By: Mustapha L. Marong- USA
Harkening back to old George Orwell’s satirical beast fable Animal Farm, you will be excused for thinking he has the Gambia in mind when he wrote that timeless work of fiction. The depiction of a society where some people are held to account while others skirt rules and walk around with a chip on their shoulders captures old George’s depiction of Napoleon’s Animal Farm, where all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
How else do you make sense of President Adama Barrow’s convening of a commission of Inquiry to look into the conduct of Local Government Councils and related matters when a myriad of financial and ethical scandals engulfs his whole term in office, to which he turns the proverbial blind eye and perpetrators continue conniving with others with impunity. Cursory observers of Gambian politics will remember the hashtag #Kodolay, when the first lady’s foundation was enmeshed in a 35 million dalasis scandal. The funds were allegedly transferred into the Fatoumatta Bah Barrow Foundation by the Chinese energy firm, TBEA, that was seeking contracts in the Gambia and the funds mysteriously disappeared like a fart in the wind. The foundation supposedly launched an investigation into the missing millions, but have until today not produce any coherent explanation of how the funds found their way into their account and how it was spent. Did we hear anything from the President on this serious financial scandal involving his first wife? Obviously, like the Santiago character in a few good men, Fatou Bah Barrow is not to be touched.
Talking of scandals and the need for accountability, what else require more investigation than the death of seventy kids. It is said that a society is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable amongst them. Children, the elderly and the infirm constitute this vulnerable group, the protection of whose welfare is sacrosanct. It behooves the casual observer, then, that tens of our most vulnerable people died a mysterious, painful death and the cause of their untimely death is still mired in urban folklore with no proper investigation into the matter. The President of our Republic who swore to protect the life and liberty of all and is quick to institute a commission to look into the conduct of local government councils headed by his potential rivals in 2026, has not lifted a finger to constitute a commission to get to the bottom of what and who is responsible for the death of our most precious resources -children. Is it that the people and systems responsible for their gruesome deaths were too close to the corridors of power? Is George Orwell’s animal farm rearing its ugly head again? The implications are dire, but it is clear to all who cared to pay attention that the scandal has been brushed under the carpet because those responsible are too important to hold accountable. So, they cobble together a million or so dalasis and divvied it up amongst poor and vulnerable citizens who lost their children to the failure of a system that should have protected them. What, you may ask, happened to the President’s penchant for accountability, then?
Don’t even get me started on the Covid funds. When that once in a lifetime pandemic hit, nations around the world rushed to put together relief to ward off the killer virus, our nation was no exception. What was exceptional about our situation is the blatant thievery that ensued. Procurement becomes a means to riches. Prices were inflated to line the pockets of officials in kickbacks, while the poor and most vulnerable get handwashing stations that barely function. Our hospitals and the underlining health care delivery system that was supposed to be the beneficiary still lies in a sorry state, not fit for our officialdom to visit. Why else will they put together a fund to send officials abroad for medical treatment if they took care of home? The building boom that accompanied the disbursement of the covid loot is reflected in our skyline today. Civil servants on government salaries were able to build houses worth millions of dalasis and nobody bats an eye. We are indebted to our necks and accusation of misappropriation of funds are made on the floor of parliament by the health minister, implicating officials in the service of our Republic, but our president who just found religion on accountability did not take his own Minister of Health seriously to look into the allegations of corruptions that he railed against in that august assembly. Which begs the questions, why the local councils, why now, when thievery at a much larger scale is of no consequence for the president. Good governance folks have been screaming at the top of their lungs for accountability on the covid funds to naught, because like Napoleone’s hacienda, you guess it, some are more equal than others.
If you have been reading to this point, you get the drift. There is a pattern to the madness. When cronyism related corruptions that littered our polity are reported, it is either treated as the hemming of partisan politicians or the machinations of people trying to get the accused fired, as if any of that matters when our collective wealth is being looted at abandon. This is the tack they employed when citizens and non-citizens traveling through Banjul International Airport were subjected to a twenty dollars airport fee upon arrival and departure to line up the pocket of an American Company that secure a sweetheart deal with collision of officials at the president’s office. This is not a mere allegation, it is contained in the report of the National Audit Office on the shenanigans that resulted in the Securiport scam, I mean deal that bedevils the traveling public. Even in that arrangement, there perchance for Animal Farmism reared its ugly head when they carved out an exception for the people with diplomatic passport while the unwashed masses get molested by a foreign entity with exorbitant fees all in the name of security. To make matters worse, the fees collected, according to the National Audit Report, are getting skimmed in ways detrimental to the benefit of the Gambian people. The uproar amongst the diaspora is palpable, but their angst at been the subjects of this daylight robbery, notwithstanding the millions they remit in foreign exchange to this country, landed on deaf ears. The people who put together the deal skirt all applicable procurement rules to get their sweetheart deal done, and the repercussions of their selfish behavior will hunt the country for years to come, for Securiport has an ironclad contract that they will enforce to the end of the earth. Where is our commission to find who broke rules, president, then?
Which brings me to dear old Banjul, and its Drainage, Roads, and Sewage daylight robbery of a project, where contracts were signed under the guise of the contractor pre-financing the project with no due diligence done to find out if they have the financial wherewithal to do what they claimed they can. Instead, the contractor walked into the president’s office and wowed him with that fancy word “pre-finance”. Our wide-eyed president fell for it and told his technicians to make it happen, breaking every applicable law relating to procurement for a project of that magnitude. The results of his mishap were glaringly obvious to all when our capital city flooded during the last rainy season, leaving poor city dwellers homeless, destitute, and exposed to pathogens that could peril their health for years to come. The contractor, meanwhile, made away with millions of taxpayer’s monies and is still in good standing, because he has family and friends in high places. He is one of the proverbial untouchables that can do no wrong to be held accountable. The squander of public funds that is the Banjul project calls for the criminal prosecution of individuals and groups of individuals, not to speak of a commission. It has not happened because the deal, disastrous as it is, is the brainchild of the president. And in the Gambia, as in Orwell’s Animal Farm, the president, like Napoleon, is always right.
Animal Farm may be a beast fable, but it is eerily similar to what is new Gambia. A group of people stood against a dictator that was breathing down their collective necks, hoping to create a polity that can be free, equal and happy, only to have the transition derailed into a self-perpetuation exercise, with Adama Barrow playing the role of Napoleon, and the country drifting into a state as bad as it was before Equatorial Guinea play host to our former overlord. And like the fictional animal farm, the average Gambian struggling to put food on the table is left looking in and cannot distinguish between President Adama and his newfangled APRC friends, who are dusting off the playbook of the dictator of yore to kneecap potential rivals of the president with commissions staffed by NPP militants. George Orwell may have never thought of the Gambia when he wrote that satirical novella, but he sure captured our experience.