By Modou Joof,
The Voice Newspaper, Gambia
In the Gambia, there is not without a situation where some non-governmental organisations are guilty of exploiting poor communities, especially in rural communities.
Such so-called NGOs are usually involved in the sociology of grabbing, thereby depriving poor and helpless communities of their rights to benefit from the very projects that are said to be initiated by these NGOs.
Though the act, ‘the sociology of grabbing’ was meant for corrupt public officials in a poem written by my colleague, Saikou Jammeh, I believe that the act does not only live with government officials but private institutions and individuals as well.
The fact that over the years the Government of The Gambia never put in place policies to protect the citizenry from being exploited by such corrupt ‘briefcase’ organisations means that largely, the affected communities had to live with it and seemingly lack the knowledge to seek redress, if that avenue has been available for them to do so.
In February this year, I reported such controversy between the people of Sam-Mbollet village and Tilly’s Tours. The later have had a number of initiatives including the provision of safe drinking water, a garden, milling machine, a bantaba, among other things to be provided for the villagers by the tour operator.
Unfortunately, after three years of fruitless relations between the two sides, they fell apart after the villagers alleged that the tour operator is exploiting them since some donors and insiders at Tilly’s Tours have consistently and reliably been informing them of monies donated to the village of Sam-Mbollet to the cause of the so-called projects initiated by the tour operator.
All initiatives failed, the monies donated were said to have been saved in an account named "GLOVE ACCOUNT" in the United Kingdom.
My efforts to get the reaction of Tilly’s Tours Manager Jakie Church proved futile, and I was reliably informed that in a bid to recover the funds donated to the village through the tour operator, the controversy reached the level of the national intelligence agency (NIA), the then Seyfo (Chief) of Lower Niumi District Alhagie Tabora Manneh and the Governor of the North Bank Region Edwar Seckan.
An agreement was reached between the two parties to resume cordial relations and continue with various initiatives, after Chief Alhagie Tabora Manneh intervene. Since then, little has been gathered from the controversy and all works have halted and relations between the village and the tour operator are virtually dead.
Recently, the Minister of the Interior and NGOs Affairs in The Gambia Mr. Ousman Sonko warned that so-called NGOs formed under the pretext of helping communities in the country but rather engage in dubious activities will not be allowed to operate in the country after the enactment and approval of the proposed NGO Bill.
He said government is currently in the process of finalizing the enactment of an NGO Bill expected to streamline the activities of NGOs in The Gambia. The move will no doubt be welcomed by the people of The Gambia. What is uncertain though is how much of the Bill will be implemented if successfully made into law.
Public corruption is perceived to be high in The Gambia as the country is ranked 106 of 180 nations in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perception Index.
"Though the country has put in place laws criminalizing corruption, these laws are not effectively implemented as no specific government agency is responsible for combating corruption and public officials are not subjected to financial disclosure requirements," the Inter- Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) said.
The social vice of ‘the sociology of grabbing’ is not just abating in the country, now that the drug habit is unbelievably on the increase. In June 2010, police in the capital, Banjul brought drug charges against 12 foreign nationals after a massive bust by the national drug enforcement agency (NDEA) of over 2 tones, 340kgs, and 500 grams of cocaine estimated to be worth over US$1 billion.
The discovery shocked the country and exposed The Gambia as a major transit point for drugs from Latin American countries destined for Europe. The BBC said the cartels are taking advantage of the region’s weak judicial system.
On July 22, this year, President Yahya Jammeh decided to address the nation during the 16th anniversary of the July 22nd , 1994 coup, dubbed the ‘July 22nd Revolution’ on the theme: "A Definitive No To Drugs and Corruption."
"It is no secret that in the recent past, the spate of drugs in particular has increased alarmingly as Gambians became flabbergasted by discoveries of huge quantities of hard drugs involving public officers who betrayed public trust and confidence," Yahya Jammeh said.
However, President Jammeh has strongly stressed that his government will pursue the most intensive war and strictest zero-tolerance policy against drugs and corruption. "We will deploy every possible means, including a more elaborate legislative and security plan to ensure that perpetrators of all forms of crimes, including those associated with drugs and corruption are dealt with most severely," he stressed.
The Government is yet to announce publicly on how far it has gone with putting in place such policies as said by the president, however, it will equally be welcomed by many, except by drug cartels and corrupt public officials, if legislative measures are taken to curb the situation,.
However, the fight against the sociology of grabbing in The Gambia is not something to be overcome overnight, in a country where earnings are relatively low, especially that of law enforcement officers.
In a situation where the common man struggles to make ends meet due to the increasing hike in prices of basic commodities, at a time when poverty is at its cruelty and a financial crisis always around, curbing the ‘sociology of grabbing’ (corruption) by public officials, NGOs and ordinary individuals needs much to be desired.