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The continuation of Jammeh-Style corruption: The GPA edition

Dr Ousman Gajigo

Dr Ousman Gajigo

The surfacing of a bank transfer request last week demonstrated that the Barrow government has no intention of changing the corrupt practices that were prevalent under the Jammeh dictatorship. The transfer notice shows the Managing Director (MD) of the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA), Mr. Ousman Jobarteh, along with the Finance Director (Tamsir Sallah) signing a directive to transfer an amount of D744,941 to a company called Bafaad Enterprise build a police station at Mankamang Kunda, Adama Barrow’s home village. This amount represented only 20% of the project cost. In other words, a new police station for Mankamang Kunda, a village close to which there are other police stations, is expected to cost more than D3.7 million.

Let’s reflect momentarily on this amount and the state of the police stations in our biggest towns. The conditions at the Serrekunda police station has barely changed since the 1980s. The interiors of the police stations in Brusubi and Bundung are dilapidated, bearing no resemblance to a professional place of work. Most of the police stations in our largest settlements have no functioning vehicles or communication equipment. Yet, after living through years of Jammeh malpractice, we still have senior officials who still think such gross misallocation of resources is acceptable.

It seems Barrow or those around him now have the goal of turning Mankamang Kunda into the new Kanilai. And the Yahya Jammeh’s enablers whom Barrow has kept around him are ready to help him accomplish this goal. Even those who didn’t serve in high position in the last government are unwittingly helping to entrench Jammeh’s practices because the system that made his dictatorship last is still largely in place. Unless the government actively and consciously stamp out practices that have become ossified after 22 years of dictatorship, the Jammeh system will only produce the Jammeh results. This means that it does not matter whether Barrow wants Mankamang Kunda to become Kanilai. In their effort to cement their positions and ingratiate themselves with the president, the countless officials with no morals or integrity who are still allowed to stay in place will ensure that they produce the same results they did under Jammeh.

The attempt by GPA’s management to spin this illegal and corrupt activity through their press release only exposed their guilt. The GPA’s press release claims that they initiated this fund transfer only because a request came from the Inspector General of Police (IGP). And that this request was to fund the construction of 3 police stations (Mankamang Kunda, Bakadaji and Fatoto). Not only is the press release remarkably weak excuse for improper and illegal behavior, but it contradicts the information that Mr. Jobarteh told me and what some members of the Board of GPA disclosed to me.

First of all, The GPA is a state-owned enterprise that is supposed to be commercially operated, with a board. It does not have the mandate to be funding activities which are supposed to be financed by the development budget of other ministries. Specifically, the funding of police stations occurs through the development budget of the Ministry of Interior, which is annually allocated by the Ministry of Finance. So it would be beyond bizarre for the IGP to send such a request to the GPA.

Secondly, contrary to what was implied in the press release, the board of GPA did not in fact approve the funding of the police station. According to several board members I spoke to, the issue came up before the Board but that this particular item was struck off. There was therefore no board approval of the funding of police station. Yet, Mr. Jobarteh and his management proceeded to release the funds to the contractor. This goes against all principles of corporate governance. It means the management of GPA has zero respect for rules and procedures. In any serious government, such blatant malpractice would result in prompt firings.

When I contacted Mr. Jobarteh on whether GPA’s Board authorized the payment, he indicated to me that the Board did not, a direct contradiction of what was written in the press release. When pressed on why he proceeded to make the payment despite not receiving board approval, he indicated that he received a directive from the Ministry of Finance – a directive that was signed by one of the Permanent Secretaries of that Ministry. Whether such a directive exists or not does not the excuse the wrong behavior by the GPA management.

It is also interesting to note that the Fatoto has already has a police station. In their haste to cook up a false story and cover up their illegal act, GPA management carelessly added details that can be easily debunked. The construction of a Fatoto police station could not have been part of any real truthful request because Fatoto already has a police station with staff quarters.

The culpability of Mr. Jobarteh and other members of his management in this scheme is beyond doubt. The consequences should be obvious. Seasoned government officials could only engage in such obviously wrong acts when they have no integrity, and therefore do not deserve the responsibility of holding their positions. But that is not where it should end. This incident illuminates several areas where corrective actions are needed.

The Board appears to have acted correctly by not approving this dubious transaction. However, they should have gone further and blew the whistle on this the moment they became aware of it. This act was a clear example of governance malpractices that should have been reported and loudly protested. Whether or not an official investigation happens is beyond the powers of the board but at least they would have fully discharged their oversight responsibilities. Now that the GPA management and other officials are attempting a cover-up, the Board needs to make a public statement about what transpired and help set the records straight. Only the Board can set the record straight about what transpired during the board meeting.

The Minister of Interior, which oversees the police, has a responsibility to ensure that the proper procedures are followed before any police station is opened. The opening of police stations in any part of the country should be part of the regular development expenditures of the ministry. It should not be some ad-hoc activities where any funds can be used without making sure that they are properly sourced. More than any institution, it is the police that should be most diligent about making sure that any funds used are acquired and processed legally. The IGP and the Minister of Interior have a responsibility to demonstrate that they are not part of a cover-up.

Even without Mr. Jobarteh mentioning that the Ministry of Finance giving him a directive, it would have been highly unlikely that such significant amount be transferred from one SOE under a particular ministry to fund an activity under another ministry without the direct involvement and approval of the Ministry of Finance. It is further unlikely that a PS would issue that directive without the Minister of Finance not knowing about it. This means that Mambury Njie and his top ministry officials must clarify their roles in this saga.

The National Assembly also needs to take its responsibility seriously and investigate this issue thoroughly through public hearings. All the individuals who are complicit must be grilled, particularly senior officials.

The story is not complete if we do not get to the ultimate responsibility. Despite the hasty attempts by the GPA press release to claim that the President has nothing to do it, he is ultimately responsible.  President Barrow has surrounded himself with high level individuals who are hell-bent on continuing most of the terrible practices of the Jammeh regime. A year or two ago, we could have argued that there was a possibility that he didn’t know better because he was new to politics. That cannot be said today.

If actions are not taken, this sort of problem will spiral out of control very soon. This week, it is the GPA and a police station. Very soon, it will be GNPC and a hospital in Mankamang Kunda. Or it could be Gamcel and a Mankamang Kunda five-star hotel.

Ousman Gajigo is an economist. He has held positions with the African Development Bank, the UN, the World Bank and Columbia University. He holds a PhD in development economics. He is currently an international consultant and also runs a farm in The Gambia.


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