Editorial: President Barrow Beware of the Business Community; They were complicit with the Dictator

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French ‘investors’ meeting with President Barrow

It is an open secret that the business community in the Gambia were largely complicit with Gambia’s former brutal dictator Yahya Jammeh during his 22 years rule of the Gambia. Gambians are well aware that most of Jammeh’s clandestine deals and corrupt practices were all ran through the business community in the country. Worst, most of the worthless and lavish endless ceremonies which reduced our young people into party animals hooked into festivities were financed by the business communities both domestic and international who were operating in the Gambia. Many of the private businesses such as telecommunication companies, Banks, hotels, mining industry, money transfer, energy companies etc were all illegally giving kick backs and or financing Jammeh’s foundations disguised as charitable ventures. A government audit revealed millions of dollars of unpaid taxes owed to the state by hundreds of businesses.

Gambian businessman Muhamed Jah presenting gifts to Dictator Jammeh

It wasn’t unusual for big men like Muhammed Jah of QCell and others to throw gifts of brand new vehicles and hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts to the President in lieu of favors.

In fact there are reports that Jammeh used Gambian business men to launder his money scheme and registered businesses worth over $900 Million dollars through one of Gambia’s biggest business Tycoon and long time personal confidant of President Jammeh Amadou Sambia (Report from Panama papers). The fate of these businesses and almost a Billion dollars worth of funds still cannot be accounted for. One wonders why tiny Gambia is one of the poorest in Africa! President Jammeh used the office of the President, state resources and these wealthy Gambians to set up his own businesses and took over almost every sector of the economy. He allegedly owned personal shares in many of the telecom companies and looted millions of dollars from Gamtel’s Gateway project…

President Barrow must beware of Gambian businesses who were complicit during two decades of the Jammeh regime and did nothing but strengthened the iron fist rule of one of Africa’s most heartless dictators. Being a business man himself Barrow is well aware of the backroom deals in many industries who fared well during two decades of military rule in Gambia. The new Gambian President is showing uncomfortable and dangerous signs of fallen into the same trap many African leaders fall into dealing with the business community. The business communities in Gambia and Africa in General are notorious in turning otherwise genuine leaders into corrupt politicians. This is clearly manifested in their relentless efforts to storm the Office of the President and continuously try to be friendly to the leaders to get their way out. No matter how clean and accountable you want to be as a leader, you must put in place an ethical barrier to ensure that proper protocol is followed when dealing with national affairs. So far President Barrow is showing same signs of weakness where the office of the president is directly accessible by unlimited businessmen and women who are out to get a leverage by building closer relationship with the President. Of course, some patriotic business men and women earned their successful businesses independent of government without getting close to Yahya Jammeh and his corrupt regime. They are urged to continue on that patriotism.

Gambians expect their President occupying the highest office of the land to protect the sanctuary and dignity of the office of the President. This simply means following high standard of governing protocol by clearly drawing lines on what is morally and ethically acceptable and what is not. It is dangerous and tempting for the President to be involved directly in negotiating with private investors at the office of the President. The President has his various ministries, departments with permanent secretaries and or cabinet ministers who must lead any business negotiations with investors who wants to invest in the Gambia. Business calls or inquiries directly to the President’s Office must be referred through the right protocol and registration process. While in France President Barrow said “many investors are knocking on my doors who wants to invest in Gambia”. This is very true and it lends credence to our warning that the President must be wary of International and local investors who wants to have direct access to his office. As they say “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts”; these potential investors and or local business entrepreneurs wanting direct access to the President are the very entities who turn around and corrupt the system and the Office of the President. They either offer the President unsolicited gifts and or built unusual relationship with the President’s aides and family.

President Barrow is forewarned that Gambians are watching closely every word and action of their President. They saw first hand how Jammeh came to power promising accountability, transparency and probity only to turn around and turned the office of the President and the government into a personal entity. Although it is too early to paint this new government with the same brush; citizens must warn of signs that have led to such activities of corrupting not only public officials but the institutions themselves. It is absolutely critical that President Barrow surround himself with no-nonsense people who are ethically and professionally well rounded to prevent turning the President’s office into a business gateway. Yes, Gambians know people who are currently serving in this government who are remnants of the Jammeh corrupt machine. President Barrow must carefully study the activities of these people and remove them from the corridors of power. They are tainted and have no moral fortitude to protect the integrity of the office of the President. Gambia in 1994 and Gambia in 2017 are very different. Citizens are more aware and conscious of their duties and the responsibilities of their government to deliver what it promised.

We therefore urge President Barrow and his cabinet to beware of unscrupulous business men and women who were accomplices with the Jammeh Dictatorship. They were there for 22 years and trusting them would only lead to the same patronage to penetrate state power. The same caution needs to be exercised when dealing with new investors looking to invest in the Gambia. The first order of business must be to protect the President and the office of the Presidency from engaging in any business deals that appears to have or resemble any form of conflict of interest.  To prevent the President from getting involved in any form of business transaction, the office of the president must distance itself from any business deals. Approval and or negotiations must go through the right channel. The President of course has executive power to sign off or not on any deals. He must ask the right questions to every investor that comes through his desk. The idea of establishing a permanent secretary office at the Office of the President responsible for investments in the Gambia is a recipe for corruption and personal involvement of the Office of the President. Jammeh used the same pretext to personally oversee many ministries which fared far worse under his watch. It is therefore not prudent and ill counsel for a permanent Secretary office in charge of business to be established under the President’s office. Gambians are watching and will continue to sound the alarm bells and or call out the President and his government should they deviate from what was promised the Gambian people at the dawn of change!

For comments and rejoinder to this editorial please contact the editor(s) at Gainakoradio@gmail.com

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