Dr. Omar Janneh (PhD)

Mr. Abubacarr M. Tambadou, Gambia’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice Improperly Applied for and Obtained Five Diplomatic Passports for Family Members.

The application to obtain diplomatic passports by Mr. Abubacarr M. Tambadou, the Gambia’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice for 5 members of his family (mother, step-mother, 2 sisters and wife) is an excessive and deliberate abuse of ministerial privileges. It also seems to indicate that he either does not understand his brief, forgot about the oath of office he took, or he calculatingly sought to exploit a badly broken diplomatic privilege he should have worked closely with colleagues to expeditiously solve.

It is now clear that President Barrow’s office is at the heart of this criminal activity as, on paper, it is his office that approves the applications for diplomatic passports. Having been caught with their pants down, President Barrow’s instruction to investigate a scandal involving his office may be a futile exercise.

A possible outcome is likely to be that any individual(s), e.g., Mr. Tambadou and those like him, including those in Barrow’s movement/fan club and his close allies who (i.e., the applicant/the authority) can claim, followed the advice of an authority in government may be off the hook. For me and others like me, the day cannot come soon enough when we will all realise that President Barrow and his team are uncomfortably incompetent, dangerously clueless, negligent, self-serving and have no moral spine, whatsoever, to lead the Gambia.

Therefore, Barrow’s government must soon make way for a responsible team that is able to restore decency, due diligence and dignity in running the country before it is too late.

Based on the much circulated and talked about response from Mr. Tambadou to Mr. Janneh, it is not clear under what considerations, the President can, exceptionally, grant diplomatic passports to family members of sitting cabinet ministers.

What seems clear now is that there are some (unconfirmed) reports that the government does not have any procedure in place on the issuance of diplomatic passports which could also be extended, at the President’s discretion, to sitting cabinet minister’s family members – and for mercy’s sake, to how many of the family members?

It seems that it is only now that a procedure is being drafted by some individual(s), e.g., some Presidential adviser(s) as well as cabinet minister(s). If it is true that they are only now developing a procedure for the issuance of diplomatic passports, what advice did Mr. Tambadou rely on?

Perhaps Mr. Tambadou will show some evidence– to the investigating team- he claimed to have acquired from the MOFA prior to putting in his application for the diplomatic passports. In the event that such a shameful diplomatic privilege was a carry-over from the Jammeh regime (-as the Minister at the time of Mr. Tambadou’s application is from the Jammeh regime), what is the Barrow administration waiting for to change it? One cannot help but also ask the following questions:

1) How many applications for diplomatic passports have been received by President Barrow’s office, approved, issued and to whom? 2) How many of the family members of the current Minister at the MOFA have diplomatic passports? 3) Could it be that the advice Mr. Tambadou is claiming to have received from the MOFA was designed to set Mr. Tambadou up with a view to getting him fired so that the Commissions he helped set up to investigate Jammeh’s financial activities and gross rights abuses become derailed? 4) Who leaked Mr. Tambadou’s application for diplomatic passports? And, 5) rather than exploit the privilege to benefit self- which is against the oath of office he took, should Mr. Tambadou not have been part of the medium that should have sought to bring about such a change?

Mr. Tambadou must know that he should not have followed the advice of the MOFA he claimed to have merely followed; he should have known better. It should be within Mr. Tambadou’s brief as well as part of his collective responsibility to address this matter as soon as he became aware of it. But instead of working to put rigorous measures to fix this issue, he participated and benefitted from it. Worse, his response to Mr Janneh seems to display an attempt to shout down Mr. Janneh or make us tacitly accept his version of events.

If Mr. Janneh asked for Mr. Tambadou’s resignation, I think he has the right to do so. Similarly, it is also Mr. Tambadou’s right to tell Mr. Janneh who he thinks Mr. Janneh should be allocating blame to. What is interesting about Mr. Tambadou’s response is that he seems to be pointing fingers at the MOFA and the President’s office and not to himself.

Mr. Tambadou must realise that such an insubstantial excuse shows him in bad light. For reasons known to him alone, he has been off his game again. The lousy excuse he is coming up with is like someone being caught with an illegal item (e.g. an illegal drug) at an airport and when the individual is caught s/he gives the excuse that someone (e.g., their President) asked them to carry it.

It is not rocket science to know whether such an excuse would fly. Anyhow, I wonder if the MOFA and the President realise that they are being blamed by someone who should know better.

It is not beyond Mr. Tambadou’s brief to advise the government on matters such as these. And, whatever the content of Mr. Janneh’s communication to Mr. Tambadou might have been, it seems obvious that Mr. Janneh was right to have reached out to Mr. Tambadou in regards to this issue since Mr. Tambadou participated in the shameful incident. Clearly, the application for 5 diplomatic passports for his family is unreasonably excessive.

And as it is now clear that Mr. Tambadou and his family do not even need the diplomatic passports to travel around the world, one wonders why he applied for them (5 diplomatic passports) in the first place. Thus did Mr. Tambadou exaggerate, and therefore mislead the President’s office about his family’s need for the diplomatic passports in his application? Rather than embark on a seemingly angry and arrogant excuses that he did nothing wrong and that Mr. Janneh should have blamed those entrusted with decisions to approve or disapprove his application, Mr. Tambadou should have apologised for his mistake and sought for the 5 diplomatic passports to be revoked.

Minister Tambadou

His desperate and worthless excuses show that he does not see anything wrong with what he has done. In my view, Mr. Tambadou’s application was approved because of the authority, i.e., the privileges he carries as Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

Let us be clear, Mr. Tambadou took an oath of office and as a result his involvement in this saga he evidently brought the office into disrepute by virtue of using it to gain favours for his family.

Whether he followed a procedure or not is insignificant; the fact is that he followed a procedure that stinks. Of course, it is justifiable for his wife to have it, but not the other 4. With respect, what diplomatic functions would/did any of the 4 beneficiaries of the diplomatic passports do for the Gambia?

In regards to Mr. Tambadou’s request that Mr. Janneh focuses his attention on the more serious unlawful sale of our passports, Mr. Tambadou must know that he is at liberty to tell people what he thinks they should focus on.

As a legally-minded individual, Mr. Tambadou must also know that people are, within reason, free to roam, i.e., to choose the issues they want to write/talk about. By virtue of Mr. Tambadou being supposedly advised that he could apply for something he should have known not to apply for, he could have (should it be that it was only then that such a rotten diplomatic privilege became known to him) been the medium for change to fix the issuance of diplomatic passports to underserved individuals. Is that not among the changes we would have liked to see in the new Gambia?

If Mr. Tambadou had taken the necessary stringent steps to address this issue, he could have potentially prevented or halted the unlawful sale, rampant and seemingly unchecked issuance of our diplomatic passports to many undeserved individuals, whose activities may be potentially damaging to the country.

To describe Mr. Tambadou’s apparent failure to ensure that rigorous procedures and oversight are put in place to control the issuance of diplomatic passports coupled with his deliberate exploitation of the diplomatic privilege as grossly negligent and reckless indifference would be an understatement. He failed to take proper care to do what is right and for that he should at the very least apologise. He may argue that he did nothing illegal, but there should be no doubt that he abused his office to get the 5 diplomatic passports for his family members which is wrong. And yes, the application should not have been approved by any authority.

His calculated attempts to shift the blame to the authority that approved his application does not and should not let him off the hook. He should know that his application for diplomatic passports for 5 members of his family was approved because of his position. So he clearly abused his office to get what he applied for, which cannot be legal- in any functional state. And by calling anyone’s right to voice their concerns about the matter petty and low seems to show Mr. Tambadou’s gross lack of understanding, and a deliberate indifference to the issue.

It is a known fact that diplomatic passports issued to some unscrupulous individuals can lead to the misappropriation of state funds. Mr. Tambadou’s mishandling of the issue, evident in his angry response to Mr. Janneh shows how intoxicating power can be; the public is now aware of the arrogant tendencies of the man.

We all know that many have in the past been very critical of the Jammeh regime and such criticisms and many other efforts, in public and in private– with many known life-changing and fatal consequences, led to the ousting of Jammeh. Now that many critics of the former regime are in power, albeit with Jammeh enablers, it seems that some of these former critics are (arrogantly) dismissive of criticisms levelled against them.

They absolutely hate scrutiny; they have forgotten that it is our collective criticisms that put them where they are with the hope that they would be the medium for meaningful change. However, they have catastrophically failed to live up to our expectations.

They see critics as individuals carrying some bitter hatred against them. It is important to remind those that serve us that they must learn to accept criticisms.

It is the duty of the critics to hold the authority’s feet to the fire and so the critics shall carry on criticising because the critics see a glass that is half full– that is, the authorities are doing less than their best.

It shall always be wrong for the authorities to try to silence their critics simply because they find the views of opponents uncomfortable or that such opinions are at odds with their own. We must all know that any overreach that silences critics will destroy the democracy we fiercely fought for and which many paid the ultimate price for. We shall do everything to nurture that democracy.

In the meantime, let us be on the lookout for the start date, names and standing of the investigators of the diplomatic passport saga and also its outcome. If the Barrow administration fails to tighten the issuance of diplomatic passports, it may promote criminal activity such as drug trafficking, smuggling of weapons, and money laundering, and corruption.

Time will tell if President Barrow is serious about addressing this issue or if the press release is yet another empty talk.