Perhaps the second biggest PR blunder since the vice presidency debacle, President Adama Barrow has caused outrage after refusing to identify the source of vehicles donated to him from an individual only identified as an “anonymous philanthropist.”
The Gambian leader has given 57 vehicles to National Assembly members a couple of weeks ago and last week Thursday his press secretary, Amie Bojang, told journalists they were from an anonymous donor, who wants his identity to remain secret.
Since the statement of the director of press at her weekly press conference at the seat of power, social media sites were stormed with criticism at what many considered as a “lack of transparency” from a president who campaigned on promises of good governance and anti-corruption.
Madi Jobarteh, an outspoken civil society leader and deputy director of TANGO, said the secret donation to the president by the anonymous philanthropist is “completely unconstitutional.”
“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,” Jobarteh said.
“But we cannot know the facts unless President 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.”
Jobarteh, who said he is disappointed with Barrow, questioned that if anonymous donor genuinely wishes to help the Gambia without any strings attached, he should “present the vehicles to the president or parliament publicly as his or her contribution to national development.”
Sidi Sanneh, an economist and former minister, said Barrow must understand that he is heading a transition government “whose primary task is to start repairing a tattered economy and broken and dysfunctional institutions”.
While the presidency is still tight-lipped about the source of the vehicles, some Gambians speculate that they might have come from a Gunjur-born Gambian telecom billionaire Alieu Conteh and a Senegalese construction millionaire, Kalilou Waggeh.
However, not everyone thinks Barrow is wrong. Bamba Sering Mass, a Protocol Officer at the Gambian embassy in London is one of those supporting his position.
“The acceptance of the gift by the president cannot be unconstitutional by merely gauging it with the code of conduct for public officers,” he argued.
“Secondly, President Barrow is under no obligation to identify the donor of those vehicles since it is cleared that the donor is a supporter of Barrow. We elect the president to be our representative does not necessarily mean that his office is a public office. Whether an office is a public office or not is a matter of constitutional dictate.”
But others say Mr. Mass is wrong and that the presidency is a public office and was elected by Gambians. Pro-democracy campaigns say public officials accepting such gifts plants corruptions and are frowning on the practice, which has been deeply-rooted in the country of fewer than two million people.
Barrow defeated former President Yahya Jammeh, who is being investigated for corrupt practices and financial mismanagement. The ex-leader, now in exile in Equatorial Guinea is accused of ignoring regulations and going into business with a handful of his associates, grabbing government contracts.
(Reporting and Writing by Mustapha Darboe; Additional Writing and Editing by Sam Phatey)