By Edrissa Jallow, @EdrissaJallow10.
The United Democratic Party (UDP) Campaign Manager, Momodou Sabally, has labelled President Adama Barrow’s Commission of Inquiry into Local Governments and Councils a major abuse of state resources, with the 2023 Local Government Elections around the corner.
The firebrand Politician of arguably The Gambia’s biggest opposition party who was recently arrested and eventually released without charge, did not hold back in his condemnation of the newly announced Commission of Inquiry. Mr Sabally declared his unreserved resentment at a stakeholder dialogue organised by pro-fiscal transparency organisation Gambia Participates, focusing on “sanctioning the abuse of state resources”.
In November 2022 the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) informed the media that nominations are set to start in March 2023 with elections set to conclude on 20th May 2023. However, just last week State House published a legal notice dated Friday 10th February 2023 announcing the formation of a Commission of Inquiry “into the conduct of all Local Government Councils,” against “the loans acquired for and on behalf of a Local Government Council between the period [of] May 2018 to January 2023”.
The legal notice revealed that the Commission “shall complete its inquiry within a period of three months of its first sitting but may continue beyond such period if in its opinion it is necessary to do so”. This means that if the Commission starts in February 2023 it could certainly run concurrently with the Elections set to conclude in May 2023.
Looking back at the 2018 Local Government Elections (LGE) results shows that the UDP dominated the Mayoral and Chairmanship positions of all eight Councils. At that stage, the UDP was fully backed by President Barrow, however, all this changed after President Barrow’s public disagreements with the UDP Leader and then Vice President Ousainou Darboe.
Eventually, President Barrow broke away from the UDP and formed his own political party the National People’s Party (NPP). After the split and the passing of an Independent Bill for Councillors, the Brikama Area Council Chairperson, Sheriffo Sonko cross carpeted to President Adama Barrow’s NPP. So far all seven Councils are currently under the leadership of UDP.
Reacting to the newly announced Commission of Inquiry, Mr Sabally called the move “the most relevant current abuse of state resources regarding elections is the proposed commission of inquiry on these local councils”. In his view, the Inquiry “is politically motivated and this [commission of inquiry] is the most grotesque abuse of state resources regarding elections”.
Mr Sabally who served as the Secretary-General and Head of the Civil Service from 2013 to 2014 during former President Yahya Jammeh’s regime labelled President Barrow’s inquiry into the conduct of councils a “witch-hunt”.
“Using your…party [NPP] militants appointing them as Commission members, using state resources to finance them to go on a witch-hunt against sitting local government representatives just because they’re in the position of councils. This is the biggest abuse of state resources,” lamented the UDP Campaign Manager.
It must be recalled that Mr Sabally was also the subject of the Janneh Commission which investigated the misuse of state funds during the regime of former President Yahya Jammeh. According to the Janneh Commission Report, the former Secretary General Mr Sabally was found wanting for misappropriating public funds during his term as the Director of Budget at the Ministry of Finance from 2010 to 2013.
According to the Janneh Commission, Mr Sabally was “involved in the withdrawal of large sums of public funds, some of which were not accounted for, on the instructions of former President Jammeh”. Meanwhile, “the Commission found that Mr Momodou Sabally and former President Jammeh are jointly and severally liable for the said amounts of money misappropriated by former President Jammeh”.
The Secretary’s General and party leader of the UDP, Lawyer Ousainou Darboe has also warned president Barrow to not interfere in the upcoming local government elections, according to reports by the Standard Newspaper published on 13th February 2023.
“You [President Barrow] think you can come through the backdoor and try to really interfere with the local government administration. It is not going to happen here and if you and your people think that you can get interim orders from a nonsensical Commission to stop our Mayors and Chairmen from performing their duties then you are calling for trouble,” said the UDP Party Leader Ousianou Darboe during the celebrations marking the re-election of UDP Kombo South Lawmaker, Hon Kebba K Barrow.
This is not the first attempt at forming a Commission of Inquiry to look into the activities of a Council. In January 2022 the former Minister of Lands, Musa Drammeh attempted to form a Commission of Inquiry into the activities of the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) led by UDP Mayor Talib Ahmed Bensouda. Many critics labelled the move as “ill-intentioned” and “not genuine at all”. The Commission failed to proceed and many will be holding their breath to see if this Commission with a much larger scope will proceed.