The Coronavirus pandemic, which started in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, has affected a lot of economies around the world and the most vulnerable are the developing countries. This has resulted in a massive repurposing of national budgets countries to mitigate against the inevitable downturn of economies, as well as the establishment of COVID-19 response plans, which needed massive financial injections, over a short period of time (90 days). The Gambia registered its first case of COVID-19 on March 17th 2020, a week later, the President of The Gambia, Adama Barrow, declared the allocation of D500m ($9,689,972.38), to the “emergency response fund”, which was a reallocation of the 2020 budget.
On May 7th 2020, Gambia Participates in partnership with CepRass published an investigative report called “Corona: The Gambia and The Millions”, which highlights massive corruption and systematic mismanagement of COVID-19 emergency funds. The key findings included constitutional breaches in the illegal withdrawal of loan monies to finance the COVID-19 relief, difficulty to track expenditure of donated funds, the unjustifiable purchase of cars worth D12.8 million, the late payment and underpayment of frontline staff, the lack of Personal Protective Equipment, the lack of thermometers are border crossing point specifically in CRR, etc.
There are ample historical evidences to support the claim that outbreak and disaster relief is pillaged by those with sufficient access: Ebola virus outbreak (2014-2016), flood relief in Bulgaria (2004-2005), and, of course, the corrupt practices of disaster fund by National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA).
Following the high demand of food aid by Gambians, President Barrow launched a D734m COVID-19 food aid to support 84% “deserving households” in the Gambia. On April 23rd 2020, the government of The Gambia through the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment called for bidders to apply for the procurement and distribution of 230,000 bags of 50kg rice, 230,000 bags of 50kg sugar, and 148,000 10 litre drums of refined oil and the dateline was set at April 24th 2020 noon (24hrs after the call for bidding). By April 26th 2020, the food package was already procured and distributed. The whole process of calling for bids, vetting, procurement and distribution took less than 96 hours. There is a high risk of systematic corruption in the way and manner the D734m was spent on the food package which should be investigated.
Politicians and unelected government and health officials are uniquely positioned to gain inside information that they can leverage into “dirty deals,” lining their own pockets at the expense of those they are employed to serve. Recently, for example, Gambia’s Coronavirus—COVID-19 Emergency Committee on Finance and Procurement has found itself in a scandal amid reports that some health workers had prepared an unapproved list of health personnel, who were to be paid allowances in the nation’s efforts to tackle the deadly pandemic.
Throughout March and April 2020, there has already been a wave of corruption-related incidents, decreasing transparency and accountability, as well as manipulative political propaganda.
Finally, in June, Finance minister shocked the nation by announcing that the GoTG had expended 5.6 billion dalasi over a four-month period. Some of that money included the global amounts earmarked for the COIVD response.