President Adama Barrow is facing backlash for appointing a political ally thought to be a dual-citizen to lead the Public Service Commission, the governing body that regulates the civil service.
Alkali Conteh, a resident of Raleigh, North Carolina has been given the Commission’s top job. Conteh and Barrow share the same party, the UDP, which has the majority stake in the ruling coalition government.
Gambia’s constitution bars those with dual citizenship from taking up certain key positions, including the chairmanship of the Public Service Commission. Activist are now calling of President Barrow to rescind Conteh’s appointment.
Conteh’s U.S. citizenship cannot be independently verified and he has declined to make any comments regarding the subject, while his supporters say Mr. Barrow will not reserve his decision and that “he is here to stay.”
Political activist and pro-democracy campaigner Pa Samba Jow said Barrow should not follow in former President Yahya Jammeh’s footsteps to ignore the constitution and appoint dual citizens into the positions that the law prohibits them from holding.
“Your predecessor obliterated the professionalism and independence of our civil service by politicizing it beyond recognition; therefore, our hope has been that you and your team will rectify this travesty by building a Civil Service free of politics and political biases,” Jow said.
“It is absolutely essential that all appointments to the Public Service Commission or the Civil Service must be merit-based and constitutionally grounded.”
Activists like Jow said Conteh’s failure to meet the requirements to become a National Assembly Member also disqualify him from becoming the head of the Public Service Commission, regardless of his dual citizenship status.
Conteh has not met the residency requirement, and that such “blatant disregard” of the constitution was among the factors that brought together the political parties that back Mr. Barrow to defeat Jammeh.
“They can say all they want about our decent and hardworking Alkali Conteh. I assure you one thing, he is here to stay…. Prepare for your worst because this time we are not moving a nanometer away from what we deserve,” said Ahmad Gitteh, a political activist and supporter of the UDP.
But Yunus Hydara, a political activist that graced Barrow’s inauguration said no one, including Mr. Conteh, is special for President Barrow to violate his oath of office, urging the president to give Conteh a new job that will not contravene the laws.
Upholding the rule of law was a centerpiece of Barrow’s campaign. But it is not the first time that the president’s first year of leadership has been marred by controversy over appointments.
Barrow’s first cabinet pick, Vice President Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang, has caused controversy as she is allegedly too old to serve, according to current constitutional rules. However, the constitution has since been amended removing the upper-age limit and paving a way for her to be sworn-in.