The indecent conversation between the Brikama Area Council Chairman Sheriffo Sonko and the Lady Councilor Fatou Jallow is indeed an indication of sexual harassment and exploitation and abuse of power. The conversation reflects an unethical relationship that is condemned by the Constitution, General Orders, Public Service Rules and Code of Conduct for public servants. Thus, the minimum Chairman Sonko should do is to resign, ASAP.
His resignation will send a clear message to all public servants that unethical conduct is unacceptable. It will prick the conscience of all public servants to begin to check themselves to either stop or refrain from such misconduct if they are into it already or planned to do so. It will serve to maintain public trust and confidence that public institutions are not being used by public officials to engage in conduct that can only lead to abuse of power, corruption, inefficiency and waste of public resources.
Part 2 of the General Orders has a code of conduct for civil servants where Section 1 says civil servants should observe seven ethical values and standards, and one of them is that they should “eschew the use of public position for personal advantage”. This is what the Chairman failed to do here.
Their relationship is borne out of the fact that, first of all, they both hold public office which they have used to build a relationship that undermines transparency and accountability and highlights conflict of interest hence creates a basis for corruption. Since the Lady Councilor holds no power which can enable her to decide who benefits from public resources, then Sonko, as the one holding the greater power is the one to squarely hold accountable. It is he, by having a relationship with a person lower in position than him, who has undermined transparency and accountability. Sonko, as head of the institution with the power to make decisions has demonstrated that his decisions are being influenced by his self interest.
He has the power to decide which councilor can travel and who can benefit from which resources. With that official function and power, he has demonstrated that he will use that power to serve his selfish interest by giving travel opportunities to women councilors who will give him sexual benefits. Sonko’s conduct is a classic case of ‘quid pro quo’ sexual harassment.
This is the more reason Sheriffo Sonko need to resign because his actions tantamount to not just abuse of power but also exploitation of a woman. This lady councilor is her subordinate who needs to be protected by him. He should not in any way treat her in a way that undermines the dignity of this woman. As citizens we must begin to stand against such misconduct as it is now becoming rampant to see or hear top government officials engaging in such sexual harassment and exploitation of their female colleagues. It is unacceptable.
The fact that this woman is married, it means Sonko has violated all norms and standards of ethical behavior according to both law and the culture of his society. Did Sheriffo exert any undue pressure on this lady to make her to succumb? Did Sherrifo use his power in distributing benefits to councilors to lure or force this woman to give herself to him? Even if it was the Lady Councilor who first made advances towards Sheriffo, by virtue of his position he should have kept the lady at bay! These are the fundamental questions.
The Code of Conduct in the General Orders defines unethical conduct this,
“Unethical conduct includes those practices which are unquestionably immoral behavioural acts such as bribery and misappropriation of funds and such other activities as patronage, nepotism, conflict of interest, influence peddling, seeking of personal benefits by using official position, granting of favours to relatives and friends, leaking or misusing confidential government information and engaging in unsanctioned political activity.”
The Constitution itself has set a code of conduct for public servants in Section 222 where it requires a public servant, “to conduct himself or herself at all times in a manner which promotes confidence in the integrity of public office.” Therefore can we say that the conversation and the sexual relationship between the Chairman and the Lady Councilor promote confidence in the integrity of Brikama Area Council? I think this conversation harms the image and name of the Council and puts the office of the Chairman into disrepute.
In light of the above, the effectiveness of Chairman Sonko is henceforth compromised because the respect that should be accorded to him in the Council will further reduce. His fellow councilors and members of staff will not see him as a fair and just leader hence his decisions and actions will henceforth be viewed with suspicion and disregard thereby undermining the performance of the Council. This does not augur well for both himself and the Council because it means the Council will now not enjoy unity and concerted efforts among councilors and staffs to serve. This means it is the residents of West Coast Region who stand to lose and suffer because of the unethical bahaviour of their Chairman.
Sexual harassment and exploitation are an abuse of power and authority and a betrayal of trust. It is unacceptable everywhere and such bahaviour is inexcusable as well. People in positions of power and authority, at all levels, have an obligation to make the environment, particularly the workplace, conducive and friendly, and uphold zero tolerance for sexual harassment and exploitation. No senior public official should cultivate a sexual relationship with a junior colleague simply because it compromises authority, accountability, and performance.
To prevent sexual harassment and exploitation in the workplace, it is imperative that all public institutions have internal policies on sexual harassment and prohibition of sexual and marital relationships between certain level of staffs, and enforce them. It also means the Secretary General should ensure that there’s effective enforcement of the Public Service Act, the General Orders, Public Service Rules and the Code of Conduct.
Finally, it is important to recognise that ethics matter in both the private and public life of individuals – but more so for public office holders. Public office embodies power and whoever is given (great) power also bears (great) responsibility. Therefore, where there is no regard for ethics, it means abuse, injustice, exploitation, poor delivery, and dishonesty will prevail. Such abuse can manifest in several ways such as embezzlement of public funds or exploiting female colleagues for sexual gratification or awarding contracts to unqualified clients. Hence without the observance of ethics in public service it is the entire society that suffers.
For The Gambia Our Homeland