Corona pandemic and endemic corruption
By Basidia M Drammeh:
The Government’s Covid-19 Food Relief has laid bare the magnitude of corruption plaguing the Gambia, with media reports emerging that several arrests were recently made involving military men and civilians who have allegedly stolen foodstuffs meant for distribution to the society’s most underprivileged.
As part of a slew of measures it has taken in response to Covid-19, The government has commendably spent over 700 million dalasis to buy essential foodstuffs, such as rice, sugar and cooking oil to benefit 84% of the population.
The Government has previously allocated 500 million dalasis to assist health officials with their fight against the global pandemic. However, shortly afterward, reports emerged that certain corrupt officials have attempted to plunder the funds. Addressing the Parliament, the Minister of Health Ahmad Lamin Samateh told deputies that the officials in question were reprimanded for their action.
The embattled Minister of Finance Mamburai Njie was mercilessly grilled by lawmakers last week for failure to follow due process in re-channelling funds, with the legislators insisting that the Minister has no powers to re-allocate funds without referring to Parliament and that the action tantamounted to fraud and contempt of the legislative authority.
With the public pressure mounting on the Government to break down the expenditure of Covid-19 funds, the Ministry of Finance released the first COVID-19 Emergency Health Fund report, containing details of the total expenditures so far. The long-awaited report has sent shock waves across the nation. While an amount of 12 million dalasi was spent on brand new vehicles, 5 million on allowances, a mere amount of D352,000 was spent on medical and health equipment!
When the people of the Gambia voted for change in 2016, they were eager to see a system change that involves, among others, setting up structures to fight against corruption. In this context, the Government promised to set up an anti-corruption watchdog. However, it appears that the issue does not fall within the priorities of the Government.
One of the poorest countries on earth, Gambia has repeatedly been ranked as one of the corrupt countries on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index The country has long suffered from endemic corruption, particularly during the previous regime as revealed during the proceedings of the famous Janneh Commission.
The Gambia has secured significant funds from its development partners to fight against the pandemic, so the relevant authorities are expected to spend the funds judiciously to achieve the desired goals.
If the Government is keen to avert another corruption-related commission, it has to institute take serious measures to combat corruption, in all forms without fear or favour.