Mining data is as difficult in the Gambia as mining gold in a war field. Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and the benchmark of all freedoms to which the United Nations is sanctified. One of the main reasons why Gambians supported the coalition was due to the agonizing political environment they found themselves in and the lack of freedom of speech as a result of an autocratic government.
“Gambia Participates” over the past 20 months has been embarking on their “Follow The Money” initiative thus serving as a watchdog organization on government spending. The initiative amasses public data to ensure projects meant for rural communities in the areas of agriculture, basic education, health and access to portable drinking water are clearly sighted. Much to our surprise, Gambia is still known for incarcerating information.
Since 2017, out of the many public inquiry letters sent to Ministries, only one institution was able to provide “Gambia Participates” a detailed breakdown of how they used project grants meant for a particular rural community. When governments restrict information, they are creating an atmosphere where corruption breathes thus limiting accountability.
In order to frustrate the occurrence of corruption, ensuring public wealth are well managed and judiciously channeled to the last household in rural Gambia, the government must open its books to the public as any democratic government that lacks transparency in its operation is kleptocratic.
The rate of corruption outrages in the Gambia is spreading like bush fire in the harmattan, thus casting shadow over the credibility of the government delivering the expectation of its citizens. The dodgy Semlex contract, the transfer of D35 million to Fatoumatta Bah Barrow Foundation (wife of the president) and the alleged bribing of parliamentarians by the President and among others are to be named. Millions of dollars have been injected in the agricultural, education and health sector, however, the investigations of Follow The Money in grass root communities has left mouths wide open.
The mongering of corruption within the public sector will keep gushing from citizens as far as government continues to obnubilate public information. Freedom of information and freedom of expression may however be restricted in limited cases. These are cases where enjoyment of such rights threatens national security.
It is important to acknowledge that the government of the Gambia has started working on an Anti-Corruption Commission that will deter the prevalence of corruption, investigate public sector corruption and ensure an open accountability process.
Gambia has received $1.7bn from the international donor community as part of supporting the country to successfully implement the National development Plan (N.D.P), this coupled with the recent commencement of oil drilling. Be that as it may, this is the precise moment for the anti-corruption bill to be discussed in parliament and equally supported by parliamentarians in expediting the process of the bill to be enacted. If effect, the anti-corruption commission will prevent the occurrence of public sector corruption, thus enhancing public service delivery and reduce the high poverty rate in the Gambia.
We have been advocating for the legislation of the Access to Information law that will allow journalists, anti-corruption bodies and individuals to request for public information. When legislated, this will create little/no space for bureaucratic corruption to occur and public officials will gaze the floor before taking a step. The Parliament must not wait on the executive to recommend this bill; they could actually sponsor the bill and pass it before assembly for it to be enacted.
In conclusion, we call on the government to be more transparent in the way they manage public wealth, especially grants meant for rural communities. Citizens have their priorities (mainly: health, education, agriculture, employment, water and electricity) and the government must not overlook these priorities. We at Follow The Money will continue to better the lives of rural communities through promoting social accountability, we call on Gambians to join hands in protecting the resources of the country and hold their elected officials to account.
By: Marr Nyang, Founder/ Executive Director Gambia Participates