Alagi Yorro Jallow

Corruption is a very broad term, which has wider significance. It might refer to a multitude of different illicit conducts, which inevitably include petty corruption, where the corrupt-phenomenon amount seems to be little in comparison to the overall business transactions.

The diffusion of such an illicit behavior, which is extremely widespread, is nevertheless very alarming. I like to depict corruption as a multi-faceted and tentacular evil creature that has the power to infect every aspect of our society. It is a tribute to an Italian movie series of the 1980s that focused on Mafia and was called “La Piovra” (Giant Octopus) because of the notorious corruptive powers of such a criminal organization.

So, there’s this conversation going on about the decay in the Gambian psyche and how corruption is cannibalizing us as a society. Thing is, literal or metaphorical in the composition of the high level of corruption and the infelicity to which we refer, and of which we have had some unfortunate examples of late corruption scandals inherent in our society. So, Gambians are inherently thieves.

There I said it. It’s like the old adage – a man is only as faithful as his options. Given a chance to steal, most Gambians would do it. I’d even go as far as saying most people have a problem with corruption only if they’re not benefiting from it. But if they are, they will be so comfortable getting fat, lazy and complacent and not worrying about the impact of collective thievery.

Gambians love a “deal” regardless of the cost of that deal to society. It’s an itch. Whenever we see a gap, we have to go through it. We’ve got a problem when you have parents forcing their kids to study procurement in university so that they can become thieves.

You have kids who tell you when I grow up, I want to be an accountant, an actuary, broker, economists, lawyer and a judge, because they know bribes are paid there in US dollars – hehehe this is where Dr. Lamin Darboe, Momodu Musa Drammeh, Ibrahim Kijera, Sajarr Cecilia Thomas and folks come for me for slander and libel. Duh! I wasn’t the first to suggest it. I’ll pick a ticket and join the queue for those being sued.

One of the saddest stories for me was a few years ago when a young man was arrested, prosecuted and jailed within 72 hours. No, he didn’t steal millions from GAMTEL, Gambia Revenue Authority, Ports Authority or something like that. He was just recently married, and he was caught stealing a small bottle of Laura Mercier Almond Coconut Milk Souffle Body Crème, and a Coco butter lotion from Maroun’s Supermarket. He said that he wanted to make his new bride happy by getting her a “smell good” crème, lotion, something that he’s never been able to afford. You feel sad for the guy – what to do?

His reasons for stealing were valid from his point of view. But ask yourself, there’s folks stealing millions and stealing the birth right of hundreds of thousands of Gambians, their pensions, their savings and retirement plans, their Social Security contributions – Yeah there, I said it, and if you’re doubting, do your homework and see how much of Social Security contributions over the last few decades have gone to the personal account of corrupt leaders owned accounts in Lichtenstein and in Panama – and yet some of these thieves are walking the street and in political office.

Everyone under the sun knows the political mafioso thugs in charge and they know that in years, these guys have orchestrated the theft of over millions of dollars. It makes you wonder what the threshold of being a thief is these days. Just you try stealing chicken feed or a cabbage in someone’s home garden. God forbid you make a mistake of carrying a knife to cut off the cabbage or to facilitate your theft. That’s technically armed robbery, the statute dictating that since you carried a weapon, you had the intent to use it to harm, therefore it’s life imprisonment.

The Gambia, regardless of our political tradition, culture or socio-economic status, has seen official bribery, misappropriation of public funds and misuse of public functions.

(As Lord Acton famously put it in the late 19th century: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.) And of all the forms corruption takes, this is one of the most difficult to eradicate.

Quid-pro-quo political corruption is a means of channeling personal influence and getting advantages from it. And because it mainly affects a country’s dominant class, it has a way of engulfing people with enough power to tackle it. This also explains why the most effective legal instruments adopted at both the domestic and international level have focused their power on the act of bribing public officials.

The misuse of power to obtain something of value for a private interest. Our society is not immune to corruption, this criminal phenomenon is particularly endemic in politics.