Editorial: Is Justice Minister Ba Tambedou up to the Job of Attorney General?

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The new justice minister Ba Tambedou has sparked a new controversy over the apparent designation of Fatou Camara of the Fatunetwork and Imam Baba Leigh a victim of the Jammeh regime as members of a study tour of African countries which have gone through truth and reconciliation commission in the past. According to Minister Tambedou, both Fatou and Imam Leigh were selected by him to be part of this study tour with Fatou being a potential head of media support team and Imam Leigh as victim of the Jammeh regime.

Speaking to Freedom Radio Leral show Ba Tambedou who may not have been fully aware he was in a live interview, said he used his own discretion as Attorney General to appoint these two people to be part of a UNDP funded study tour. The Attorney General without question has the mandate to appoint qualified Gambians to support the work of the justice department. Questioned as if his prerogative to appoint these two people to the study tour does not preempt their qualification to be members or support staff of the commission, Mr. Tambedou said the framework of the commission has not even be designed but that they were against time and therefore he used his personal knowledge of the background of these two people to select them to the study tour.

The Minister feeling the pressure of questions from editor Mbye who sounded concerns raised by Gainako’s Ahmad Gitteh and the subject of discussion on social media, Ba Tambedou said “If Gambians does not have confidence in me as Attorney General, then I can look at other options”. Insinuating that he can resign his position and return to private life if Gambians do not have confidence in the work he is doing. This statement brought out the frustration the new Attorney General is facing three months into his job. The distinguished Attorney General must know that the Gambian people did not appoint him as Attorney General. President Barrow appointed him as Attorney General and the question whether there is confidence in his work should go to the President who can decide whether to keep or fire him. What the Gambian media and people are doing are asking legitimate questions base on what the Attorney General says or does.

A series of such pronouncements and actions by Minister Tambedou has led us to question if in fact, Mr. Tambedou is up to the daunting task of Attorney General. Readers may recalled that on or around March 23rd, 2017, the Justice Minister stated that the Attorney General’s Office was not consulted by the Interior ministry before actions were taken on the case of the NIA Nine (Fatunetwork March 23rd). This statement was made at a press conference held my Minister Tambedou on some of the work his department was doing. Prior to that Minister Tambedou had also apologized on behalf of his ministry and the President for a Bill that was presented at the National Assembly to repeal the age limit in the Gambian constitution alongside electoral fees that were levied for citizens who wish to contest parliamentary and local municipal council elections. Ba said this too was done without consultation and his knowledge.

From the onset, the Attorney General displayed lack of awareness of what was transpiring in his department and law enforcement during that volatile period in the country. He seems to have been taken unaware that there was potential threat of alleged perpetrators of crimes in the Jammeh regime roaming around who could tamper with evidence of alleged crimes committed and or escape Gambia’s jurisdiction. It was evidence to all Gambians and the International community that Solo Sandeng died in the hands of the NIA and the case was presented in court with the Jammeh government admitting that Solo indeed died while in state custody. This was one of hundreds of case files Minister Tambedou could have reviewed or ordered his staff to immediately review and advice him upon taking office. The arrest and subsequent charges within 72 hours of the NIA nine was announced on GRTS and the suspects brought before a competent judge who remanded them. Can Ba Tambedou tell the Gambian people that neither the DPP nor any other justice department official was aware or involved in this case? If they were involved, did they brief him or open a case file in the justice department? When he heard the announcement over GRTS of the arrest of these folks, did he designate anybody to immediately contact the interior ministry and the courts to take ownership or ask questions about the case? If he fails to do so then that is another evidence that he was slow to ramp up on his job.

Ba Tambedou’s handling of these cases in the press reveals his inability or unwillingness to work with his colleagues to address these complicated issues. Granted the Interior Minister may have overstepped his boundary in presenting the electoral and or Age limit bill to the then APRC dominated National Assembly, but Mr. Tambedou could have easily reach out to his colleagues both on the NIA nine and the bill to obtain an explanation of the rationale why they are overstepping into his jurisdiction. Instead, his words and actions were at the very least embarrassing to the Barrow government. It showed that there was lack of communication and team work within the new administration. In fact, this was one of the main issues that led to many citizens questioning including this network why President Barrow never held a cabinet meeting since he took over power to ensure that his team was on the same page. Ba has also been reported to have complained that there are lack of computers and or proper judicial process in the justice department. Gambians and Minister Tambedou knew the justice department was already dysfunctional before his appointment. So why the surprise?

To be fair to Minister Tambedou, the justice department and ministry of interior are probably the most challenging departments to handle in the new administration. This is simply because both the justice system and the security apparatus were the biggest institutions of oppression that the Jammeh dictatorship used to oppress the Gambian people. Gambians are aware and expected these two ministries to be the most dysfunctional that were morally and institutionally abused during twenty-two years of dictatorship. Foreign judges were used as mercenaries and the courts as an instrument of political oppression backed by both the police, the NIA and the Military with direct control from the executive. So Ba Tambedou without a doubt walked into an unprecedented challenge like no other. The initial chaos was to be expected but after a couple of months with his background as a celebrated legal luminary, Ba should have hit the ground running from the get go. He should have reviewed all case files of political prisoners and civil cases that were pending at the justice department. He could have immediately ask for help from the International community; ECOWAS, UN and other traditional partners using his International connections. There are no evidence that Mr. Tambedou has made any such request. If there are we expect him to provide the evidence.

In essence, what is mind bothering to many genuine Gambians is Ba Tambedou’s lackluster approach to handling these difficult challenges in the justice department. Almost four months into his appointment as Attorney General, the justice department is yet to fill key roles within the justice department. The courts both at the state and local level are yet to be fully staffed with magistrates and justices such as the supreme court, the appeal court etc. One would expect that after two decades of human rights abuses and politicization of the justice department, the Attorney General should have gone to work right away to address some of the pertinent issues on human rights abuses. As the saying goes, “justice delayed is justice denied”. Gambian victims of Jammeh’s brutal terror are yet to see a glimpse of justice being addressed. Yes, Gambians are being impatient and rightfully so. Victims cannot be asked to wait for justice; they need to find their love ones and be comforted that the New Administration in Banjul is looking into their plight so they can have closure.

The mere symbolic appearance at the April 10th & 11th commemoration march is commendable but the least the victims need. An Adhoc committee to register victims complains and disappearance of citizens should have been constituted by now. A committee to look into Jammeh’s assets and potentially freeze them for victims to be compensated in the future should have been in order by now. The much talked about Truth and Reconciliation is not in itself a solution to address victims’ pain and suffering. In fact, it is likely to renew wounds, pain and suffering that the Gambian people had endured. There are victims of the Jammeh administration who needs immediate medical attention and possible overseas treatment. The administration should have set up an emergency funding mechanism to send some of these victims to medical treatment. A request for emergency funding from the UN, the EU and other traditional donors should have been initiated to address these immediate crisis. In fact, a portion of the $75 Million EU grants to the Gambia should have been ear marked to address victims’ health conditions.

Granted Ba Tambedou is not the only one showing amateurism in the new administration,  his critical role in addressing justice to the victims cannot be overlooked. Many Diaspora Gambians are deliberately ignoring Minister Tambedou’s performance as justice minister either because of personal relationship or some other unknown biases. Gambians have an obligation to scrutinize the work of this new administration from the President down to the last man and woman. As Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow explicitly stated in his article “We must get it right” Gambians cannot afford to get not only the T&R right but delivering justice to victims of the Jammeh administration. These were not victims of Jammeh or the NIA as individuals, they were victims of the state through state sponsored terror. Any public official handling these cases must be scrutinized and their work cannot be compromised in the name of lack of time. As much as time is of the essence, Gambians must be deliberate in ensuring that these injustices are addressed adequately lest we slide into chaos and revenge through another corrupt justice system. Not this time, not again in Gambia. Ba Tambedou therefore, has a choice and must do justice to Gambians by either showing interest in the difficult task of reforming the justice department, delivering justice or tender his resignation and safe the Gambian people of his threat of going back to private life. No one forced anyone to take a job in the Barrow administration, it is a national duty and therefore it is only fair and honest to step aside if you are not up to the task.

For comments or rejoinder to this editorial contact: Gainakoradio@gmail.com

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  1. I also would respectfully suggest that the right honourable Minister read Mr Baba Gela Jallow’s piece in this medium entitled “we must get it right”, where he makes the very important point that “the challenge….. is not so much as setting up a T&R,…..but ….. …..a functional, credible and professional T&R”.

    Granted no persons have yet been appointed to a T&R in the Gambia. However, in high profile cases such as a T&R, a mere perception that someone, or another is being groomed for the soon to be established institution has the potential to work against the credibility, if not the professionalism of that institution even before it gets going. Any loss of credibility, and/or professionalism, or indeed, perceptions of a lack character, or right expertise would be a highly damaging, and for a very long time.

    We should bear in mind that the spread of victims queuing to use the T & R Commission to help with unravelling actual or perceived injustices suffered under the Jammeh regime is very wide throughout the community. Lots of people eagerly await the promised [functional, credible, and professional] T&R Commission, to help the difficult task of healing, and any shortfalls in the process of setting up and/or operating such a commission would quickly be regarded by sufferers.

    It can only be hoped that achieving a Commission, but based on the above three principles, should be relatively easy under the current Minister of Justice, given that he has already shown (by attending a street match to the effect) that he remains committed to seeing justice done for victims of the former government’s reign of terror.

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