Njundu Drammeh

(JollofNews)- “Corruption, the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty” Edward Gibbon

‘Corruption, that small ability to taste the fruits of liberty, necessarily has its source in extreme inequality’ Machiavelli

‘Eeh beh domorola deh. Konoo jubeh’ (literally translated ‘You are eating. Look at your belly’….. This is the quip of our people when they want to sarcastically tell a person that you are corrupt. Corruption, the ‘politics of the belly’, goes by many names: bribery, backhanders, swindling, embezzlement or even drug trafficking. Corruption does not necessarily entail the exchanging of money for a favour or a service.

Many an election have been won through corruption. It is sometimes ‘a little deal done on a street corner; a juicy contract awarded against a promised commission; or a colossal fortune channelled through a dummy company into some tax heaven’. Whatever name it is given and whatever form it takes, corruption is not only immoral but also has devastating effects on a country, especially a developing country like The Gambia, one which depends largely on ‘outside’ assistance for its development.

Corruption is certainly widespread and endemic, found everywhere on terra firma. But it hurts us more. It is that cankerworm which destroys development and plunges countries into poverty and war. Forget, for now, corruption that takes place at the macro level, upstream. Let us at it from the individual level.

There is the corrupter and the corrupted both of who refuses to abide by rules which are generally regarded as honest and just, the highest standard of probity. Thus, corruption is also an individual vice which opens the way to collective decadence. It was corruption, systematic and systemic, which gave us 22 years of tyranny. It was corruption which led to the killings and disappearances of innocent souls. Thus, the fight against corruption must begin, first and foremost, at the individual level.

We must audit some of the beliefs we have which can engender corruption. We hear people say “the cow/goat will eat where it is tied’ or ‘one does not guard over hell and die of cold’ (local sayings crudely interpreted). These sayings encourage corruption or minimalise the gravity of corruption. In the eyes of the corrupted, his or her crime is assuaged or legitimized.

We must begin to hail, respect and honour honest men and women amongst us; those who refuse to have their price. Unfortunately, ours is a society where the honest man or woman, the exemplary in character and the incorruptible, is taunted and derided as a fool. ‘Touray bulgul daara’ or ‘Ousman mang laafii fengnaa’ are the statements one hears against such honest people, not a compliment but rather a scornful, demeaning tongue-in-cheek praise. To be honest is a sin and the honest man or woman is prayed to die in penury and dejection. This must change if we are to succeed in our fight against corruption.

We must begin to see corruption as involving much more than money or in-kind. The Alkalo who makes a false declaration for a non-Gambian to acquire a voter’s card and the electoral officer who endorses it as ‘authentic’ are both corrupt. They can contribute tyranny; and they gave the undeserved ‘legitimacy’ that Yaya enjoyed for 22 years…..

The custom officer who overlooks that inferior fertilizer which is imported into a country and the agricultural officer who passed it as ‘satisfactory’ are doing more harm to people. Their action will only ensure poor crop yield and more misery to already poverty-stricken farmers. The cascading effects: poor nutrition, poor health…. The teacher who absents himself/herself from school, on one pretext or the other (or goes on weekends and overstays) is corrupt too. His or her action will make the students not complete the syllabus and thus graduate half-baked or not pass the exams at all. The result, mediocre civil servants and private sector workers…….

The businesswoman or woman who illegally ships his or her money out of the country does more harm to the economy as the employee who evades taxes. The fuel depot controller who steals gallons of petrol or gasoline and sells them at half the price to the drivers is as terrible as the drivers….. Their actions deny the community uninterrupted electricity….The palm oil or milk seller who dilutes the product to get more or the baker who ‘economizes’ the baking power to increase the loaves he bakes.. Aren’t their actions a form of corruption? The health impact of their actions can be tremendous…..

The procurement officer who pays the full amount for the supplies but convinced the ‘supplier’ to deliver only half the goods’; or instead of buying brand new items/equipment/machinery/vehicles, he buys second hand but painted to look new…… The employee who offers a client a service at half the price of his or her company and yet uses the equipment and other materials of his or her company to provide that service is a cheat.

The Police traffic officer who, for D50, overlooks the bad tyres of the vehicle which burst on the highway and kills the occupants is as guilty of murder as the civil engineer who, for kickback, certified the road as ‘worthy’ on which the accident happens…. Both are corrupt….. So is the surveyor who okays the building as ‘up to standard’ which collapses under its weight three years later is also a corrupt person.

Corruption harms all of us, more so the poor. Corruption deepens poverty, scare away foreign investors, denies the poor goods and services that they paid for by their taxes, undermines democracy and channels loans, grants and funds to white elephant projects which benefit only the corrupt officials. Many a project have been put up in areas where they were not needed and never benefitted the people because they never needed; the gainer was the corrupt officials. But they are loans which the poor are still paying for.

A commission of Inquiry has been established to look into the financial and other dealings of Jammeh Government. That is a good move….. But a lasting legacy would be how the Barrow Government itself fights corruption at high and low places, promotes financial discipline, encourages transparency and strengthens accountability mechanisms across the board as well as the premium it places on probity and integrity.

The foundation on which all these would rest on would be good governance which is the best antidote to corruption. An Anti-Corruption Commission should be the successor to this newly created Commission of Inquiry. Every Government agency must be encouraged to have in place a whistle blowing policy to fight corruption and abuse of office.

Transparency and accountability must not only be buzzwords but should be ethical standards underpinned by strong accountability mechanisms. Since ‘sunshine is the best disinfectant’, there is the need for the Government to enact a ‘Freedom of Information Act’. When public officials know the public will have access to information and their underhand dealings will be exposed, they would follow the straight and narrow. When citizens know they can expose corruption and corrupt officials without reprisal, then tax collectors, law enforcers, custom officials, judicial and other legal officials, politicians, and all guardians of the national purse will be on the alert.

An incorruptible leadership is a sine qua non. It is what is necessary if the Barrow Government is to make a meaningful headway and sustain our gains in development, in legal and institutional reforms, in the maintenance of the rule of law and in ensuring distributive ‘justice’ for all. If Caesar’s wife must be above board, then Caesar must be the very epitome of integrity, trust and character. And Caesar is not just the President, but also every man and woman heading a Government Ministry, Department or agency.

Dr. Brahima Mbodje, in one of his posts yesterday, insisted that the fight against corruption must be very high on Barrow Government’s agenda, otherwise it will remain the ‘Achilles’ heel for this country’. How right he is. We lose our gains in the long run if we ignore the cancer. Thus, ‘Government isn’t supposed to be a place where folks get rich (whether quickly or slowly). But a place where one helps one’s country get rich…… If you steal, you should not enjoy your loot…’ Brahima Mbodje

The fight against corruption is an existential one. We lose it at our own peril. Like General Wellington to his men at the Battle of Waterloo, it is ‘forward all over the line’.