12 years after the adoption of the Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, corruption is finally securing a prominent place on Africa’s Agenda. And at the recently concluded AU meeting in Mauritania, President Barrow passionately spoke against corruption, its debilitating effects on the progress and development of a country and the all-out war he is prepared to wage against this cankerworm, Enemy Number One of the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged.
On the President’s words we can and should hold him to account, how and when he fights corruption, what he achieves and the legacy that lives long after he is gone from the political scene. The Gambia cannot afford to sit idly by and watch corruption eat at the vital parts of government and dole out poor quality, unresponsive and inadequate social and other services that the poor are supposed to have. Good intentions do not necessarily implement themselves. Thus, the time has come for the Government to move from rhetoric to action and to walk the talk, especially since we only make the road by walking.
The first sign that a Government is readily poised to fight corruption is determined by the kind of leadership it has, how exemplary, transparent, accountable and incorruptible it is. Everything rises and falls with leadership. So the success of any fight against corruption will lie on our leadership. The Law of the Lid indicates that the effectiveness of any institution or action is always proportionate to the effectiveness of the leader.
Asset declaration by public servants, including the President, members of the Cabinet and the National Assembly, is a way of fighting corruption. As President, you have declared your assets to the Office of the Ombudsman in line with Section 223. And that is what the law says, ‘declaration of all property, assets and liabilities’ to the Office of the Ombudsman.
Nowhere does the law say that the Office of the Ombudsman should make your assets and liabilities public or subject them to public scrutiny. And it is the habit in some countries that the offices which receive such declaration do not make them public or subject the list to public scrutiny. But if President Barrow truly wants to be above board, if we are truly in for exemplary leadership, he should ask the Office of the Ombudsman or IEC to make his assets, property and liabilities public and subject to public scrutiny. It is the people who know Barrow, his business associates and partners and those who have dealt with in in private and official capacities or are privy to his dealings, who can truly verify the authenticity of his declarations.
If the declaration is kept private, how can we truly know? If the public speculates or is made to speculate because natters are opaque, that is bad for credibility. Suspicion is the better tool of corruption; corruption festers in the shadow of suspicion.
Before a leader can ask his or her followers to run through fire, he or she must run through it first. Leadership is integrity, credibility, congruence, trust, character. Underpinning these principles and values in governance are transparency and accountability, the two worst enemies of corruption.
If these values and tenets are not be mere buzzwords but ethical standards by which the Barrow Government stands on, then I expect more from the President. I expect that sooner and not later that he would tell the nation who donated to him the 57 vehicles he in turn donated to the National Assembly.
I expect him to tell the nation the ‘friends’ who financed the mansion he built in his home village. If the maxim ‘sunshine is the best disinfectant’ is to hold true for us as a people and country, then the President should reveal these sources to the public. It has everything to do with public confidence and trust and the fight against corruption.
Corruption festers because there is also degeneration, and eventually decadence, of individual morality, integrity, values and principles. Where there is a corrupter, there is the corrupted; both of who refuses to abide by rules which are generally regarded as honest, just and legal. Thus, since corruption is also an individual vice which opens the way to collective decadence, the fight against corruption must also begin at the individual level. This would be important especially if we regard corruption not only and merely the exchanging of money for a favour or a service.
Let each Gambian take a look a himself or herself in the mirror. Do we like what we see? Are we what we portray to the outside? After getting that benefit of corruption, through fraud, money laundering, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, clientelism, influence peddling, patronage, embezzlement, speed money, abuse of public property, name dropping, do we get conscience stricken? What values do we swear by and to what level do we uphold?
We cannot succeed in our fight against corruption at the individual level, until we are able to address integrity in the society as a whole. We have to enhance integrity and build an ethical society. It would begin with all of us upholding certain core values and insisting each plays by the rules of probity, honesty, integrity.
It would be begin with each individual refusing to pay a bribe or corruption an officer to get a service. It would begin with each of us obeying rules and regulations. It would begin with each of us refusing to be a bystander when he or she sees corruption being played out in his or her presence or comes to his or her knowledge.
Since corruption is principally a failure of governance, and President may care very much about his legacy, in his fight against corruption he should insist on financial discipline, transparency and accountability, and integrity and probity from public officials.
In addition to establishing an Anti-Corruption Commission backed by laws, policies and regulations which are impartially enforced and implemented, the following are should be considered: having a whistleblowing policy to fight corruption and abuse of office; salary increment for the civil service in near equal measure to that of the private sector; enactment of a Freedom of Information Act; strengthening the system of checks and balances; fighting cronyism, clientalism, nepotism, and patronage; and investigating and prosecuting corruption practices.
If anyone is to actively engage in the fight against corruption, it should be WE THE PEOPLE. Corruption affects the poor more than any group- it takes away vital services and dole them out poor health, poor education, life of misery and poverty and poor services. It affects the people since corruption undermines good governance- corruption encourages human rights violations, undermines development and fosters conflict at community and national levels.
The battle against corruption is an existential struggle. We lose it at the detriment of our development. We must not leave this fight in the hands of politicians only. Corruption festers because politicians also are complicit in its ‘survival and growth’.