Saturday, July 9, 2016

The corruption buck stops at Jammeh's desk

When Lt. Yaya Jammeh seized power on the 22nd July 1994, one of the first acts of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) he chaired was to dismantle the centralized procurement system they found in place - a system that provided the necessary transparency needed to trace and fix any procurement malpractice.

Before it was scrapped and its functions subsumed as part of Jammeh's extraordinary powers, the Major Tender Board (MTB) was housed in the Ministry of Finance and chaired by its Permanent Secretary was responsible for overseeing all procurement of goods and services.

It was not until in December 2014 when the then Minister of Finance disclosed his Budget Speech that the MTB was being re-established effective 1st January 2015.  According to the minister, the policy measure was aimed at achieving "greater efficiency and transparency in public procurement"- an admission that dismantling the MTB was not the right thing to do.  This is after almost 20 years of abolishing it without proper notice to the general public about what their government was up to.

And even after officially announcing its re-establishment, the MTB exits in name only.  It is public knowledge that all major procurement decisions are still taken by and at the instructions of Yaya Jammeh.  Even in cases where donor funds are involved that demand the adoption of international tender procedures, Jammeh tries to influence the outcome leading, at times, to delays when procurement rules and regulations are infringed.    

In the last couple of weeks, numerous civil servants ranging from Permanent Secretaries to drivers across the entire civil service structure have been arrested and accused of committing "economic crimes", presumably of varying degree and magnitude.  And as it is routine with this regime, Gambians are arrested first and then investigated.  In Yaya Jammeh's Gambia one is guilty until one can prove one's innocence which has always proven impossible because his judiciary and his courts, in particular, are packed with mercenary judges-for-hire imported from Nigeria.

According to Jammeh, the former and current senior officials of the Petroleum Ministry contracted the services of a bogus Dubai-based company to supply petroleum product to the Gambia National Petroleum Corporation which ended up costing government $ 12 million.  How he arrived at that figure is unclear.  What is certain is that internationally recognized rules and procedures were not applied in this case.  If they were applied, it would not have been possible to engage the services of a bogus company, assuming that this is what has happened.  Due diligence on all prospective bidders would have been conducted, including the solicitation of capability statements and company profiles as part of the pre-qualification process.

Just as in the case of Lebanese businessman, Youssef Ezzedine, commonly known by his alias "Rambo" who reportedly paid several millions of dollars for his freedom after being found guilty of treason and sentence to death together with General Lang Tombong Tamba and other Gambians, Jammeh is expecting similar arrangement for the release of some of the ten officials accused of "economic crimes" in the petroleum cases.  Those who can pay a hefty ransom will be set free.  The rest who cannot afford it will be sentenced to long prison terms.  This is just how things are in Jammeh's Gambia.

Concerning the twenty-seven civil servants accused of attempting to fraudulently auctioned off 545 government vehicles [a figure that is most probably exaggerated]  for D 4.5 million also points to a broken procurement system that Jammeh and his group of army buddies caused when they seized power.  Again, according to him, these vehicles were never pre-inspected by a qualified mechanic prior to the intended auction to ascertain the condition of each car, some of which, Jammeh claimed, were new.

In the absence of a transparent tender procedure, one must expect these problems to arise.  Since Jammeh is responsible for dismantling the Major Tender Board back in 1994, he must be held responsible for the procurement malpractices that he is accusing the officials of.  If he is accusing a former Petroleum Minister of corruption, he should, at least, take responsibility for the broken system that has led to the rampant corruption that has become a hallmark of his government because he has held numerous ministerial portfolios, including petroleum minister.  We know he will not because he's never taken responsibility for anything that has gone wrong in The Gambia which is just about everything.   #JammehMustGo