Thursday, June 14, 2018

Information Minister helped reverse another mishandled contract award for the Gateway project

Information Minister, D. A. Jawo 
In a leaked letter that has been making its rounds in social media purportedly written by  Hon. D. A. Jawo, Information and Communications Minister is authentic.  The minister also confirmed the contents of the letter as they reflect his current thinking on the issues relating to the Gateway contract award. 

The minister's letter questioned the procedure adopted by the Ministry of Finance and the tacit endorsement of the Office of the President the procurement procedure adopted that completely circumvented the Ministry of Information and Communication, as the line ministry for the Gateway project. 

He felt it was wrong for Finance Ministry and the Secretary General's Office to lead the procurement of a "measuring system" for the Gateway.  It is important to note that the management of the Gateway remains with GAMTEL, as earlier decided.  In contention is the award of the contract for a measuring system for the Gateway to a company named SIGOS-KODRAM.  A google search of the company produced nothing which is usually the first red flag.

The Information Ministry, by the tone of the Minister's letter, left little doubt about the way the line/sector ministry felt about being completely left out of the process - a process that should have originated and led from his ministry, leaving his agency "flabbergasted".  The approval of the tender was, according to the Minister's letter, was communicated by the Finance Ministry to the Secretary General for endorsement without the knowledge of his ministry. 

The Information Minister also made a correction of an official statement made by either the Secretary General's  office or the Ministry of Finance that it was government's decision to award the contract to SIGOS-KODRAM by drawing attention that "...the matter was never discussed in Cabinet and therefore, it is not correct to say that it was a decision of the government." 

It is ironical, as it is unfortunate, that the custodians of the Financial Instructions (F.I.) and the General Orders (G.O.) -  the Secretary General and the Minister of Finance - are in blatant contravention of the operational guidelines of the civil service.  The Public Procurement Agency is under the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs. 

The fact that the minister believed that his ministry was sidelined, he informed the authorities that they will "henceforth, have absolutely nothing to do with the order and we will not participate in the process.  And as such, his ministry "will not be held responsible for any further undue delay to the gateway liberalization process and any possible legal fallout as a result of the decision."

On the phone to Hon. D. A. Jawo in Banjul, he confirmed to us that the matter has since been resolved by the rescission of the decision to award the contract.  It also turns out, according to the minister, that even though bid was not the most responsive, it was at the insistence of the Ministry of Finance for measuring system to be awarded to SIGOS-KODRAM instead of the most responsive bid which belonged to another company that had previously managed the Gateway project. 

The Finance Ministry is cited this previous association with the Jammeh regime as reason not to award it to the most responsive bid, contrary to the procurement rules.  The Information Minister's preference is to award the contract to the most responsive bidder - ranked in first place - instead of the second best.  We will monitor developments with the hope of a swift decision on the contract award and subsequent Cabinet's blessing. 
             
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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Gambia’s impending ecological disaster that will threaten the social peace


                                                                                                                      

The smallest country – both in terms of size and population - in continental Africa with barely 2 million people, settled in approximately 4,300 sq. miles, making it one of the most densely populated country on the continent.  700,000 or 35% of the country’s population is cramped in the Western Region of which 70% are resident in its westernmost part where almost all of the (urban) development of the last two decades took place unabated, unregulated and barely challenged until now.

The developments that took place within the Bijilo corridor in the last couple of decades, facilitated, in part, by the Kombo Coastal Road making many backwater villages accessible, transformed an erstwhile collection of farming communities into a near urban jungle, albeit with enclosed, gated communities to insulate the prospective occupants with the realities of miseries of poverty that surrenders them.

The urban development model in use in The Gambia induces poverty because it deprives the initial owners the use of communal land that previously earned them a subsistence level of living without providing alternative employment opportunities.   Instead, they are usually the object of scorn and the threat of unleashing the paramilitary police (PIU) on an aggrieved defenseless community – a favorite tactic employed by land speculators with the tacit approval of authorities.


These Jammeh-era methods of acquisition of state land generally ignored the established law, especially when it involved the former dictator.  Large tracts of communal land belonging to villages were forcibly annexed, fenced and ownership transferred to his name.  Even though private speculators did not quite employ the same method of annexation, they did exploit the prevailing atmosphere of what was then equivalent to a state of emergency by ignoring all the rules and regulations governing the acquisition of state land.  As regards communal land, the approval of the village Alkalo and village elders using all sorts of unsavory means to guarantee smooth transfer to speculators.                            

The removal of communal land from agricultural or horticultural production and into residential or commercial purposes has the potential of increasing the incidence of rural poverty, especially if the reclassification is not creating replacement jobs for the economy in general and the affected communities in particular.  


In peri-urban areas like Sukuta, Brufut, Kololi and Manjai, local residents have suffered because of the same land speculators’ insatiable thirst for more agricultural land that is inevitably converted into high end residential condos and gated communities, depriving the rest of the of their open spaces, football fields, markets, places of worship and other community amenities.


Land that residents, especially the youth, of Kololi, Kololi and satellite communities, fought so hard to protect from expropriation has been parceled out in 15 x 20m and 18 x 20m lots and priced at D864,000 and D 1,036,800 respectively for those who can afford a 30% down payment and to retire the rest in twelve monthly installments.  This is happening in a country where the majority of its two million inhabitants still live a subsistence life and where 70% of them are engaged in and/or are employed in the agriculture sector.   

Chinese fish meal factories in Gunjur and Sanyang are posing an environmental hazard to these communities and beyond with sludge being disposed of in abandoned sand quarry that can easily sip into the water table threatening the health and welfare of communities beyond Sanyang.

Indiscriminate use of our limited and environmentally sensitive land has been taken to new and irresponsible heights.  After Monkey Park and surrounding reserve parks were recently saved from land speculators, following protests by environmentalists, we have learned from irate residents near the Badala Parkway Reserve that this environmentally delicate area has targeted for development.  

In fact, this reserve land was designated in 1970 by the Bafuluto Tourism Study and incorporated this environmentally sensitive area into the Kotu, Kololi and Kerr Serign settlements as part of the Tourism Development complex that led to the construction of the road network from Kotu Police Station to SOS, across to Palma Rima Hotel junction via Kololi.

The reserve was meant to be a leisure and recreation promenade for the general public and visiting tourists.  Unfortunately, the long-term plan of the area is being threatened by a group of land speculators who are determine to consume every available land in the Kombos, more for speculative purposes than a rational and developmentally sound investment for the area.


According to sources, including concerned area residents, the entire reserve, including Cape Point, has been deserved by Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning Department and sold to Mohammed Jah of Q-Cell, Atlas Petroleum through Edi Jobe, Saul Frazer of Global Properties, Blue Ocean Properties of Abubacar Bensouda and several others.

Residents of these areas were never consulted and front property owners whose residences will be blocked from view have been particularly aggrieved as a result this action by the Local Government Ministry.  Besides the environmental destruction the new plan will cause should Gambians allow this irresponsible decision to go unchallenged, the quality of life of residents of the area will be severely affected.

Constructions have already started in some areas of the Badala Stretch with walls and fences going up at breakneck speed.   The main road from the Kotu West Mosque that leads to the Kotu Community Center to the Badala Road will be closed, making access to community facilities near impossible.                                                                                                         


Communities all over Kombo South have been impacted and their livelihood threatened by land speculators and simple grabbers of both State and community land.  We have written extensively about how Global Properties and Swami India, in cahoots with the former KMC Mayor, expropriated a formerly state land in the Kololi/ Manjai Kunda that is now for sale for anywhere from over half a million dalasi to over one million dalasi, a price range well beyond the means of an average Gambian.  You can find the relevant blog posts here, here and also here.

The Manjago village of Taneneh is the latest in a number of communities standing up for their inherent rights to access to land and social amenities, including a decent burial site for their people. Cemeteries and sacred spots across the Kombos are being desecrated as a result of land grabbers and speculators action in collusion with local leaders and politicians at the national level.

Residents along the Badala Parkway corridor, frustrated by government inaction in taking measures to stop the rampant encroachment that threatens both the environment and the quality of life, are joining forces with plant, fruit and flower sellers – who have already been served with notices to vacate - along the Bertil Harding Highway to bring their grievances to the Minister of Local Government and Land in the form of a protest against the de-reservation of a highly environmentally sensitive area.  

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Credit:  Green Up Gambia, an environment activists group is the primary source for the section on the Badala Parkway and supplemented by our own sources on the ground who provided the photos of the area.      
      

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Gambia: Gunjur environment activists back in court


The four Gambian environment activists were back in court today facing three charges of conspiracy to commit a felony, criminal trespass and willful damage to property.

These charges stemmed from opposition of these activists to the environmental damage being inflicted on the town of Gunjur by the Chinese-owned and operated Golden Lead fish meal factory.

The group of activists were led by Dr. Amadou Scatred Janneh, a former minister in the government of Yaya Jammeh, a university professor and a political activist, uprooted the waste-pipes that disposed of the affluent of fish by-products into the Atlantic.  Dr. Janneh was charged "in absentia" together with the four while he was away in the United States where his family still lives.

According to the evidence of one Mr. Dibba who identified himself as the General Manager of the Golden Lead Import and Export Company Ltd., the management adopted the simple waste disposal system from similar factories in Senegal and Mauritania that essentially composed of PCV pipes that emptied themselves into the Atlantic, and as far as it can be ascertained, without prior treatment.

The untreated affluent is suspected to be one of the causes of the beaches along the coast being littered with dead fish and other sea creatures which is a treat to the health of the community as well as to tourism.

The witness admitted in court that although the National Environment Agency (NEA) recommended to the owners of the Golden Lead factory that they should construct a standard and functional "treatment plant" before discharging the affluent into the Atlantic Ocean, they failed to meet the requirement.

This noncompliance led to court action by NEA where they faced four counts.  However, according to the General Manager of Golden Lead, the case was abruptly withdrawn by NEA without stating the reason or reasons for the withdrawal.

The case has been adjourned until 19th June at 10:00AM.




Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Gambian opposition member charged with sedition, bail set at GMD 1 million

Omar Touray, Opposition party politician 
Omar Touray of Gunjur has been charged with sedition intent by the police at the Brikama Magistrate Court this afternoon.

The police is alleging that Mr. Omar Touray, on the 1st of June this year, in Gunjur, called "President Barrow a hypocrite and a liar." The prosecutors contend that he did so knowing that such utterances were going to cause contempt and incitement of violence.

According to reports, Mr. Touray, who is a member of former dictator Jammeh's APRC party, walked into the courtroom "in chains" which was ordered removed by Magistrate Omar Cham before being brought to the dock and the charges read to him.

The prosecutors objected to the defendant being granted bail and wanted him remanded in jail while their they proceed with their investigations which, they say, was at a preliminary stage.

Mr. Touray's lawyer, Lamin Darboe, argued that his client was held without charge for over 72 in contravention of the law.  He also said that the penalty for the offence of sedition intent is a fine of D50,000 with maximum of D250,000 or one year imprisonment or both a fine and prison term.  The defendant's lawyer also pressed the fact that the offence is bailable,

Finally, bail was set at D1 million by Magistrate Omar Cham with two sureties who must also surrender their passports and national identifications cards.  The next court appearance has not been set.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Gambia has launched a National Summary Data Page

     
The Gambia has launched a National Summary Data Page (NSDP) in implementing the Enhanced General Data Dissemination System (e-GDDS).

The NSDP is designed a s a one-stop-shop for publishing essential macroeconomic data in both human and machine readable format.  This very important source of macroeconomic data is hosted by the Gambia Bureau of Statistics on its website, and it is available also on the IMF's Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board at https://dsbb.imf.org/e-gdds/country/GMB/category

According to the IMF release, the macroeconomic data through the NSDP will provide national policy makers, stakeholders, including investors and rating agencies, with easy access to information deemed by the Fund's Executive Board to be critical for monitoring economic conditions and policies.  "Making this information simultaneously available to all users will bring greated data transparency," the release reads.

Both Gambia's Senior Statistician, Sanna Manjang and the Fund's Director of Statistics welcome this major milestone for it will improve data dissemination as well as providing a framework, through the e-GDDS, for further development of the country's statistical system.                                                                                       

Monday, May 28, 2018

The €1.45 billion pledge heard around the world

President Barrow and European Commissioner, Neven Mimica 

The recently concluded two-day Donors’ Conference on The Gambia hosted by the European Union in Brussels closed on a high note with a total of €1.45 billion in pledges from donors to help finance the 3-year National Development Plan (NDP) 2018 – 2021 of the coalition government of President Adama Barrow.  

In addition to this amount, the European Union is contributing €140 million in grants on top of the € 225 million already committed by Gambia’s single biggest donor.  The total amount pledged is roughly equal the amount The Gambia came to Brussels to raise in pledges that led the EU Commissioner to declare the two-day affair a great success. 

The eight priority areas of the NDP aimed to ensure sustainable and inclusive were fully supported by the EU.  Further support of government priorities areas of democratic reforms, agriculture, promoting job creation for the youth, in energy sector and granting access to renewable and sustainable energy for the Gambian people.

The Gambian delegation shared the sentiment of the EU Commissioner that the conference was highly successful, confirmed by the competing press releases from State House touting similar sentiments and urging Gambians to come out in droves to welcome the president from his Brussels trip.

We expect that once the celebratory mood has waned and reality sets in, the daunting task of managing the high expectations driven, in part, by the citizen’s lack of familiarity with and understanding of what transpired in Brussels will begin.  

Managing high expectations starts with explaining to Gambians that a pledge is nothing but a promise.  Thus the €1.45 billion in pledges by the donor community is a collection of promises from donors – both bilateral and multilateral – to contribute towards the financing of the projects and programs suggested in the National Development Plan.  As expected, the World Bank, AfDB, IsDB, BADEA, EIB will provide the bulk of the financing of the NDP on concessionary terms.    

To illustrate our point, the State House is reporting on its Facebook page that France appears to have been the first to transform its pledge into a €50 million actual contribution towards the global figure of about a billion and a half euros in pledges.  The swift decision by France did not come as much of a surprise as the level of its contribution, given its increasing role and influence in post-Jammeh Gambia.   

That said, the road to translating the €1.45 billion pledges into actual contributions had just started and it is going to take a great deal of effort to reach the goal because the international community is notorious for failing to fulfil their pledges.  Haiti, Syria and, most recently, the Democratic Republic of Congo, are few examples where actual contributions fell far below pledges.  In the case of Haiti, the figure was as low as 30% of pledges and even lower in the case of the Haiti Trust Fund housed in the World Bank.  

Therefore, to translate pledges into contributions would require renewed commitments by the Barrow administration to institutional and structural reforms – something they’ve been reluctant to do so far - while taking firm steps on the fiscal front to provide the financing of the other half of the total cost of the NDP, according to the official submission of the Gambian delegation to the conference.    

The challenges on the fiscal as well as the monetary fronts are daunting.  Government must explain the process to ordinary Gambians to avoid misconceptions or run the risk of having government initiatives buried by national euphoria, driven more by politics than rationality, a condition that Alan Greenspan referred to as irrational exuberance.  They must understand that to transform pledges (promises) into actual contribution usually is contingent on further conditionalities imposed by prospective donors.  

It is encouraging, however, that President Barrow saw the need to signal, upon his return from Brussels, that the time for politics is over.  The time has come to work hard towards national cohesion to achieve the objectives of the economic and social agenda set out in the National Development Plan.  President Barrow's legacy, a major preoccupation of his, rests, in large part, on how successful the implementation of the new undertaken will be.  

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi classified as Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the U.S.

Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi at the Commission of Inquiry
This week, the United States Treasury Department announced that Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi and Hizbullah's representative in Iran, Abdallah Safi-Al-Din have been designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13334 which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.

Also designated as SDGT are five companies located in Europe, West Africa and the Middle East for being owned or controlled by Mohammad Bazzi and another SDGT.  These companies are the Belgium-based Global Trading Group NV, the Gambian-based petroleum and petroleum-based products company,  Euro African Group Ltd., a Lebanon-based Africa Middle East Investment Holding SAL, Premier Investment Group SAL Offshore and Car Escort Services S.A.L. an import/export company based in Lebanon.

Prior to his new elevated designation as SDGT, Mr. Bazzi was named a financier of terrorism a few years ago.  As a result of being designated Specially Designated Global Terrorists, all properties and interest in properties of Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi and Abdallah Safi-Al-Din that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of Treasury.

According to the U.S. Treasury,  Mr. Bazzi is accused of providing millions of dollars to Hizbullah, he is a close associate of Gambia's former dictator who ordered targeted assassinations, plundered the state treasury for his personal gain. 

In addition, the United States authorities accuse Mr. Bazzi of having business ties to Ayman Joumma Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering Organization.  As Hizbullah's chief benefactor, "Iran is", according to the U.S., "complicit in the despicable behavior of Bazzi."

Abdallah Safi-Al-Din who is Hezbollah's representative to Iran, who is cousin to Hezbollah's Secretary General, worked with Bazzi to reestablish a political relationship between Gambia and Iran. 

The burning question of the day that demands urgent response is whether Mohamed Bazzi and Fadi Mazeggi are still operating their business enterprises in The Gambia and if the answer is in the affirmative, why?  The stability of the country is on the line if these characters are free to operate freely and unfettered, the "despicable behavior of Bazzi" notwithstanding. 

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