Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The fracture that threatens the peace and stability: A re-publication

 

Barrow and Darboe 
Re-publication of a blogpost first published October 7th, 2018
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The coalition of opposition parties that contested the December 2016 presidential elections against the regime of Jammeh, although it ended up victorious, was wittingly or unwittingly made to fracture.  Halfway into the three-year transition government of Adama Barrow, discernible cracks, deep enough to prove irreparable, emerged, confirming the temporary nature of what can now be characterized as a political alliance of convenience - an admission that would have invited the wrath of the partisan supporters of the coalition.

Presidential candidate Adama Barrow was the by-product of the political realities of the time when the leader of the single largest opposition party, Ousainou Darboe, leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) was imprisoned for leading a demonstration to demand the release of the body of Solo Sandeng, a member of his party's executive and youth leader killed by paramilitary police.  In addition to facing a leadership deficit, the unification of a plethora of opposition parties into a coercive and unified force to contest the December 2016 presidential elections, will again, prove to be a special challenge after failures in three successive times in 2001, 2006 and 2011.

The coalition of opposition parties was finally realized but not before it became a precondition of the electorate who demanded it.  Days into the campaign, it became clear that the electorate will not tolerate another fragmented opposition to fail at the hands of a well-financed and state-subsidized incumbent candidate with all the state machinery behind him.  Only a coalition of all of the opposition parties can defeat Jammeh.  In response to this demand, a convention of opposition parties was convened, literally days before the December 1st 2016 elections, that produced an obscure UDP party treasurer of unknown quantity to many named Adama Barrow, the UDP party treasurer, as the coalition's candidate for the presidency.

Recognizing his lack of experience in governance with low public profile, presidential candidate Barrow pleaded for patience, and solicited support and assistance from coalition members in his quest for the presidency.  After his surprise win, followed by a political impasse that lasted several tense weeks of negotiations, Jammeh finally decided to vacate State House under threat of the ECOMIG forces. He went into involuntary exile to Equatorial Guinea and President-elect Barrow assumed office in January 2017,

Few days after he won the presidential elections,  Ousainou Darboe, the leader of the UDP was released on bail from Mile II prisons and subsequently pardoned together with other senior members of his political party.  The man the incoming president refers to as his political 'father' swiftly assumed a central role in the kitchen cabinet of the incoming administration and helped shaped the cabinet.  He assumed the post of Foreign Minister, a strategic error in the eyes of some astute observers of the political scene.  By insisting on being a member of the cabinet, the UDP  leader voluntarily subordinated himself to his political 'son', The President.

Mr. Darboe's subsequent promotion to his current position of Vice President notwithstanding, the prevailing view is that he should have opted to stay away from assuming a cabinet post in a transition government that would have allowed time to take care of his health after being a imprisoner at Yaya Jammeh's notorious Mile II prisons before embarking on the task of preparing his party for the next presidential elections.  This option would have also made it possible for him to act as adviser to the Barrow government while concurrently strengthening the UDP into a formidable political machine in time for the 2021 presidential elections.

It can be argued that by joining the transition government, Darboe inadvertently introduced an element of competition between the boss (Barrow) and his subordinate (Darboe), a role reversal that is manifesting itself in a very complex relationship between the two gentlemen.  

Conversely, Adama Barrow's performance as president only adds to the imbroglio the transition is turning out to be.  The results of the first eighteen months of the Barrow has been anything but encouraging.  On the economic management front, the economy is still anemic with high youth unemployment.  Little or nothing has happened on the restructuring front which was a top priority of  the coalition because the institutions were seriously seriously weakened under Jammeh.  Lack of fiscal discipline is still pervasive despite promises to control the recurrent budget.

The scourge of corruption has come to be associated with the Barrow government with a series of recent scandals involving over US$750,000 deposited into and transferred from the First Lady's Foundation, SEMLEX, the 57 vehicles gifted to parliamentarians and the latest being the alleged D10,000 per month stipend offered to some parliamentarians by President Barrow which was reported by a sitting member of the National Assembly.

Barrow's record has caused him to lose political support by increasing doubts about his ability and competence to manage The Gambia as president, further making his political position untenable.  Thus his recent move to organize a Youth Movement to rival a similar movement in the party he calls home - the United Democratic Party led by Ousainou Darboe.

Tensions are already high as a result of competing camps within the same political party, with allegations of huge sums of money being handed out to UDP leaders in the length and breadth of the country by the Barrow camp as a means of encouraging them to switch allegiance from Darboe too Barrow.  In fact, social media is awash with rumors including a claim that Barrow dispatched a delegation to Darboe encouraging him to step down from the leadership of the UDP that will permit him to be nominated the presidential candidate of the UDP in the 2021 presidential elections.

The political maneuverings have taken its toll with Barrow spending more time politicking at the expense of his main task of governing a country whose economy and security are both in a fragile state as a result of 22 years of bad governance.  Popular dissatisfaction with Barrow style of governance is growing with every new scandal that has cost him dear, further dimming his chances of securing an extended term of five instead of the current three stipulated in the Memorandum of Understanding - the document outlining both his Manifesto and his term of office as a non-party affiliated candidate of the coalition of the unified opposition parties.

The peace and security implications of an uncertain alliance between President Barrow and Vice President Darboe are great and may have played a part in the Gambian president, inappropriately and publicly requesting through the AU Chairperson the extension of the ECOMIG Mission in The Gambia to 2021, instead of through ECOWAS as dictated by and in accordance with AU's principle of subsidiarity.  This is a move that signals to donors, investors, tourists and Gambians that the peace and security of the country cannot be guaranteed by the transition government, even after eighteen months at the helm, thus sending a message that is anything but reassuring.

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Monday, August 10, 2020

The Barrow administration must intervene in the Bakoteh - Kololi land grab

 By public demand, we are republishing this blog post first published June 1st, 2017

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The youth of Kololi, Bakoteh, Manjaikunda, Sanchaba and satellite towns are battling Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC), Global Properties and Swami India International Ltd. for a parcel of land that initially belonged to the State by an Act of Parliament. 

In 1991, the Land Act was passed transferring the land to the State.  It is unclear when it was transferred to the Kanifing Municipal Council. Equally unclear was whether the transfer was done according to law and if so when did the transfer took place and what were the terms and conditions of the transfer.


The second question is under what authority was the Kanifing Municipal Council acting when it sub-leased the entire track of land, measuring 58,743 sq m and a distance of 992 meters to Swami India International Ltd. on the 15th August 2015 and a total measly sum of D 5,646 (five thousand, six hundred and forty six dalasi) paid on 13th October of the same year as cost of the title deed ("fencing fee"), good for 99 years.  We are in possession of a copy of the sub-lease signed by the CEO of KMC.


What is the relationship between Swami India and Global Properties and how did these two entities come to own this huge track of land and what were the details of the deal. Did KMC or the Mayor, Yankuba Colley or any members of the KMC benefit financially?  How were these financial proceeds treated? 

What is/was Yaya Jammeh's role in all of the shenanigans going on not only in Kololi but also in Gunjur and Kartong?  It doesn't look like much has changed since Jammeh left town in January.    

These questions are important and require answers because the lives of tens of thousand, in not hundreds of thousands of lives are impacted by this huge land transaction that will not nothing but to sow the seeds of instability in a country that is trying to find its feet after 22 years of pillage by Jammeh and his cronies.

Last week Monday, the youth of the area, their parents, elders came out to peacefully display their grievances against the CEO of Global Properties, Saul Frazier and Swami India International Ltd. The issue is more than losing a football field, when every inch of open space is consumed by a handful of greedy land speculators and their contractor friends. 


We decided to go to press earlier than planned because we learned the police intend to storm and occupy the area, after bribery attempts and other enticements by the land grabbers have failed.  According to our sources, the police they have been going around family compounds urging the youth not to participate in demonstrating against the police; at whose direction one might ask.

It is their right to peacefully demonstrate if they so chose. Where were these land grabbers when some of the colleagues of these same young people were being killed, maimed, tortured, exiled and sent to Mile II prisons by these very same policemen were doing the bidding for Yaya Jammeh?  They are the very same elements the authorities want to unleash on these young men and women who are fighting what they believe to be an injustice. 

We are respectfully requesting that the Barrow government intervene in this and similar cases in Farato, Gunjur and Kartong to avert what can only be characterize as a potentially explosive environment.  Gambians will not expel a dictator of 22 years only to permit the same conditions that prevailed in the Jammeh era to continue under the Barrow government.  Things cannot stay the same. They will have to change for the better. 

Sources on the ground disclosed that legal recourse is being contemplated and maybe an imminent outcome of what is considered to be a blatant misuse of political and financial power against the residents of Kololi, Bakoteh and the other affected satellite towns.  It is an option that promises to enjoy a wide public support.   

Monday, July 13, 2020

Press Release of the US Embassy in Banjul, The Gambia on the continued progress in advancing Fiscal Transparency


EMBASSY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Banjul, The Gambia
For Immediate Release                                   Kathryn Edwards, Public Affairs Officer, 439-2856         
July 13, 2020                                                                  

PRESS RELEASE: The Gambia’s Continued Progress in Advancing Fiscal Transparency

On June 15, 2020, the United States Department of State released the 2020 Fiscal Transparency Report, which assessed that The Gambia made significant progress in its continuing efforts at government fiscal reform.  The Department’s fiscal transparency review process assesses whether governments meet minimum requirements of fiscal transparency.  For the purpose of this report, the minimum requirements of fiscal transparency include having key budget documents that are publicly available, substantially complete, and generally reliable.  The review includes an assessment of the transparency of processes for awarding government contracts and licenses for natural resource extraction.  Fiscal transparency is a critical element of effective public financial management, helps build market confidence, and underpins economic sustainability.  Fiscal transparency fosters greater government accountability by providing a window into government budgets for citizens, helping citizens hold their leadership accountable, and facilitating better-informed public debate.

During the review period, The Gambia published its enacted budget and end-of-year report online and improved the completeness of budget documents.   Information on debt obligations was publicly available and updated at least annually.   Budget documents were substantially complete.  The criteria and procedures by which the national government awards contracts or licenses for natural resource extraction were specified in law and followed in practice.   Basic information about natural resource extraction awards was publicly available.  The report also noted that The Gambia’s fiscal transparency would be improved by publishing its executive budget proposal online within a reasonable period of time and ensuring the supreme audit institution publishes audit reports within a reasonable period of time.

The U.S. Embassy in The Gambia commends the government of The Republic of The Gambia, and in particular the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs and the National Assembly, for the continued focus and attention on enhancing transparency in this and other important areas.  The full report is available at: https://www.state.gov/fiscal-transparency-report/

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Statement on State of Affairs in The Gambia of the Right2Know Civic Society Group


Dear R2Kers: It is now abundantly clear that the country is on a slippery slope to disaster. We have a government that has demonstrated time and again, that the it will not put country first and abide by the most sacrosanct wishes of the people, that they be governed well. In 2016, December 2nd, our collective future was pregnant with hope and possibilities that a new beginning, after being abused and scared for  over 22 years of brutality and authoritarian dispensation, had arrived.  We voted for CHANGE. We voted and expected a new era of hope- hope for a better life; hope  for job prospects for the youth, health care for all, especially our vulnerable children and women in hard to reach areas.  We thought we voted for a compassionate administration, that would deliver and live up to expectations of a country renewed.  We had the world behind us in this aspiration. 

We even had the intervention of a region that demanded that our wishes be respected and fulfilled.  Gambia was the envy of the continent.  Our flag, that was tattered and torn, was given a chance of liberty and pride to flutter anew, in an atmosphere of freedom vested in people power.  Yes, we were the envy of African states that yearned for the opportunity we had in 2016.  But it has been four difficult years since. 

Dear R2Kers: In this period of hardship, disbelief, dashed expectations, and wonderment, we are now left to ponder on our next steps in this journey, which for many is filled with worry, despondency, anxiety and anger. And rightfully so. The possibilities of being Gambians again remains in doubt.  Since when did things get so dark that we no longer recognize each other?

We are known as a society where religion, ethnicity, socio-economic or regional background never mattered- hence we were known as the smiling coast, a happy people filled with optimism.  It is no accident that our birth, all be it improbable, at the dawn of independence, was in fact debunked.  We forged on, and became a viable nation- although not perfect.  We were viable. We were viable in the eyes of the world. We were that little hamlet on a Hill that punched above its weight. We sustained a vibrant re export trade, becoming a breadbasket for nations that surrounded us.  A safe haven to those that were displaced in 1980’s and ‘90’s (Liberians, Sierra Leoneans; Guineans;).  

We became a bastion of Human Rights, and a pluralistic democracy in a sea of military regimes, until that reputation ended in 1994. After 22 years of surviving an ordeal that almost consumed us, we decided- Gambians and Gambia Decided that enough was enough and we unshackled ourselves from the bondage of dictatorship.  We vowed to each other- a bond that cannot be broken- that no more shall we be held hostage to corruption, incompetence, abuse of the constitution, weaponization of state institution to perpetuate injustice, non-delivery of basic services on education, health, infrastructure, water and electricity. We AGREED.  Those that we put in power to safeguard these agreement ACCEPTED to do right by us and respect our wishes.  They FAILED us. They failed on their promise. 

Dear R2Kers: In 2017, we, as Right to Know, sent them a reminder of their obligations to stay true to the social contract of putting people first, when the Semlex deal, which was fraught with irregularities and corruption, surfaced.  They ignored us. The Barrow administration, with the Coalition still on honeymoon, told untruths to justify their actions. They went ahead, despite our concerns, went ahead and signed an illegal contract with a company that was at the time being investigated for corruption and money laundering activities in Belgium. 

The matter was also at the level of the NA for an inquiry when Pres Barrow signed a new contract with Semlex regardless.  That was the first year into the new Gambia. We have now taken Semlex and GoTG to court over the matter.

In the same vein we have the evidence to show that the Barrow administration is not a listening government and are out of touch with reality.  We have chosen to proactively engage with this administration from inception. As far back as 10 April, 2018, (the 18th anniversary of the killing of protesting students), we wrote urging the president to show political will and leadership in confronting acts of illegality and corruption in government and prioritize civil and security sector reforms, by ensuring that impunity is rooted out of the system of government he inherited. 

We never received a response. President Barrow, instead demonstrated the exact opposite actions, to what we had expected from an incumbency, which enjoyed enormous goodwill, both internally and externally. He did nothing.  Impunity reigns supreme in this government, and lessons and warnings have gone unheeded. We have communicated to Pres. Barrow our utterly dismay at the signs of an uncaring, unresponsive and defensive administration, which he leads, uncanny traits, which are being routinely displayed.

We have, over time, also sent out several more missives to members of his cabinet. On 28 September, 2019, (International Day for Universal Access to Information), we released a letter to former Minister of Justice Tambadou and current minister of Communications & Information, Ebrima Sillah, requesting them to make the Janneh Commission report accessible to the public. In that letter, we demanded access to the Janneh Commission report, because it was financed by the public purse, through tax payers’ money.

This was something that no citizen should have to request for, especially after the lofty promises were made towards deepening and promoting a culture of a transparent government. Sadly, no response has been forthcoming from either Minsters, and to date, the Janneh Commission report remains inaccessible to the public. However, today, we hear and see evidence of mass impropriety on how Jammeh’s assets were ‘sold’, with little or no transparency in the process. 

Assessing the figures one would see that the value placed on most items sold, including luxury cars, landed properties, tractors, is a total mismatch to proceeds received.  Besides, there is clear evidence that the process of sales of Jammeh’s property may have been illegally done.  Undermining all the efforts put forth in bringing to bare those responsible for looting our country.

So many people are now left wondering whether this was all worth it.  And if it was, the benefits of the process to investigate corruption under Jammeh has not translated to effective recovery of stolen assets by the state for the benefit of the Gambian people….but instead it was for the benefit of a few people that are politically connected. Including those in Cabinet, friends and family members of Cabinet, and those directly linked to the Janneh Commission itself.  We will be issuing a separate report on this in the near future.

Today, we are faced with a culmination of outright endemic corruption in our body politick, where funds have been looted with impunity. The COVID response has been an utter disaster.  The funds have been subject to abuse, and mis-allocation.  The original resource envelope pegged at D500 million, has since ballooned to four times that amount. The contradictions made by ministers as to the utilization of these funds is shocking.

More bizarre still, is the fact that health workers who are on the frontline of the COVID-19 response, for which these resources were initially meant, have confirmed not receiving anything.  The only remuneration they got was a paltry D5000, that was over three months ago. So the question remains: where did the COVID money vanish to? Where did more that D2 billion disappear to over a period of four months?  The Gambia Participates, a partner of R2K, has produced a report, which documented the COVID response:
        On 28th April, 2020, we are told that D160 million was already expended. In addition, that D100 million was spent on medical equipment, including ambulances and D60 million was spent on hotels, allowances, training, and rehabilitation of health centers.
        Upon closer analysis, the report shows that of the said expenditure only 12% or D3.3 million was spent on actual medical equipment (sanitary items); 40% or D12.8 million went to purchasing new cars; 45% or D14.5 million went to paying hotels for holding people in quarantine. The rest went to food (3% or D1.1 Million) and office equipment 0.3% or D111,700).
        D3.7 million dalasi was said to be spent at the Basse District Hospital, yet the 126 staff lack hand sanitizers.
        There are 12 identified COVID-19 centers with 67 beds in total.
        Soma District Hospital (a population of 82,201), it only has capacity to hold six infected patients- as it only has six beds, which were put in place 20 years ago. This means that if there is a COVID case they will not utilize the facility but will instead send the patients west to Banjul, 178 kms away.
• The entire LRR region has only one overhead thermometer, which is used by border health officials. 
The hospital however, does have one armpit thermometer, which is unsuitable for responding to a COVID cases (s).
        Despite the D2 billion in financial resources meant for combat COVID-19, the LRR regional health directorate was compelled to apply for a small grant from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to conduct outreach and sensitization within its region.
        In Basse, the hospital is severely handicapped. A massive power surge, which occurred on March 2nd 2020, due to some maintenance work by NAWEC, affected all the electronic medical equipment.
·      
  Staff complain about lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and training, even though the Finance Ministry claims that a part of the D160 million was spent on these things.

As if these major anomalies were not enough, we have a President that decided to take ‘leave’ off us. President Barrow spoke to the nation twice- by way of a recording to explain his government’s response to the pandemic.  We have not seen him in public in months- this is at a time when the country, like much of the world, is in a state of disaster.  This is at a time when the country needs leadership.   President Barrow had decided to be ‘missing in action’.  It is extremely worrying that with this act of abdication of responsibility to lead, he keeps extending the SoPE, through his aides, without showing the courtesy, respect and statesmanship, to explain to the citizens his reasons for such baffling extensions. 

On April 6, R2K and other CSOs and business entities wrote to Barrow, imploring him to take the country in his confidence. We reminded him that a State of Public Emergency, where movement and freedoms are curtailed, must include incentives and other actions that would buffer against the opportunity cost and consequences of such a decision. 

We told him that Government must give support to the populace and the various sectors of the nerve center of the economy, if such a decision to declare a SoPE wishes to receive reciprocal support.  It must have the backing of the public, without which any plan will not succeed.  We attached these suggestions to an outlined proposal titled: “Policy options for Gambia’s convid-19 response.” Again, our proposal was ignored.

Nevertheless, it is now clear that President Barrow has and will continue to attract the wrath of his citizens, many of whom have lamented the overall state of governance in the country, compounded by the mounting evidence that has emerged over the collusion to loot, redistribute and re-purpose state resources under the guise of a COVID response activity.  And evidence shows that GoTG expended $15 million in 72 hours through a ‘food assistance program’, yet we are to receive evidence that the targeted 80% of the population’s most vulnerable, received such food assistance.  All such bungling and calamitous outcome, despite the fact that we were told that the government had a Cabinet Committee; an Emergency Committee (at Health); the World Bank Expert/Committee; a Procurement Committee formed for the D500 million disbursement. Plus six sub-committees dealing with COVID. What are all these Committees doing?

We are yet to receive a plausible explanation as to how D115 million was spent of a school feeding program that supposedly took place at a time when schools were closed due to the COVID.   We are yet to receive a plausible explanation as to why the ambulances ordered form Turkey, at an astronomical cost, millions of USD we are told, are yet to arrive.  We are yet to see any form of action taken against those that the Minister referenced in a scam, to create a payroll of ghost workers, so as to establish and racket of fraud and corruption.

We are yet to receive a plausible explanation as to why in less than one month into the job, a very competent, high reputable health expert, in  the name of Mr. Alasan Senghore, threw in the towel and resigned as the COVID -19 national coordinator.

But we probably will not receive any explanation.  Because this government, under a Barrow presidency does not think, nor believe that it owes the citizens an explanation for anything they do or fail to do.  But this government must and will be held to account.  And that day of reckoning is fast approaching for this government.

Dear R2Kers: Next week is a pivotal one for the country- it will be the week that shall witness the first encounter between the National Assembly and the Executive, namely the President, over his abuse of the constitution and arbitrary adoption to deploying his powers given to him by the 1997 constitution.

President Barrow, through the Vice President, will have to explain to the nation, via the NA, the rationale, and purpose for his decision to subject us into perpetual SoPE for the last 56 days. He will have to, for the first time in his presidency, make a spirited submission as to whether he failed in his duties to adhere to the constitution- in essence he will have to show us that he is not a law breaker.

On the other hand, the NA must ensure that they too abide by their oath, and defend the constitution at all costs, and do the needful and expected, if President Barrow has been found to have broken the law in his Executive exuberance in taking the decisions he has taken.  The country watches.  For this is a first of several tests.

Dear R2Kers: The most pivotal test is yet still to come, and that is the issue of the Referendum. We must ready ourselves for this chapter of our national history.  

We see signs of impunity being firmly entrenched at a time when processes we invested (emotionally and financially) as a nation, are being systematically undermined by the leadership of this country starting with the President Barrow himself.  The sound and impactful investment made into the CRC and the processes of constitutional making is at risk.

The irrational utterances emanating from the Presidency-the irrational and irresponsible grumblings about dismantling guardrails around term limits, Executive power over the National Assembly, and other anti-democratic ideas being bandied about, including the encouragement of the military to speak up on civilian matters, for public sympathy and eventual support WILL NOT WASH.

The tactics being employed by President Barrow, and his ministers and possibly his new NPP, is a clear demonstration of the lack of leadership to steer us in the transition to transform the country from one of trauma to one of triumph.  They have chosen the former.      

And this is why we as R2K Gambia, are currently on the early stages of establishing a plan whose objective is simple: to ensure that the decision to Birth the Third Republic must reside with us- the people.  Not the vestiges of legislative procedure. 

We will be asking, in the coming weeks, the NA to resort to unanimously voting for the referendum; in essence agreeing to a national plebiscite; whereby, us the citizens, who were central to the CRC consultative process, will be the final arbiter on whether the time has arrived for this Country to become a Third Republic, through a  YES or a NO vote.  This will be our main focus in the coming weeks and months.  This will be our priority.  And we hope that it shall also be yours. So the coming weeks are pivotal for our country. 

We need to remain vigilant, embark on citizenry activism, engagement and solidarity to ensure that our voices are heard, and that we are listened to and respected. 

The elements of imperial presidencies are over; endemic corruption will be probed and rooted out, and the people shall govern.

Dear R2Kers let us remain united, as citizens who care for and love this country, and citizens who shall protect our ideals to dare to dream of a better Gambia- we deserve it, and only we can deliver it- but we can only do so if we remain united and focused in our resolve in the demanding hat we are governed well, through a strong, compassionate and capable leadership that espouses the principles of clean  and ethical government.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Gambia: A Stimulus Plan to address the socio-economic impact of Coronavirus on lives and livelihoods


                                                 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 


Business, civil society and youth ask the Gambia to prioritize poor and vulnerable in its Covid-19 response plan

Banjul- April 8, 2020 - A four-page proposal entitled: “Draft Concept Paper for a Stimulus Plan: ‘Addressing the Socio-economic Impact of the Coronavirus on lives and livelihoods’” calling on the government of President Adama Barrow to prioritize its resource allocation to the poor, vulnerable and struggling SMEs and strategic businesses, was released today. It details modes of financial assistance to the poor and vulnerable to provide cash transfers/payments using Government – to – person (G2P) and other mechanisms to cover three months of lost income to those who have lost their jobs and/or their incomes due to Covid – 19.  It also proposes the introduction of systems and mechanisms to obtain data on the informal sector, like taxi drivers via the Transport Union to assist them with fuel subsidy using fuel coupon schemes, to incentivize those who adhere to the 50% passenger regulation.  It also proposes support to SME’s/businesses affected by the economic slowdown in the form of tax and import duty rebates, access to foreign currency, concessional loans and other economic stimulants.  It proposes a set aside financial package of thirty million dollars for this.

“We understand the rationale for a effecting a State of Public Emergency, we concur that this is indeed is a necessary strategy to ‘flattening the curve’. However, a State of Public Emergency, where movement and freedoms are curtailed, must include incentives and other actions that would buffer against the opportunity cost and consequences of such a decision.  It must give [financial] incentives to the populace and the various sectors of the nerve center of the economy.  It must have the backing of the public, without which any plan will not succeed,” said one of the authors of the plan.

The backers of the plan, which includes the Gambia Chamber of Commerce, have asked President Barrow to consider giving support to strengthen the Central Bank’s Supervision Department to better manage the licensing, regulation and supervision of the banking sector and mobile money operations. It also proposes a lowering of interest rates and introduction of deferrals on repayment of loans in critical sectors, like the hospitality industry, to cover the January- May 2020 period, where loss of tourist revenue has had a direct impact on the sector.  Eighteen million dollars is proposed, as an allotment, for this component.

“This proposal is smart, realistic, time bound, attainable and applicable to our unique circumstances as a nation that is struggling economically, and is still to recover from a legacy of attendant corruption, and poor governance experienced over a period of 22 years of its half a century of existence,” said one of the endorsees of the proposal.

The proposal is coming at a time when the country rests at a precipice of a health, social and economic catastrophe, as it stares down into an abyss whose depths are unknown.  In a letter, which accompanied the submission sent to the President Barrow, the endorsers stated that:
‘We hope that this modest proposal will be taken in the spirit in which it is meant: to strengthen our national response to the situation through collective action; transparent partnership led by an accountable government and supported by a willing and able citizenry at home and abroad.’


Background:
The proposal has been forward to the Authority of the national Assembly and the multi-lateral and bilateral partners of The Gambia.  The proposal was endorsed by: Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI); BPAS- Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA); Gambia Participates;  Gambia Conference of Reforms and Democracy (GAMCORD); Right to Know (R2K) Gambia; The Association of Non-Governmental Organizations in the Gambia (TANGO); and Team Gom Sa Borpa.

                           For more information, please contact: r2kgambia@gmail.com

***End***

Context:

Gambian President, Adama Barrow, declared a State of Public Emergency, in a televised statement, on 27 March. The proclamation orders closure of non-essential commodity shops, bars, cafés, casinos, sporting venues, and all forms of public gatherings. The order also included all public and private institutions scaling down staff presence at work. It was revealed that an Emergency Fund of half a billion dalasi has been earmarked to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak, which had infected four and killed two. On 3 April 2020, the National Assembly granted the President an extension to the proclamation by an added 45 days.  A detailed plan of the Covid-19 task force, nor has its aggregated budget been made public. The National Assembly has constituted an oversight committee that would monitor the implementation of the Covid-19 task force.

Monday, March 23, 2020

WESTWOOD : Dealing in conflict timber, criminal complaint against Mr. Buzaianu at a Swiss court





Mr. Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu 


Between 2014 and 2017, The Gambia exported nearly 163 million US dollars-worth of rosewood, a rare and precious tree species, to China. During this time, Westwood, a Gambian company allegedly owned by Swiss national Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu and former Gambian President Jammeh, had the exclusive license to export rosewood. The timber it exported was illegally felled in neighboring Casamance where the separatist armed group has been fighting the Senegalese army for decades. TRIAL International filed a criminal complaint with the Swiss Office of the Attorney General against Mr. Buzaianu accusing him of having pillaged conflict timber. 

A TRIAL International Press Release
about the criminal complaint filed against Mr. Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu 


According to the criminal complaint (denonciation penale) filed by TRIAL International, Swiss businessman Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu’s company was involved in the pillaging of precious rosewood from Casamance between 2014 and 2017. During this period, Westwood Company Ltd –which TRIAL International alleges Mr. Buzaianu co-founded with former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh– had a monopoly on the export of rosewood, a precious tropical wood from The Gambia. But with Gambian rosewood nearly depleted since 2011, most of the timber was actually imported from Casamance, a region in southern Senegal that borders The Gambia. For several decades, large areas of this region have been under the control of the separatist armed group, the Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC).

‘Exploiting natural resources from a conflict zone is a war crime that must be punished. Without the pillaging of natural resources, many armed groups would have no means of financing their wars’, said Montse Ferrer, Senior Legal Advisor and Corporate Accountability Coordinator at TRIAL International. ‘Despite numerous documented cases of pillage, not a single conviction against corporate actors has been made since the end of World War II.’

TRIAL International filed a criminal complaint for pillage against Mr. Buzaianu in Switzerland with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in June 2019. ‘We have waited until today to go public because we wanted to give the Swiss prosecutorial authorities sufficient time to review the evidence and take decisive action against Mr. Buzaianu. We are hopeful that these steps have been taken and that the OAG is investigating the matter’, she added.

LOGGING THAT BENEFITS AN ARMED GROUP

Some estimates suggest that Senegal loses the equivalent of 40,000 hectares of forest per year, several dozen hectares of which are lost due to the illegal exploitation of rosewood in Casamance. This selective deforestation has led to a decrease in rainfall and increased desertification in the region. It has also led to conflicts between rebels and communities who can no longer use the forests for sustainable livelihoods.

Illegal logging of precious woods is problematic, as it undermines reforestation efforts in the region. According to the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), "in the village of Koudioube, the restoration of the community forest has helped to overcome conflicts." Illegal logging has stopped, fruits and wildlife are abundant, and local people are once again able to sell forest products. Communities that used to fight each other are now working together.

A large share of the trafficking and logging has been taking place directly in the territory controlled by the MFDC for almost thirty years. ‘Westwood’s illegal activity is all the more serious because it contributed to an illegal timber trade that has historically financed the MFDC. Equally striking is that this trade has had such a negative impact on the lives of local people contributing directly to the deforestation of the region’, said Jennifer Triscone, Legal Advisor at TRIAL International. The armed group exercises de facto control over the precious wood industry by issuing logging authorizations and transport permits, and by ensuring the security of the latter. The rebels also illegally exploit and sell precious hardwood timber to finance their armed struggle: an illegal trade fuelled by demand from the global tropical hardwood market. | TRIAL International is a non-governmental organization fighting impunity for international crimes and supporting victims in their quest for justice.
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION SUMMARY OF THE CASE

In June 2019, TRIAL International filed a criminal complaint against Swiss national Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu, a close business associate of former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, for the alleged pillaging of protected, Senegalese rosewood. Between June 2014 and March 2017, Westwood, a Gambian company owned by entities affiliated to Mr. Buzaianu and former President Jammeh, allegedly exported over 315,000 tons of Pterocarpus erinaceus to China (roughly equivalent to USD 163 million). This precious rosewood species was illegally harvested from the neighboring Casamance region, where the armed group the Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC), has been fighting the Senegalese army since the 1980s.

Yahya Jammeh as an ally, the MFDC was able to monopolize the timber trade in Lower Casamance, using its profits to finance its armed struggle. Westwood benefited generously from this trade, transferring its profits to individuals and companies associated with Former President Jammeh and Mr. Buzaianu. FILING’S STATEMENTS Ê A Swiss national partnered with –and benefited from– former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, accused by the Gambian Commission of Inquiry of having stolen millions of dollars in state funds. The MFDC exercised de facto control over the timber trade out of Lower Casamance by issuing authorizations for logging and transport permits and by providing safe passage to the timber traders. Westwood benefited generously from this trade, transferring millions of dollars in profits to individuals and companies associated with Former President Jammeh and Mr. Buzaianu. The illegal felling of rosewood has had a detrimental impact on the Senegalese forests, contributing to declines in rainfall and desertification, as well as preventing the sustainable livelihood of local communities.
                                                             
© TRIAL International / Montse Ferrer TRIAL International filed the criminal complaint before the Swiss War Crimes Unit. This is the first case where illicit timber traders are accused of pillaging conflict resources in Switzerland; and if this case succeeds, it would be the first case anywhere to convict someone for the pillaging of timber or any natural resource. It is also a groundbreaking case as it seeks to use the existing international criminal legal framework to punish non-enumerated environmental crimes, a subset of crimes that go mostly unpunished, in part given the lack of applicable legal regimes.
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References from the sidisanneh.blogspot.com on the subject of Westwood and suspected/possible resource flows:-
https://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2016/10/how-westwood-company-ltd-and-yaya.html (Part I )
https://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2016/10/how-westwood-company-ltd-and-yaya_26.html (Part II)
https://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2020/03/900000000-from-gambian-registered.html
https://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2020/03/how-ocean-bay-hotel-and-resorts-and-sun.html

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

How Ocean Bay Hotel and Resorts and Sun Beach Hotel continue to cost SSHFC millions in revenue

Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu
This blog post was first published on the 2rd October, 2018.  Given that Mr. Buzaianu is in the news lately, we find it useful to re-publish this blog post with a reminder that it may take years to bring culprits to book, it is a sure as the sunrise that it will come to pass.
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Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu is a naturalized Swiss of Romanian origin who has been described as one of Yaya Jammeh's least-known but highly consequential business partners and a central figure in partnering with the former-dictator to plunder the country's wealth.

He is also owner of Westwood , a company found to be in cahoots with Jammeh in the illegal exploitation of Senegalese redwood timber for export, causing environmental havoc as well as threatening the diplomatic relations between neighbors.

Prior to venturing into The Gambia, the Swiss-Romanian was alleged to have been involved in a 7 million dollar gold-smuggling ring that was unearthed.  A sizeable amount of gold was seized by the Zambian drug squad in 2007.

The late Zambia  President Michael Sata implicated Mr. Buzaianu which led his to threaten to sue the government of Zambia for $100 million which he never carried out.  He, instead, returned to Switzerland before trying out Gambia as a business destination.

Records show that both the Ocean Bay Hotel and Resorts and Sun Beach Hotel were leased to the BP Investment Group FZE (BPI), a company believed to belong to the Swiss-Romania,

Ocean Bay Hotels and Resorts (OBHR) was leased for an initial term of 10 years from 1st December, 2013 and Sun Beach Hotel was leased for 15 years 10 months from 9th August, 2016.

OBHR monthly rental:  The monthly rental for OBHR was 13,000 (thirteen thousand) Euros payable quarterly in advance for the first five years increasing to Euro 14,000 per month for the second five years.  The lease agreement also stipulated that any and all investments made by BPI in the physical structure of the OBHR during the term of the lease shall be deducted from the monthly rent up to a maximum of 6,000 Euros.

Sun Beach Monthly rental: The monthly rental of Sun Beach is the sum of $10,000 from 1st November, 2016 to 31st December, 2021 increasing to $12,000 from 1st January, 2022 to 31st December, 2026 and to $15,000 for the remaining duration.

BPI was to take Sun Beach on an "as is" basis and be responsible for all renovation and remodelling at its own expense and spend not less than 2 million Euros in accordance with its own renovation schedule/plans.  BPI failed to honor this commitment.

In March, 2017 under the new Managing Director, SSHFC decided to review the investments and decided that the consideration was scandalous, extortionately low and detrimental to SSHFC investment returns.

The returns on investments (ROI) for Ocean Bay Hotel and Resorts never reached 1%.  The rage was from 0.8% - 0.9% per annum.  BPI since inception of the OBHR lease 31st March, 2017 were paying a monthly rental of 7,000 Euros which means they were deduction automatically 6,000 Euros for  purported renovations/ remodeling without prior consent of SSHFC.

ROI for Sun Beach was 2.55% annually.  The poor returns on investments together with the fact that BPI was at the time owing SSHFC several months rent arrears nd woefully falling short of meeting its other obligations such as payment of utility bills, led the SSHFC management under Mr. Manjang to terminate the leases.

In August of 2017, the corporation instructed its solicitors to issue notices of termination which was challenged by BPI in the High Court to prevent SSHFC from reentering the hotels.  In May 2018, the case in the High Court was struck due to non-diligent prosecution.

The Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation is prepared and ready to re-enter the hotels, according to sources, but the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of Yaya Jammeh has placed them under receivership.  The corporation has tried unsuccessfully to discharge their order.  Meanwhile, SSHFC has an offer of 1.2 million Euros annually for the two hotels which they cannot pursue further because of the current status of the hotels.

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