President Adama Barrow of The Gambia has promised to run a transparent government with zero tolerance for corruption.
Addressing his first world press conference on Saturday (28 January) in Banjul, Barrow vowed that he would demand “complete financial transparency” from members of his government. He said his ministers would have to declare their assets before assuming office.
The president also promised to ensure media freedom and reform the country’s security sector.
He specifically mentioned the feared National Intelligence Agency (NIA), a secret police accused by rights groups of forced disappearances and torture under former leader Yahya Jammeh.
Barrow vowed to reform the notorious NIA, saying that it was “an institution that has to continue”, but with a different name.
“The rule of the law, that will be the order of the day,” he said, adding that training would be given to NIA’s operatives.
Barrow also said the country’s official name will no longer contain the word “Islamic”, which had been added by Jammeh in 2015.
The new president said The Gambia, whose population is 90 percent Muslim, with the rest being Christians and African traditional religionists, was a republic “not the Islamic republic”.
He also announced that the country would change to the normal five-day working week instead of four-day week that was instituted by the former government, which made Friday a work-free day.
Barrow also assured that The Gambia would remain in the International Criminal Court (ICC) from which former President Jammeh unilaterally pulled out last year.
“I don’t think The Gambia will leave the ICC. If we are talking about democracy, rule of law and human rights, this is exactly what ICC is advocating for. So, why should Gambia be afraid to join,” he said.
Barrow promised to name his cabinet in the new week so that he could “get the ball rolling”, adding he would receive the first comprehensive information about the state of the nation’s finances in the coming days. Jammeh was accused of stealing $11 million from state coffers before fleeing to Equatorial Guinea even though Barrow’s spokesman has denied that claim.
Asked if he heard from former President Jammeh since he left the country into exile in Equatorial Guinea, Barrow said: “I have not heard from Jammeh since he left. We could not guarantee his security that is why we asked him to leave”.
Analysts say Barrow’s major challenge is to harmonise the interests of the seven political parties that jointly sponsored his candidacy at the 1 December election and build an efficient cabinet. Already there have been discordant voices.
For example, the president’s nominee for vice president, 67-year-old Madam Fatoumatta Jallow-Tambajang, is said to be above the maximum age of 65 prescribed by the Gambian constitution for such appointment.
“We believed the appointment of the vice president has fallen within the Constitution. She will show her official age with authentic documents,” Barrow said.
The new president returned to Banjul triumphantly on Thursday from Dakar, Senegal, where he was forced to seek temporary refuge. Jammeh, who ruled The Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years, had refused to accept defeat and step down until he was literally forced out by a West Africa military intervention force.
Ken Kamara & Ousainou Bayo