By Madi Jobarteh
The announcement on July 5, the eve of Koriteh (Eid-il-Fitr) by the Office of the President that 27 senior, middle and junior level government officials have been arrested, detained and dismissed from their jobs “accused of fraudulently auctioning Gambia Government vehicles and other unspecified items” is utterly untenable. The office of the President must realise that it must respect the due process according to the rule of law in matters of state and society. It is not the role of the Office of the President to investigate theft and misconduct in the public service. There are competent authorities whose task is to do that. Secondly there is no legal basis to dismiss a person from his or her job just on the basis of an allegation. The constitution provides for fair trial and presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Thirdly one cannot arrest and send an individual to jail only on the basis of an accusation. It is only the court of law through a transparent process that can determine that.
Therefore, it is dastardly repugnant that the Government has failed to recognise that it is not compassion to remove fathers and mothers and individuals from their families on the eve of Koriteh to send them to jail. What trauma would this have on the victims and their families during one of the most holiest feasts of the Muslim community. The Office of the President should be seen to respect the culture and religion of the society by showing that compassion and due regard. What is urgent in this matter that should warrant such a hurried action like this in total contravention of the constitution and the fundamental rights of the victims?
I demand that the Office of the President release these individuals with an apology and restore them to their positions. The investigations must be undertaken by the relevant authorities leading to prosecution in a fair trial to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done. The press release of the Office of the President is rather unprofessional, illegal and suspect because it has failed to indicate how many vehicles were auctioned? Where and when those vehicles were auctioned? What other items are being referred to? Who auctioned which vehicle and how and where was it done? When did the Office of the President itself conduct this investigation? Have these victims ever been notified of their alleged misconduct or told that they were being investigated? These are the fundamentals expected from such an investigation that the press release must provide. But it is clear that the Office of the President has not conducted any investigation that is worthy of the name yet went ahead to dismiss individuals who have been serving the Gambia for decades?
We have seen in the US how a one and half investigation of Hilary Clinton was conducted purely in line with the due process. The lady was never arrested and harassed by her government even when the issue deals with what is considered a national security matter. But all throughout the investigation it was a relevant government agency that dealt with the matter but not the White House. This is what is called democracy and adherence to the rule of law and respecting human rights.
We expect the Gambia Government to exercise similar civility and respect for the rule of law and human rights. Already scores of Gambians are under detention for more than two months without fair trial and bail for merely protesting illegal laws, arbitrary arrest and death in custody of Solo Sandeng. These are not hardened criminals or armed rebels and have not vandalised any public property or caused any public disorder. Yet their fundamental rights are blatantly abused with impunity and forced to spend the entire Ramadan in prison away from their families. Even when individuals commit the most heinous crimes they still have their fundamental rights and dignity intact that must be always respected and protected. May we ask therefore what values and standards does the Office of the President uphold? As Gambians, who believe in Islam and Christianity and respect human rights, should we condone these despicable disregard of the rights and dignity of our citizens by a State that has legal and political obligations to respect and protect the rights and freedoms of citizens including the culture and religions of the people?