By Madi Jobarteh
An elected president in a democratic republic is not a cultural or religious leader. A president has a job description laid out in his or her oath of office and the constitution and other laws of the Gambia. Hence the president’s decisions, actions and relationships are guided by the rule of law. They are not based on his or her whims and caprices or intuition and must not be influenced by cultural or religious ideas just like that. Gambia is a multicultural and multi-religious society hence no one culture and religion must be used to influence or dominate public policy.
The ongoing issue of the 57 vehicles said to be obtained from a ‘philanthropist’ and donated to Pres. Barrow is completely unconstitutional and outside of the laws of the Gambia. The president’s advisers must tell him that a government is not run based on one’s individual ideas and feelings, rather the government is run based on rules that are well specified in our constitution and laws. Thus the issue about these vehicles is not about how kind and considerate Barrow feels about public institutions; rather the issue is what does the law say about gifts.
The Gambia Constitution is clear on gifts under Section 222 on the code of conduct of public officers. It says under subsection 11 that public offices must not ask or receive gifts for anything in terms of their official duties. It went further to state that a gift from anyone having a contract or negotiating a contract with the government must not be accepted. Subsection 12 went further to require that when a gift is received it must be surrendered to the office, department or agency of that public officer. In light of these constitutional provisions, Pres. Barrow must declare and surrender these vehicles.
If a permanent secretary had received this gift he or she must surrender it to the Minister. If a director or a junior officer receives a gift he or she must surrender it to the permanent secretary or his or her immediate supervisor. Hence the question is, to whom should the president surrender such a gift? Given that the president is the highest position holder in the Executive he cannot surrender to himself. The president is answerable only to the National Assembly; it therefore means that Pres. Barrow must surrender the vehicles to the parliament. This means he should inform the parliament who gave the vehicles and for what purpose.
The reason why Barrow should surrender the vehicles and identify the donor is to ascertain whether or not the donor has any contract or negotiating a contract with the Gambia Government. If he or she is having or negotiating a contract then this gift is illegal. But we cannot know the facts unless Pres. Barrow declares the gift. Thus the fact that Barrow has failed to do that means he is currently violating the constitution, which is a reason for his impeachment.
This is why the president must seek legal advice at all times for his actions and decisions so as not to be in contravention of the constitution. Barrow has no excuse not to know and abide by the rule of law. He has all the resources to know the law and follow the law. Barrow must not allow people to use culture and religion to transform him into another typical bad leader. These politics of gifts and patronage were what fuelled the decay of the leadership of both presidents Jawara and Jammeh to their detriment. Barrow must not repeat such a bad practice.
I wish to therefore urge Pres. Barrow to declare to the National Assembly, hence to all Gambians the source of these vehicles. The name of the person or company that gave these vehicles must be made public. This is necessary to avoid conflict of interest and corruption of his person and office.
Our parliament and many public institutions need resources such as vehicles, computers and furniture among others. We cannot and must not exploit that argument as a cover up to perpetuate disregard of the rule of law. So let the Office of the President not try to play with our minds by creating the impression that Barrow is so much concerned about the plight of NAMs that he decided to give the vehicles to them. That is not the issue here. The issue is, the rule of law must be followed about these gifts.
I must say that I am disappointed at both the donor and Pres. Barrow in the way they handled this matter. If indeed this donor genuinely wishes to help the Gambia without any strings attached, why cannot he or she present the vehicles to the president or parliament publicly as his or her contribution to national development? After all, helping one’s country should not be a matter of secrecy rather a citizen’s individual contribution to national development must be public and a source of pride. In that way other citizens are also encouraged to emulate such good gestures.
Similarly if Pres. Barrow has no vested interests in this matter, why is he finding it difficult to disclose the source from the onset? As president he should have in fact advised the donor that so long as he or she does not wish to be known publicly then the Gambia Government cannot accept the gifts. This is the kind of leadership one would expect Barrow to provide especially given what was happening during the tenure of his predecessor.
God Bless The Gambia.