57 Vehicles and Political Patronage
By Madi Jobarteh
It is now several weeks since Pres. Barrow received 57 vehicles from an unknown person or entity yet refused to declare the gifts to either his office or the National Assembly as required by Section 222 sub-sections 11 and 12 of the Constitution.
Instead Pres. Barrow merely further donated these vehicles to members of the National Assembly. The National Assembly itself has also failed to find out the source and reason for the donation of these vehicles to Mr. Barrow. This is indeed a tragic incident that poses a clear and present danger to our democracy for which both the Executive and the Legislature have failed the people of the Gambia.
Political patronage is a cancer and the mother of all political corruption, human rights violations and abuse of power in a democracy. Political patronage is when individuals, businesses and other entities shower gifts and praises on elected political leaders or public officers in anticipation of favours. Without that political office, these individuals or businesses and entities would not have given any gift to these elected or appointed public officials simply because they do not hold any political position or public office through which they could give any favour.
The purpose of political patronage is to cause an elected official or public officer to therefore grant or give government contracts, appointments, money or other favours to these individuals in exchange. Hence political patronage is a means through which political leaders and public officers are corrupted. Political patronage allows for abuse of office and human rights to take place with impunity. It obstructs the delivery of justice, stifles accountability and denies equal opportunities to all.
We recall during the first republic how Jawara was a major recipient of political patronage, as chiefs, alkalolu and their communities would donate cattle, sheep and farm produce to him during his country tours. We have seen the same practice being used by Yaya Jammeh all throughout his misrule. In both cases, Jawara and Jammeh became larger than life individuals who showered appointments and contracts and other favours to individuals, businesses, communities and other entities. Songs and public places were named after these leaders and their families. In the final analysis, the capacity of the people to demand transparency and accountability was weak because of patronage.
The end result of this patronage was that both leaders were able to perpetuate themselves in power longer than reasonable while plunging the country into untold poverty and underdevelopment. The way and manner both the Jawara government and the Jammeh regime were removed attest to the fact that political patronage was indeed the basis of their prolonged and misguided leadership.
Hence when we come this far, all Gambians must be hugely concerned that Pres. Barrow has started with the practice of political patronage that is dangerous to the health and stability of the Gambia. Within days of assuming office, Pres. Barrow went to Senegal only to receive gifts of houses from a Senegalese businessman. This was also not declared at all. Now that he has received 57 vehicles from another source, citizens must be concerned that the president has taken a path that potentially leads to corruption, abuse and self-perpetuation in power.
For that matter, I wish to demand that the National Assembly and all citizens rise up to demand a complete and immediate stop to political patronage. Pres. Barrow must be compelled to declare the source of these vehicles and to refrain from receiving gifts from any quarter. The Gambia Constitution is totally against the receiving of gifts purposely because the constitution wishes to protect the government and public officers from being corrupted hence abuse power and violate human rights.
If Pres. Barrow continues to receive these gifts it therefore means he will begin to succumb to the wishes and desires of the donors. By submitting himself to those desires it will only cause him to circumvent laid down government regulations, rules and the law regarding government contracts, appointments and delivery of social services. It means he will begin to use public resources to pay off political patrons. It means he will begin to make promises to communities and entities on the basis of their gifts and patronage. This attitude will only serve to derail this country for the worse.
Raise your voice against political patronage in all its forms. Demand that Pres. Barrow declare the source of the vehicles. If he fails to do so, let us demand the parliament to open a public hearing to summon the president to declare the source of the vehicles. Let us protect our republic by defending its constitution and sacred values and standards of good governance. Failure to do so will come to haunt us sooner or later. We have enough experiences in our history to tell us that we must stand against political patronage.
Mr. Barrow must realize that we elected him not only to replace Yaya Jammeh, a despot of unimaginable proportions, but more importantly for him to lead this country to effective system change. This requires that he abandon old and backward practices and attitudes of former leaders. Rather we expect him to set high standards and uphold sacred values in building a new society based on democratic culture. We expect him to demonstrate transparency and accountability in all of his decisions and actions in line with the rule of law. This is the system change we envisage.
God Bless The Gambia.