The Gambia’s National Assembly has warned newspaper parliamentary correspondents to stop publishing findings by a damning report on alleged fraud, misappropriation of public funds and managerial malpractices, local journalists told FPI Tuesday.
The Report of the Auditor General 2015, published in April by the National Audit Office, catalogs a series of instances in which public institutions are alleged to have misused taxpayers’ funds.
The findings are being brought to the attention of the public in publications by at least three independent newspapers.
‘Will not be accepted’
However, the joint session of the Public Accounts and Public Enterprises committees (PAC and PEC) of the National Assembly warns on Monday April 27 that they “should stop” the publicity until institutions indicted by the Report appear before it.
“We are partners in development, but we expect them to be professional. Such acts will not be accepted,” Fatou Mbye, a deputy speaker of the National Assembly said, according to local journalists.
FPI is told a Clerk of the National Assembly, Dodou Kebbeh, has warned newspaper parliamentary correspondents “not to publish the Auditor General Report 2015 on institutions before they appear at the PAC and PEC.”
Local journalists said Kebbeh told them: “The press is a matter of concern to us. You are doing a good job because we cannot blow our own trumpet.
“But, some press published the Auditor General Report on some institutions before they appear before us – the University of The Gambia (UTG) for example, before it appeared at the PAC and PEC.”
Kebbeh cautions that before journalists publish any institution’s audit queries they should allow the institution to appear before the PAC and PEC for scrutiny, first.
Already, the majority Gambian journalists have been coerce into practicing self-censorship due to the prevalence of draconian media laws that are frequently implemented by the authorities to gag press freedom, FPI understands.
FPI’s Banjul-based editor, Modou S. Joof, said the warning could have a chilling effect, and extend censor on what the media can report on as timely as possible especially on information that is in the public domain.
He said the Report is purely public information and was publicly presented to the National Assembly last week in the presence of parliamentary correspondents in Banjul.
“There is no doubt that in our professional pursuit we value ‘balance and fairness’ and will publish accordingly their part when institutions appear before the committees to answer to the audit queries. In fact, we’ve started that,” added Joof, also an editor at the privately-owned The Voice newspaper.
“However, we are very concerned about this ‘restrictive warning’ which could have a ‘chilling effect’ on our job,” he said. “This warning is the least we expect because in our understanding, no laws have been violated reporting on a public document – except they want to explain.”
‘Theft of funds’
More than 3o institutions that include government ministries, local government councils, hospitals, youth councils, schools, State media, a diplomatic mission and other public enterprises have been listed in the 2015 Report of the Auditor General – some are alleged “to have been engaged in the mismanagement of tax payers’ monies.”
The Gambia’s Auditor General, Karamba Touray, told the Assembly last week: “Our audit reveals several instances of theft of funds through falsification of documents or suppression of revenue.
“The theft and mismanagement of public funds have been brought to the attention of the Inspector General of Police for further action.”
Meanwhile, the speaker of the National Assembly, Abdoulie Bojang, has since described the revelation as “a serious issue” and urges the PAC and PEC committees to pay “special attention” to these institutions during the scrutiny exercise.