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President Barrow… And Trump

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Mustapha K Darboe, Investigative Journalist- Malagen

By: Mustapha K Darboe

The countries that prosper do not find reckless statements or conducts of their leaders amusing. We do. After the elections that brought Trump to power, America’s intelligence community has said Russia interfered with that democratic process.

Trump, as expected of a man of his standing, refused this assessment. By consensus, even in the Gambia, an American president criticizing the best judgment of American intelligence organisations is seen as an attack on their integrity.

Barrow just did the same to the National Audit Office. Truth is, it did not start now. Who would not recall? For the first time in the history of this country, as far as I know, bunch of ministers assembled at Kairaba International Conference Center to defend a private contractor, rubbishing the NAO report.

They even brought Yankuba Darboe of GRA to tell us the contractor paid tax in connection to the project contrary to what the NAO said. Why would ministers assemble to denigrate and attack the integrity of the NAO in defense of a private contractor who did not even grace the occasion?

Fast forward, the Securiport story. The NAO report is clear. Just like Malagen’s. Instead of doing anything about it, they went after the auditors. But the question is why? The answer is simple. From 2017 to date, the Office of the President has earned the unruly reputation of being one of the most indicted institutions by reports of the NAO.

Whether it is the Banjul Project. The Securiport. The timber trade. The Diplomatic Passport scandal. And more. So, the president is basically attacking the integrity of the NAO to protect his own.
But why is this so annoying to listen to? I have seen “educated” folks claim “but the president was right. Auditors can be biased. They can make mistakes.”

This is coming from ignorance and worse, a biased viewpoint. Worse can be said of the police. I am a keen follower of both police and auditors and I can tell you, there is no comparison between the 2. In their capacity. Integrity. Thoroughness. They can’t even be remotely compared.

But if the auditors can be biased, here is where the total dishonesty is. Can’t the police be biased? Can’t the Office of the President, already conflicted by virtue of it being indicted in the report, be biased? And if we simply take it that the President is simply saying auditors are people who can make mistakes, can’t the police with far inferior capacity in financial matters make mistakes?

It is totally needless to tell me a process led by humans can make mistakes or be prone to bias. That is a given! But the president is not in fact talking about ordinary mistakes or biases. He is saying so! Just like assembling ministers to caricature the auditors and praise a private contractor, he is saying that auditors are biased and they are making mistakes.

In fact, there is never an instance where an audit report is the case file. It is totally needless to say we will investigate. Even for investigative journalists, reading the audit report is the beginning of the work. A case file, as in an investigative story, is built separately from an audit report.

The audit report will then form part of the evidence. So, it is totally needless to say we will investigate because that is why the police are a statutory recipient of the audit reports from the NAO. Every time the AG did the report, he will copy the police IG and the parliament. For the longest time, the complaint at the AG’s office has been that the police don’t have the capacity.

Mistakes? Whatever makes it into the audit report is supported by evidence. That is how it works. It is more like someone saying ‘Malagen can make mistakes. They can be biased.’ Every investigation, just as any audit, goes through a series of quality control measures, before it is concluded.

But what is the case of bias? Securiport? The Banjul Project? How a reporter could not simply put the president on a specific case here is beyond me. A student at GPU School would have done that? ‘Audit Opinion’ is not the same as ‘OPINION’. The audit is an evidence-based (facts +analysis= fact-based conclusion) result.

And to justify this subtle attack on auditors, the president claim ‘see what we did in the Dr Banja case?’ Well, you did nothing on the Dr Banja case. It was shoved down the throat of the state by Malagen. And the police went to copy our report’s format and build a case on it.

In the middle of the case, they told the court that they got their audio, the most crucial evidence in the case from me, and the court concluded that they could not admit that because they do not have proper custody of that piece of evidence. Had I not defied our in-house policy and testify in that case, it would have collapsed!

For the comment on the GP case, I don’t have the patience (or I am either too disgusted) to comment on that for now. In the course of my work, I have interacted with tons of police work. Not one was satisfactorily done.

Just recently, your AG issued a nolle on the Penny Appeal case and said there was no case. Your Minister of Children aligned herself with that. It was us who prove that there was in fact a case, forcing the state to bring it back.

This will have a huge chilling effect at the National Audit Office. It already does. I know because I am a keen follower of accountability institutions in the Gambia.

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