Transparency International In Gambia Before July 1994 Coup

By Sarjo Bayang

Gambia Chapter of Transparency International (TI-Gambia) is one of the oldest on global account of the fight against corruption. But the branch fails to gain required growth and expansion due largely to lack of good atmosphere and the hostile political climate it encounters in Gambia’s military regime. Reaction to recent revelations about Gambia’s high corruption profile is overwhelming. Before the damning 22 July 1994, Transparency International Gambia Chapter was already established. Some of the high sounding claims of Transparency, Accountability, and Probity that the military regime impressed Gambians with were corrupted from Transparency International. When the military regime of Yaya Jammeh and his followers kept drumming the sound of Transparency and Accountability civil society in Gambia was largely moved. Members of Transparency International Gambia Chapter believed it was an opportunity to expand the organisation’s mission and value system with a government that declared an open war on corruption, at least by words.

The new military government headed by Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Revolution, Yaya Jammeh the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council – AFPRC was approached by Transparency International to seek working relations. Finance Minister, late Koro Ceesay was consulted for formal discussions on modalities of weaving Transparency and Accountability into the body of governance for a transparent Gambia. The meeting never happen. The young civilian (in a military regime) Finance Minister was later found dead with his charred remains in a government vehicle he drove just after seeing off military ruler Yaya Jammeh on one of his overseas travels.

After Koro’s mysterious death, no other state minister or senior member of the military government ever showed interest to work with Transparency International. It was end of a working relation that never started. The military regime began exposing what was seen as secrets kept by the former government. News about crude oil from Nigeria was first exploded by State House Banjul. The news from Radio Gambia was so sensational. It was the beginning of a campaign to defame a democratically elected government toppled by a military seeking acceptance and recognition. So much noise was created. Government ministers and senior members of the deposed regime faced severe humiliation in the face of close family and friends.

Exposing what was seen as secrets of the former regime’s financial and economic dealings was a fascinating experience. From that time until today, there is still no information publicly tendered to rest of society from the Jammeh government to show their commitment to the lofty ideals of transparency. It was eventually revealed that the Jammeh regime already ventured into schemes to divert more public funds than what the deposed democratic government of Jawara ever done. Over Radio Gambia came the breaking news announcing that spokesman of the nascent military regime Captain Ebou Jallow absconded with an unbelievable 3 million dollars. Until today, neither Ebou Jallow nor the money in question ever avails to Gambians. It was later when other new news emerged that the military leader Yaya Jammeh and all his cabinet members have opened various overseas accounts. There is no true detail of the numerous financial and material dealings that both the government, individual ministers, and public servants are involved in.

Transparency International Gambia Chapter since its inception strives to sensitise civil society in mobilising vital information for best public interest. It is disappointing that Gambians take so much for granted. Many people already knew a chapter of Transparency International existed in Gambia before the military adventure that seized power by force of arms in July 1994. Not many in Gambia bother about being part of organisations where they expect little or no direct personal benefit. It is easier to mobilise Gambians in organisations they expect to benefit soon. Just because Transparency International is not one of those donor agencies where international financial capital is readily exchanged in loose hands, only few committed individuals will render time and efforts to keep such organisations going. Compared to economically induced organisations, only fewer persons in Gambia care about or would ever answer to calls from voluntary civil society groups like Transparency International Gambia Chapter. Gambians are generally sensational about information from external sources when they could have come to together to generate much needed public information internally.

Despite the lack of numbers, Transparency International Gambia Chapter continues operating since 1994 with the few committed members, private media and a dynamic executive. The Point Newspaper was home to Transparency International Gambia Chapter. The Chapter’s founding member and first Chairman seasoned journalist Mr Jay Saidy (blessed memory) was at the time editor for The Point at Clarkson Street in Banjul. Late Deyda Hydara (slain journalist December 2004) and Pap Saine the paper’s current Managing Director have played instrumental roles in promotion of the local chapter through press slots. Other prominent Gambians made generous contributions to the local chapter. Dr. Lenrie Peters was the first to provide solid cash donation to the chapter. Mr Saidy volunteered his time and talent to keep the local chapter up and going till his untimely death. Even illness did not stop him being active about getting the local chapter going. He was nominated along with this author for a conference of regional chapters held in Nyanga Zimbabwe. The Nyanga Declaration was a resolve to recover all stolen monies by Africa’s corrupt regimes since independence. Mr Saidy also attended several other conferences in Ghana and elsewhere. He visited the head office of Transparent International (TI-Secretariat) in Berlin Germany. The mention of these events is to let rest of Gambian society know that good efforts have been committed to cultivating a civil society organisation for transparency, accountability, and good governance in our dear country. Unfortunately, few care about this. It is only when the global body raise the issue that Gambians think of reacting. This is part of a reactionary gesture. A better way of ensuring sanity in both politics and better economic management in Gambia is through a mass motivated civil society proactive establishment. Transparency International is not a donor organisation. It is a civil society organisation of like minds. During the 2001 elections Transparency International Gambia was visibly represented as part of the observer team. Mr Ba Trawally, retired journalist who headed the team became Chairman following the death of Mr Jay Saidy. Actively supporting the operations as Secretary General, Mr Salmina Jobe did so much on the course of promoting TI work. He wrote numerous articles and attended many conferences. Along with other members, this author and Mr Ba Trawally, Salmina were part of the observer team during the 2001 presidential elections. When TI Berlin sent an official for the Africa Region to Gambia, the local chapter in 2002 visited government officials including close aide of president Jammeh, Mr Baba Jobe, now serving a prison sentence for economic crimes. From records legal practitioner Musa Gassama, Agric Engineer Modou Mamburay, and Dr. Adama Mboge were also founding members back in 1993.

Here lies a challenge to all Gambians. Rather than a sensational reaction to what Transparency International (TI-Berlin) recently published, you are able to throw your collect weight behind the local chapter and keep a proactive civil society establishment. That way you are all actively responsible for what goes right or wrong. There is no excuse to say you have not been invited. A vibrant civil society organisation in Gambia holds sufficient strength on the moral high ground to direct how our resources are managed. A small number of political representatives are far less powerful in the face a progressive, clearly aware, and positively charged civil society establishment. Fortunate, Transparency International (TI) holds a bank of useful tools and information to get any local civil society course advance. The rest is your willing and commitment. You can do it when you want it. For more help, visit TI website, www.transparency.org

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