Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Editorial:President's Barrow's lame response to the latest bribery scandal dogging his administration

Sidi Sanneh 
When you are in a hole, stop digging, so goes the adage but by the look of things, President Barrow seems to be doing just the opposite gauging from his response to the latest scandal dogging his administration about alleged cash payments to selected members of the National Assembly. 

Hon. Sanna Jawara, a UDP National Assembly Member for Upper Fulladu West was the first to sound the alarm by claiming that he was offered a D10,000 (equivalent to $200) from a political operative of President Barrow as gifts to help parliamentarians in difficult economic times.  It was not a one-off payment but a monthly stipend of an unspecified duration. 

According to the parliamentarian from Upper Fulladu West, he politely turned the offer down - a payment he saw as a an attempt to corrupt him and his colleagues, as he became aware that similar offers were made to other members of the National Assembly.

 Hon. Madi Ceesay, another UDP National Assembly Member representing SerreKunda West, responding to journalist questions confirmed that he too was offered and accepted the sum of D10,000 from the same political operative acting on behalf of President Barrow.  He saw no reason not to accept the money which, to him, the payment does not constitute bribery, implying that because the sum is too small to cross his self-imposed threshold to qualify as bribery.

In a characteristic style that has now become routine, a non denial denial in the form of a hastily and clumsily crafted press release rebutting bribery allegations that the State House characterized as unfounded and unsubstantiated despite confirmations from two parliamentarians that they have been offered and/or have accepted D10,000 from President Barrow. 

Contrary to presidential claims, the allegations have been substantiated.  Were parliamentarians the being enticed by the president to support him to secure the presidential nomination under the UDP banner?  If this was the purpose, the payments then present a quid pro quo condition.  Even if President Barrow was not expecting anything in return, the mere perception conveys the impression of bribery and a clear breach of the principle of separation of powers.  In this case, the executive appears to imposing its will in an attempt to interfere with the legislative independence of the legislature.

The State House press release admits that the president routinely supports individuals and groups, financially and materially, including the 57 vehicles he gifted to members of the National Assembly, the source of which has been shrouded in mystery.  To deflect a barrage of criticisms, the presidents attributed the gifts to a philanthropist who prefers to remain anonymous.  It is not the role of a president who's paid a fixed annual salary to be financially supporting individuals and groups including parliamentarians. 

The extra-budgetary activities of President Barrow pose not only a moral hazard but it is also a threat to the well established, universally applicable norms of the budget process.  Jammeh was the inventor of this surreptitious approach to public finance as a means of circumventing the budget process that distorted the public finance profile of the country rendering planning and implementing the country's economic programs difficult.  The Commission of Inquiry into Jammeh's illicit wealth serves as reminder to how damaging these surreptitious forms of extra-budgetary expenditures can be.

We have been critical of Barrow's governance style or lack thereof and his apparent inability to focus on the core reform programs, carefully delineated in the Memorandum of Understanding that led to the coalition government.  The principles set therein were, in our view, quickly abandoned.  Instead, he exchanged governing for politicking.

In outlining progress such as establishing the Constitutional Review Committee, President Barrow disputes the view that he's focused more in the politics of personal survival by trying to assure Gambians that his major preoccupation has been and continues to be "finding solutions and addressing the development needs of the people that overwhelmingly elected him into office", a claim that is not supported neither by the data nor by the mood of the general public. 

President Barrow's vision for the country is, according to the release, is to empower institutions so that they can "guarantee and protect the rights and dignity of all citizens irrespective of their political ethno-linguistic and religious differences." 

Less than forty-eight later, President Barrow's Justice Minister was out issuing warnings to journalists, non-journalists alike that and we quote: "[R]ecently, we have noticed a worrisome trend in the country and this must be addressed.  While we want to encourage a culture of tolerance and the freedom of expression,...this must not be equated with chaos or be used to tarnish the reputation of or smear innocent people."

The Justice Minister further warned that "many people rush to judgment and condemn the accused even when there is no evidence to support the allegation."  He continued, "we cannot accuse, try and condemn people, all in one scoop.  It amounts to mob justice."   He then proceeded to "remind everyone that the publication of false news is still a criminal offense in this country as upheld recently by the Supreme Court and we will not hesitate to apply the law." 

The minister's warnings were more like threats which, he says "are not intended to address any specific events as there has been too many such events in the country recently", one of the rare assertions I can readily see eye to eye on with the Honorable Minister of Justice.