution of fellow Gambians as public officers in paralyzing their own society. As Bob Marley noted, these so-called technocrats had sold their soul in order to gain the world created by Yaya Jammeh – albeit a world without lasting foundations and strong pillars. Today the Commission has exposed them as citizens that are no more fit to be entrusted with the public good.

While we are getting to now understand how dictatorships are made and maintained, what we need to be more concerned about though is how do we therefore prevent another dictatorship. By now Gambians must realize that indeed the Government in any society can either be the greatest tool for public good or it can also be the greatest tool for evil. The Commission is helping citizens to understand the inner workings of Government and how public servants abuse power. Behind all the grandeur of officialdom, citizens must now see that public officers are, after all mere men and women who are sometimes the most immoral, untrustworthy and unpatriotic!

Therefore civil servants must realize that despite the power and secrecy inside government, ultimately there is no security so long as one is engaged in acts that are detrimental to the public interest. Sooner or later, another government will come which most likely will also expose the doings of the previous regime. Hence all public servants must be vigilant by first familiarizing themselves with the laws, institutions and regulations in order to ensure that no president or superior officer causes you to do what is not right. Hence all public servants must review themselves in the kind of decisions and actions they take in the course of their job.

With that in mind, one begins to one wonder whether in fact we are learning enough lessons given the current state of affairs. For example, nine months after assuming office, Barrow has refused to appoint a vice president. Yet public officers have accepted to call Mrs. Fatoumatta Tambajang the ‘Overseer’ of the Office of the Vice President. The title and position, ‘Overseer’ is non-existent in our laws hence it is illegal. Yet just as how Momodou Sabally, Sanna Jarju and Co accepted to withdraw huge sums of money on behalf of Yaya Jammeh even when they knew that such action was outside of official and legal channels, today also we have seen how public officials agree to an illegal title by Pres. Barrow by calling a person, “Overseer of the Office of the Vice President”. They all know that there is no law in the Gambia that supports this title or position.

Secondly, parliamentarians have each been provided a vehicle that is said to be obtained through the “president’s personal efforts”. Yet they all know that by law the president has no authority or means to make such an offer. But once again ministers and parliamentarians accept these vehicles without bothering to ask the fundamental questions to ensure that the rule of law is upheld. What then is the difference between them and Momodou Sabally, Sanna Jarju & Co when all of them have accepted to allow the disregard of the rule of law? Is it that Speaker Mariam Denton and Minister Hamat Bah are not aware of the Janneh Commission? Do they want another future government to come over just to expose their actions or inactions at variance with the law?

Similarly we have also seen the Ministry of Interior rent a building for millions of dalasi annually without going through any public tender or GPPA, not to mention the necessity of such a decision. Yet Minister Fatty knows that in future there will be another commission to determine the way and manner he took the decision to house the ministry in a rented private building. Are we learning lessons from the Janneh Commission?

Therefore the examples of what is happening today that reflects what had happened in the past are too many to list. We need to remind Barrow that to expose Yaya Jammeh is the cheapest thing to do. The real task is to build the future based on solid and sound policies, evidence-based choices and participatory decision making processes that are in line with the rule of law. The task before Barrow is not merely to expose Yaya Jammeh and APRC, but rather to learn from those wrongdoings of the past in order to bring about system change to never allow those anomalies to surface in our country again.

There is no point to show us how Yaya Jammeh was rotten which we already know only for us to continue to thread on the same path as Jammeh. When Jammeh spoke of ‘transparency, accountability and probity’ we had thought that he understood where we came from and where we need to go as a nation. Twenty-two years down the line, he ended up taking us further down the bottomless pit.

Today, Barrow also speaks of his belief in the ‘democratic principle’ yet we have seen him fly to Mecca to fulfill a personal religious matter, while the country faces flashfloods and dire economic challenges. Even if the Saudi Government freely provided the hajj package, Barrow must understand that we elected him to address our needs and concerns first and not to satisfy a personal religious affair. There is absolutely no reason or urgency for this pilgrimage at this time of his leadership.

The Janneh Commission is a lesson for not only public servants but also for all Gambians. After all, we were the ones who celebrated these Yaya Jammeh cronies by crowning them patrons of our community associations, musical shows and gala dinners. Are we going to sit by again to allow another bunch of politicians and public servants to abuse and misuse our power and resources to our detriment? Future commissions of enquiry will tell.

God Bless The Gambia.

 Madi Jobarteh
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