When it comes to corruption in Africa—especially in today’s modern Gambia and the previous regimes—the interest of the political class is always aligned with the primitive mentality of “it’s our time to eat,” with politicians and senior government officials either collectively or individually stealing from the State or cutting business and political deals with one another. There is a huge disconnect somewhere in there, because we cannot fight corruption with zeal if we are morally conflicted. Or maybe all Gambians should have a second look at the palms of our hands. Are they clean?
President Adama Barrow has been in power for almost two years, and his net worth in terms of material wealth has more than doubled since he became the President of the Gambia. His flamboyant peacocking reveals his vanity, and his conspicuous investment in real estate and philanthropism is the most visible, impressive manifestation of the status of President Barrow’s wealth—and also a taste of his manliness. During the nominations, before he was elected President, Adama Barrow declared his assets and liabilities before the Independent Electoral Commission headquarters, but he has since not made public how many assets and liabilities he is worth before his election. Last year, President Barrow issued an extraordinary Executive Order requiring all cabinet ministers to declare their assets and liabilities, but no single Gambian has access to the assets and liabilities declaration information of any cabinet minister—including President Barrow—which is believed to be sealed secretly at the office of the Ombudsman. It has been almost two years since President Barrow and his cabinet ministers’ declared assets and liabilities have been unknown to the Gambian electorates. How can this have been allowed to happen? How can the electorates not know about President Barrow’s earned or unearned income?
Do the mathematics. For example, the emoluments and remunerations of all those who work for the government are no longer a secret. We all know what each one of them earns per month. The salary of President Barrow has been disclosed. According to a popular local channel, The Fatu Network, President Barrow earns over 2 million dalasi annually ($46,000). The portal quoted a source at the Personnel Management Office. The amount translates to some 170,000 dalasi per month, which is about $3,800 per month. The Vice President earns about a quarter of the president’s salary—562,116 Dalasi per annum ($12,500)—while Cabinet Ministers earned 351, 996 Dalasi per annum ($7,800).
The finance minister, in his annual Budget Speech before the National Assembly, succeeded in passing a special annual budget for the office of the President, amounting to 20 million dalasis ($ 424,088.20 US dollars) allocated for President Barrow’s personal use for donations, almsgiving, aid, welfare, financial relief, and spending as he wishes, without being audited. It has been argued that the President’s special budget far exceeds that of some government line department ministries.
With tyranny of numbers in favor of President Barrow, the National Assembly passed a special budget for the First Lady’s office as well, with a substantial amount of 360,000 dalasis ($ 7,633.59 US dollars) allocated for her extraordinary events, almsgivings, personal use, and for her foundation, which is believed to be unconstitutional and not in line with the 1997 constitution.
However, the assets and liabilities that they own are far worth far more than what they earn as salaries and travel allowances. Equally, President Barrow’s remuneration as President of the Republic is not published in an official gazette, according to the law the President’s total emoluments should be public or publish in an official gazette for public knowledge. So, anything over and above his income needs to be explained. If the extra income is a gift from friends, we should know who those friends are, and where they were before he became President. Let him explain why they are giving him money now, which they never used to give him before he became President.
President Barrow was a real estate petty businessman, and there is no evidence that he inherited wealth from his family. How much was his net income worth before he became president of the Gambia on January 19, 2017, when it became a “kitchen table” conversation amongst electorates in terms of how much wealth that President Barrow and his government officials have amassed since coming into power.
President Barrow did not inherit any wealth. He was not well-known as a wealthy Gambian. He was just an ordinary small business owner, and he could not fund his election campaign. Thanks to the diaspora Gambians and coalition party partners, he could not go to perform Hajj in Mecca. He performed Hajj when he became President, but he could not build his family house in his native home of Mankamang Kunda until he became President and built a multi-million-dalasi mansion in his home village, with clean running water and uninterrupted electricity supply. He was never known as a philanthropist or a Samaritan in Gambia before, but when he became president, he donated 57 brand-new vehicles to National Assembly members, worth millions of dollars, and he donated two brand-new vehicles to the Gambia Radio and Television Services. And again, he pledged to donate 10 percent from his monthly salary towards the Gambia National Development Programs. But he has no history of being a Samaritan until he became President of Gambia. President Barrow needs to explain this gigantic increase in his net worth over a period of just two years. If it all comes from earned income—which can easily be explained—then that is fine. But if the source of his increased wealth is unearned income, he has a lot of explaining to do. This is because unearned income is a prima facie case of corruption.
The truth is that it will be very difficult—if not impossible—for President Barrow to fight corruption in any meaningful way, because his entire politics are premised on self-enrichment. If one was to inspect the books today and see who won tender or contracts for the supply of this or that good or service to the government and other quasi-governmental organizations or parastatals, the pattern that will emerge is of people who are connected to one another. It is not a secret that government tender or contracts are given to people with connections to President Barrow, the ruling Tactical Alliance, and its government. It’s very rare that a known political opponent of those in government is given a tender or a contract in order to supply the government with any good or service. If that happens, that person is not really a genuine opposition member, but rather a mole or an agent of those in power.
Today, there are very few people in the Tactical Alliance government—or those connected to them—who are not living on money earned from doing business with the government. The money that is circulating among senior government officials and supporters of the Tactical Alliance has only one source: the government. Even what appears to be coming from some foreign investors as donations to the leader and his government is also from a government source. It is the people who are doing business with the government who are making donations to the President and the ruling Tactical Alliance government. In truth, these are not even donations; they are actually just kickbacks from corrupt government tender or contracts. And the worst corruption has been around official travels, energy, and infrastructure development. Here, construction contracts are given even to people who don’t own a shovel or a wheelbarrow. They don’t need to have construction equipment because they simply discount the contracts; that is, they sell the contracts to those with the capacity to make good on them. In the process, they make a lot of money without having done anything other than winning the tender or contract. So we have an enormous number of people who are either directly or indirectly parasitic on the state for survival. These are the people who keep the ruling Tactical Alliance in power, because if it loses power, these people lose their source of livelihood and wealth.
Support for the Tactical Alliance government is not about its ideals; rather, it’s about the available benefits to an individual. There are people who know that things are wrong, but they are not able to speak out for fear of losing contracts and having their businesses suffer. Belonging to the Tactical Alliance government is not much more of a political decision than a business one. It is because of one’s source of livelihood, not of service to one’s country and people.
When will President Barrow ever embark on a fight against corruption? His reticence is likely because he thinks Gambians are only interested in the corruption of his predecessor, President Yahya Jammeh, and his government officials, following the much-publicized Janneh Commission of Inquiry into the Assets, Liabilities, and Properties of the former president Jammeh.
President Adama Barrow has mere illusions about what his government can do, because he doesn’t fully understand what it is anchored upon: corruption. Without corruption, the Tactical Alliance government falls, and the government disintegrates. It is corruption that binds it all together. When that goes, they will all go their separate ways.
The only corruption that President Barrow can fight is that which is trumped up against his political opponents in order to fix them, humiliate them, and destroy them. But is this the corruption that actually threatens our country today? The answer is no. The corruption that is threatening our country is that which is coming from President Barrow’s government and the Tactical Alliance government. But as we have seen with the issue of violence, Adama Barrow never fights the wrongs or abuses of his own members. When Adama talks about violence, he’s actually only talking about the violence that is committed by his political opponents. Equally, when you hear Adama talk about corruption, you know that it is not the corruption of members of his league but rather that which he thinks should be put around the necks of his political opponents and that of his predecessor.