Alternatives to an Anti-corruption Commission

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By Saul Saidykhan

To curtail corruption in The Gambia, we must first query why the menace is so pervasive. The answer is multiple:

  1. Opportunities to steal from the public till (or corruption) are rampant.

  2. We’ve lost our national Moral Compass. Gambians steal public property without any scruples. Worse, Gambian society generally celebrates wealth without caring about how that wealth is acquired. Known crooks who should be shunned are treated as celebrities. Gambians are now openly indifferent to moral turpitude.
  3. There is no real punishment for engaging in corrupt self-enrichment.

So, what can we do to minimize the menace besides setting up a costly permanent Anti-corruption Commission that has LITTLE chance of succeeding?

First, reduce the opportunities for corruption. We should move The Gambia away from a cash-based economy. With less than 150K public employees, ALL public servants – civil or security, should be paid monthly salaries by CHEQUE -not cash. Each public servant should have a UNIQUE ID number that ties to their National ID number.

Also every business enterprise (Small or Medium) should be issued a UNIQUE computer-generated ID number that ties to the owner(s’) ID number(s.) Each Region of the country should have at least one location where citizens can go to set up and Register any business they want. Regulators or the Auditor General’s Office should be able to tell by a few clicks of a computer mouse how many businesses -by class, there are in any Region or part of the country at any time. This will close a fraud loophole in terms of tax revenue that should accrue to government.

Second, activate a single (Consolidated) Treasury Account at the Central Bank of The Gambia into which ALL revenue owed government or grants will be paid directly. This Compound/Main Account can have sub-accounts by Ministry, Department, or Agency (MD&A.)  As this has already been implemented at the Immigration Department, the same policy should be expanded to all other revenue-generating public agencies or enterprises.

This way, if my mom wants to pay her utility bills, she will take the bills and payment to a bank in Jarra Soma and pay. The bank will credit government through the NAWEC sub-account directly. If she pays for her annual property tax, the bank will credit government through the Ministry of Local government sub-account. Etc. My old lady will be given receipts as proof of her payments by the bank. If my brother imports goods through the ports, he’ll take his Bill of Lading -BOL and assessed bill from the GPA to a bank. The bank will scan the shipping document into the system, collect payment, and credit government through the GPA sub-account for amount received.

Having non-government entities scan Bill of Ladings -BOL into the Backup data system will automatically cut down the level of fraud that is currently rampant in the GPA/GRA revenue collection system significantly. Why? Because such policy will service as a ‘Check’ against defrauding the Gambian state: the norm now is a business person imports US$100K worth of goods into The Gambia to sell. The official tariff says he/she should pay government 8% tax ($ 8,000USD or D370,000.) However, because he bribes the Customs officers D50,000, they only bill him D100,000! Gambians are cheated of D270,000. This is the reality in The Gambia today.

Implementing the suggested system change will easily expose the fraud because even a novice Auditor or Regulator will be able to spot the anomaly/fraud by reviewing the value of goods imported per BOL and the fees charged by GPA/GRA! Another fraud loophole will be closed.

Shutting public officials out of handling physical cash will significantly reduce the chance of the hanky-panky currently endemic in the system.

Third, appoint Commercial Banks and other financial services operators as COLLECTION AGENTS that can keep 2% max of what they collect for government as fee. All funds collected should be transmitted to the CBG Quarterly or monthly.

Fourth, force ALL banks to require customers to provide the UNIQUE ID on their National ID Card in order to open a bank account! No matter the number of banks a customer patronizes, the ID number should be the same.

Fifth, set up a Specialized Unit composed of professional Accountants/Auditors, lawyers, police, Intelligence agents, and a Supervising Judge with subpoena power to monitor ALL public revenues and expenditures. This Unit should report directly to Parliament Quarterly.

The Unit should also be empowered to monitor ALL bank accounts -especially those of public officials- elected or appointed and their immediate associates, on an ongoing basis regarding inflow and outflow activity of the accounts. A threshold should be set that would auto-trigger the Unit’s review of the account. (In the US’s 15 Trillion-dollar economy, withdrawing $10,000 cash from one’s account at a go or within a short period, automatically invites review or investigation by the FBI.) In The Gambia, public officials throwing tens of thousands of Dalasi at entertainers openly is still in vogue.

Sixth, enforce strict Segregation of Duties and Responsibilities in the Public Expenditure arena. No public official should be allowed to have the authority to request an expenditure and be the Approver of that expenditure simultaneously. If a Perm Sec at a line Ministry requests salary payment for new hires at his/her Dept, the PMO Office or the Public Service Commission should sign off on/validate this request before the Accountant General commences salary payment for the new employees. Both the Perm Sec and the Accountant General should sign-off on all salary payments monthly. Equally, if a Perm Sec requests Purchases of materials for a Ministry (Requisitions,) a Due Process Office or Dept of Public Procurement unit under a different management should vet the request, and review at least 3 bids, before signing off on the request for transmission to the Accountant General’s office for payment. Ditto for projects and programs.

Implementing such a system in my view will serve us better than an anti-corruption body. It is less costly, enduring, and in tune with the times. More importantly, the economic benefits will be revolutionary.

Governments switching to a Consolidated Revenue/Treasury account is now gaining traction globally for very good reasons:

1. It enhances cash management. The Consolidated Revenue/Treasury account allows regular and easy monitoring of the cash balances of the government. It enables quick analysis of public cash out-turn.

2. It enables live banking for MD&As. Government Departments, Ministries, and Agencies will not have to deal with cash anymore. Instead, they will use the accounts at the Central Bank of The Gambia.

3. The information on government cash resources is complete. With current technology, updates on balances can be available almost daily – even in real time. This enables the control of public payments and makes sure that everything is exactly as it’s supposed to be.

4. It enables full control of all funds of the government. Public money is safe and under full control in one location. It will always be monitored and saved in the Central Bank of The Gambia. All transactions will be noticed instantaneously.

5. Public money will be more secured. With commercial banks, there is a possibility of bankruptcy. Because all funds are kept in a single a Consolidated account in the CBG, the risk of bankruptcy is near zero.

6. Bank fees and transaction costs will be lower. Because the government is now using a single Consolidated account in one bank – CBG, the administrative expenses will be less. There is no need to maintain several accounts, so there is no additional payment besides Collection fees paid to Agents.

7. Accounting and auditing of transactions. All government transactions will be under control. Every payment is accounted for and audited. The single Consolidated account enables the ability to know right away information about any payment: what the payments are for, when they were paid, by whom, tax status, who approved the payments, etc.

8. There will be better control during the budget execution. The Consolidated Revenue/Treasury account helps to plan and implement the budget implementation. Because there is full information about the resources, it is easier to plan in a transparent manner. The will be no problems with the uncertainty regarding funds for the budget.

9. Enabling of on-time contracts. Because an e-payment system is a feature of the Consolidated Revenue/Treasury account, contractors of Government and suppliers will get paid faster (without intermediaries). This helps reduce corruption.

10 Overall, payments from government will become much easier to make.

Like I stated earlier, this advice is merely for the record. A political decision has already been made to quench the popular demand for an anti-corruption commission THAT I KNOW will NOT be worth the cost. The ONLY winners will be defense lawyers, Commission employees, and crooks. For starters, I doubt that we have 12 educated living Gambians who are honest enough to conduct an anti-corruption fight impartially. So, welcome to another drain pipe of our meagre public funds. Doubters can revisit this again in a few years and do a reality check. But who’s listening?

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