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Decisive action required in corruption allegations at agriculture ministry

Madi Jobarteh is a Gambia human right activists and country director for Westminster Foundation.

Kerr Fatou and its stringer Mustapha Darboe have reported that the Ministry of Agriculture has sold thousands of bags of fertilizer in both the Gambia and Senegal which would amount to millions of dalasi. These bags of fertilizer are said to have been bought since 2009 at a cost of over 130 million dalasi only to be found to be expired and spoilt. Yet the current leaders in the Ministry decided to work with businessmen to sell off the spoilt fertilizer which will undoubtedly pose a direct threat to crops and the health of people.

The most amazing part of the story is that the Office of the President was indeed aware of this alleged scandal yet since August 2017 the presidency did not take any decisive action on it even when it was reported that the Ministry of Justice did an investigation. Where is that investigation report and why was there no action on it?

It is also interesting to learn from Kerr Fatou that the NEA had in fact advised, way back in 2014 that the fertilizer be sent to Dakar to be tested in order to determine the best way to dispose it off. Yet this advice was also never carried out.

What this story indicates is that there has been a very longstanding culture of corruption within the Ministry of Agriculture. This particular case began in 2009 when the fertilizer was bought and discovered to be spoilt. In 2014 the NEA advised that proper tests are conducted to determine the appropriate means of disposal. In July 2017 the Minister of Agriculture contacted a businessman to dispose off of the fertilizer only for the fertilizer to find its way into markets in the Gambia and Senegal. In August 2017 the Ministry of Justice conducted an investigation apparently at the advice of the Office of the President. Further investigations were conducted by the NIA and the intelligence unit at State House. Yet neither the President nor any agency of the State had taken this matter to where it should go. Until now no public officer has been prosecuted for the allegations.

All eyes must now focus on Pres. Adama Barrow and Minister of Agriculture Omar Jallow to take a decisive and swift action. Clearly this case highlights abuse of office and negligence of duty by public officers leading to the defrauding of the state and causing economic loss to the Gambia. Furthermore by making such huge quantity of fertilizer unavailable to our farmers means a threat to food security in the Gambia. At the same time by seeking to sell expired fertilizer to our farmers means a further threat to lives and livelihoods.

For that matter, the President and his Minister must be held to account to explain to Gambians how such massive act of corruption and abuse of office could take place especially in this new dispensation when we thought business will be different in our public institutions.

While the President and the Minister must come out to publicly address this matter, it must also be highlighted that the National Assembly must institute an enquiry on this issue forthwith. We need to know who were the ministers and officials in 2009 and 2014 in that Ministry and what did they do or failed to do to address this matter. This is a legitimate matter of national interest for which the National Assembly must take leadership.

Kerr Fatou must be commended for this story as it highlights the role and contribution of the media to the promotion of good governance in the country. It reminds us of a similar story in 1988 when a popular newspaper, The Torch published an article, ‘Cabinet Reshuffle Inevitable’ in which the author Sanna (Tiks) Manneh openly accused four government ministers of corruption and suggested that they be sacked.

Three of the ministers – Saihou Sabally Minister of Agriculture was accused of dubious rice dealings with the General Manager of the GCU, Landing Jallow Sonko Minister of Local Government and Lands was accused of guilt by association with corrupt friends and Dr. Lamin Saho Minister of Information and Tourism was accused of converting donated buses from Germany to his personal use, as well as forcing the Director of Medical and Health to purchase a package of donated drugs from Germany and then pocketing the money. The accused ministers naturally took the matter to court and Sanna Manneh was charged with libel.

Following a court case from November 1988 to April 1989, Tiks was acquitted on the first and third counts and cautioned and discharged on the second. While The Torch newspaper did not eventually survive the financial costs of the trial as it closed down a year later, however their stand demonstrated the role and contribution of the media in the fight against corruption by exposing and holding the government to account.

For that matter all citizens must commend Kerr Fatou and Mustapha Darboe for playing what we expect the media to play especially in this new political dispensation. Democracy in the Gambia cannot be built without active participation of the media.

For the Gambia Our Homeland

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