By Saul Saidykhan
Currently, there is much clamor for an anti-corruption outfit in the Gambia. President Barrow said a bill is being drafted for legislation. I wish I have some optimism in the wisdom of establishing such an agency. I don’t! I know this isn’t a popular thing to say at this point. Nor will my advice be heeded. As a realist, I know this advice will be ignored like many prior ones because it runs against the grain. Familiar territory for me. So, this is for the record and history. Thankfully, in ten years, even a clever 5th Grader will be able to decipher what I’m warning about now. Gambians will not be getting our money’s worth from an Anti-corruption Commission!
Most of the least corrupt countries in the world have no special anti-corruption agencies. In fact, I can’t think of any Western country that has one. What they ALL have are strong INDEPENDENT law enforcement agencies that work in tandem with each other where necessary but are always on guard against each other’s influence. Police agencies have a line they can’t cross, as does the judiciary. None wants to be compromised -as it should be.
Here in the US, we have the FBI at the federal level that works with the Justice Department and State Police Departments around the country. They do not only go after sundry career criminals, they also purposely home in on crooked judges within the judicial system, and within their own ranks. The reason is simple: if the people who are supposed to police or judge crooks are themselves crooked, the battle against corruption or malfeasance is dead on arrival. Police and judicial corruption are the norm in the world’s most corrupt countries: Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, etc. Anti-corruption agencies haven’t done a thing in stopping the scourge in these countries! And if I know my country like I think I do, we’ll do no better than any of these corrupt countries with an anti-corruption agency.
Who can say with a straight face that the Gambia has enough competent policing agencies and honest judges who inspire confidence in anyone that they’ll follow evidence wherever it leads them be that No. 1 Marina Parade in Banjul, Parliament, or Kanikunda in Jarra? This is the first point.
The second point, and the genesis of my argument is, there is no way to completely eliminate corruption anywhere, but with technology, ethical leadership, and foresight, it’s not hard to close most of the loopholes that allow corruption to flourish. My recommendation to government therefore is to spend its meagre resources on PREVENTATIVE measures rather than wasting money by establishing an anti-corruption commission. We now know from the Faraba Commission that Commissioners are very well paid – D75,000 a MONTH! For perspective, 95% of Gambian public workers make less than D40,000 annually.
Therefore, the benefits of preventing corruption are numerous and obvious:
Funds will be available for their intended purposes as and when needed.
Unnecessary deaths will be prevented by providing adequate healthcare
Schools will be equipped to provide quality education, and sundry vocational training.
Social services will be provided to the needy and vulnerable.
Social discord that is ALWAYS created by prosecuting “alleged” corrupt public officials or business people is avoided. (Every Gambian swears the only corrupt ones are those they don’t know, – not their friends, relatives or tribesmen!) Mention those and trouble begins.
Public money could be used for development purposes (infrastructure, amenities, agriculture, transportation, and security), not for prosecution or administration.
On the contrary, trying to recover public money after it’s stolen is at best a lost cause. Why? Because no matter how ‘successful’ the prosecution is, the public ALWAYS loses. In other words, once a person or group of people steal from the public till, there is no way of recovering 100% of what they’ve stolen through a commission. Only those unschooled in Accounting or Economics think otherwise. So when I hear people make such demands, I feel sorry for them. The ‘water is spilt’ like they say!
Let me explain with a realistic scenario:
For years, Kebba Sungba has been colluding with Musu Tilinbal, and Dingkay Kurung at a public revenue-generating agency to defraud Gambians. The combined annual salary of the three is D400K but the known tangible assets of the three are valued at D20M cumulatively. The assets are easily verifiable because all three flaunt their ‘wealth’. (Keep in mind that much of the looting of public funds in Gambia isn’t done through some sophisticated international wire transfers that intentionally bounce the funds between dummy accounts of dummy companies in multiple countries and continents before finally depositing the loot in some offshore tax haven.) Instead, Gambian corruption is largely crude, and plain. It happens because of impunity.