“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.” R. Kipling
The billboards erected around town by the Gambia Police Force to fight bribery of the Police and Police violations of human rights are indeed commendable. They are first steps even if messages on billboards are not necessarily the only “conditions” to fight bribery. This is an act of courage and leadership on the part of the higher echelon of the Gambia Police Force.
Bribery is a cankerworm and it requires commitment and toughness to fight it. The act is not an indictment of the Police or an insult to the integrity of the Police; it is a recognition of a long standing malaise and a willingness to stamp it out. Whether other government agencies are cognizant of the debilitating effects of bribery or corruption on their image and the life of the nation is another kettle of fish. Each your cross to carry.
The Gambia Police Force has set an example. The onus is on the rest of us to follow, to take up the gauntlet, to show commitment and willingness, to erect billboards with key messages, to set up mechanisms to fight bribery or corruption in their agencies. The Police leadership cannot request the leadership at Customs, Immigration, Ports, and all state institutions and public agencies to fight corruption.
Leadership is the ability to have vision and take initiatives; to act up on and not to be acted upon; to be proactive, not reactive. I look to that day when all public institutions are actuated to take up the gauntlet to fight corruption.
The initiative notwithstanding, billboards are not enough to fight bribery. The Police must win the trust and confidence of the people that actions will be taken when they report and there would be no reprisal. The Police high command must be exemplary in its exhibition of integrity and commitment to the fight against bribery, to set the best example for subordinates to follow. It would need to put in place a whistle blowing policy if it is serious about fighting institutional corruption. Bribery also thrives in an environment characterised by bureaucratic red tapism.
These need to be removed or the processes and procedures of acquiring whatever official documents or for justice are transparent and well known. Police officers would need to be motivated through better salaries and recognition with awards if they decide to stand up for what is legal and upright. If it takes two to tango, in bribery too there is a bribe giver and bribe taker. Bribe givers must know it is illegal to bribe and will also suffer the consequences as much as the bribe taker. The Police officer must be protected against false reporting.
Ultimately, we need an Anti-corruption Commission or Bureau to fight corruption in The Gambia, upstream and downstream, high profile and low profile, by the higher up official and the teacher in the village. The fight cannot be just on the exchange of money for a favour or service.
What hurts development more are also those juicy contracts awarded against a promised commission, the monies that are transported out of a country through a dummy company to a tax havens, the duty waivers given to undeserved businesses, the importation of sub-standard goods against the rules of quality control, the fraudulent issuance of national documents to non-nationals, the doctoring of the books of account, etc.
An Act that makes information accessible is a sine qua non. When public officials and all know that their acts of commission or omission will be open to scrutiny, they would be forced to follow the straight and narrow.
The fight against corruption must pervade every department; must be thorough and all touching. There cannot be sacred cows and forbidden fruits. Both the small fish and the whales must know that they will not be spared. That sends a good signal to all, to up their games on integrity and honesty. We have Brazil and South Korea to learn from.
Citizens should be ready to play an active part in the fight against corruption, for corruption harms the poor more. Corruption deepens poverty, scare away foreign investors, denies the poor goods and services that they paid for by their taxes, undermines democracy, channels loans to white elephant projects, etc.
The fight against corruption is an existential one. We lose it at own peril. We lose our liberty and rights if we lose the fight against bribery or corruption. No action to fight corruption, however small, should be derided or lampooned.
Let’s see who would follow the Police’s example…..