Friday, March 24, 2017

Kassim Tajideen indicted in the US as financier of terrorism; lessons for the Barrow administration

Kassim Tajideen at his office in Beirut
Federal authorities have, today, filed a criminal case in a Washington DC court accusing Kassim Tajideen of being a financier of terrorism.  Kassim heads a family business that spans across the Middle East and Africa.

Kassim's brother, Hussein Tajideen, who was a close business partner of Jammeh for a number of years, managed several businesses in the Gambia during the Jammeh era until they finally fell apart last year.  It was a relationship that saw anything but stable with frequent disagreements between the two that led to Mr. Tajideen being expelled from the Gambia on, at least twice.

The criminal indictment charged that Kassim Tajideen helped fund Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group.  The US is also investigating Mr. Tajideen's relationship with Kansas-based food producer Seaboard Corporation.

According to a November article in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ),  Kissim Tajideen was found that companies tied to his family business did millions of dollars in business with Seaboard Corporation after the US Treasury added him to the US terror blacklist in 2009.  Seaboard Corporation is an American company famous for producing the Butterball turkey that partnered with Muhamed Bazzi and Fadi Maziggi in the establishment of the Gambia Milling Corporation.

Tajideen cornered the chicken market in the Gambia probably importing them from Kansas.  It must be noted that the United Stated is not expected  to file any charges against Seaboard at this time and no suggestion that the food producer did anything wrong.

Mr. Kassim Tajideen, head of the Tajideen family business, face multiple felony counts, including evading terrorism sanctions and conspiring to launder money. According to Drug Enforcement Administration's Special Agent in Charge, "Kassim Tajideen posed a direct threat to safety and stability around the world" who "acted as a key source of funds for their global terror network."

According to the WSJ, the two brothers were added to the government's terrorist blacklist in 2010 for allegedly funneling millions of dollars to Hezbollah and running "cover companies" for the group in Africa.

It is against this hostile background that the Barrow administration is trying to install a government that will not only embrace the democratic culture that the dictatorship overthrew in July 1994 but to create a free market atmosphere that will encourage legitimate foreign businesses and investors to do business in The Gambia.   However, to realize this laudable goal, proper screening of investors and the monitoring of their business practices must be instituted.

We are, of course, not suggesting that all foreign investors currently in the country are either on or are likely to be on the US Treasury list. We are, however, urging the administration to do is to put up safeguards against what we consider to be a real threat to the credibility of a very young and inexperienced government that has yet to benefit from the international goodwill accruing to it after replacing the dictator.  Do not think for a minute that the world is not watching.

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This blog is based, in large part, to a Wall Street Journal piece published today and written by Rob Barry and Christopher S. Stewart  with whom we have cooperated with, previously.

Monday, March 20, 2017

AMRC has outlived its purpose, it's a corruption den, and should be closed

In November 2013, we published a blog post in which we proposed the closing of the Assets Management and Recovery Corporation (AMRC) that was purposely established in 1992 to manage the assets and liabilities of the defunct Gambia Commercial and Development Bank.  The AMRC mandate was later extended to include assets and liabilities of the Agricultural Development Bank which also went under a few years later.

The reasons we advanced, for its closure, are relevant today then as they were then.   It is a corruption den utilized by Jammeh to further enhance his ability to conceal his dubious assets transactions at the expense of private citizens engaged in legitimate business activities that resulted in the illegitimate forfeiture of their properties illegitimately employing the power of the state.

The AMRC issue was raised by Abdoukarim Sanneh and thus the decision to republish this blog that we first published on the 11th November 2013.

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The Assets Management and Recovery Corporation (AMRC) was established by an Act of Parliament in 1992 with a clear and simple mandate, to manage the assets and liabilities of the defunct Gambia Commercial and Development Bank (GCDB).

Two years into its existence, the 1994 coup took place and the mandate of the AMRC was extended to include newly confiscated properties of members of the Jawara regime.  But not all fell under the purview of the corporation.  In fact, many of these properties fell into the hands of members of the junta and their families, friends and supporters.  The rest, mostly less attractive, were handed over to AMRC to be managed.  many quickly fell into disrepair and dilapidation. Assets quickly turned into liabilities because the corporation was not designed to be a long-term proposition but a short-term fix to address the assets and liabilities of the GCDB.

We are being told that 72% of the entire GCDB portfolio valued at D 240 million ( about $ 8 million) has been recovered with an outstanding balance of D 94 million (about $3 million).  There has been zero collection for years, and the corporation, according to its own reporting, has ceased to collect "as large parts of these debts are unsecured and/or lack documentation since the debtors are either non-traceable or no longer in position to pay..."  Most, if not all of the collection activities of the corporation has been on commercial loans.  There has been little recovery of development loans, mainly agricultural machinery, because they were all unsecured.  The other category of GCDB liabilities were under managed fund category which were government guaranteed loans to Area Councils.  Most of these loan remain outstanding because most of these Area Councils are bankrupt, and have been so for a very long time.  They rely on government subvention to provide the minimum of services despite the local rates and levies collected from residents.

Instead of winding down the operations of AMRC, the regime decided instead to expand its mandate indefinitely "to venture into sectors such as agriculture, property rental and sales of forfeited property as competitive prices" as if they have learned nothing from the GCDB experience were almost all of the loans extended for development purposes ( agriculture ) turned out to be unrecoverable.  Adding sales of forfeited properties to the corporation's mandate only fuel the property confiscation binge the regime is on.  The continued existence of the AMRC perpetuates a cycle of corruption in the properties market, distorting it in the process.

The corporation has been operating deficits, at least since 2011 and the decline persists.  For instance, the turnover of the corporation in 2011 was D 19.4 million, down to D 9.7 million in 2012 - a year described by management as turbulent times but yet promised as they did the previous years, that the "corporation will grow from year to year." The corporation rental income has suffered a precipitous decline over the years because most of its rental properties, according to their own reports, "are vacant due to bad state of repairs" and all efforts are being made to repair them so that they can be put back in the market.  The idea of AMRC had never been to play the role of a landlord.  It was to manage the liabilities and assets of the defunct GCDB and close shop after the main objectives have been achieved.    

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Have we no moral conscience or sense of decency?

Sidi Sanneh 
The republication of this blog post was inspired by Pa Modou Jobe's re-posting of it and the comments that followed on his Facebook page.

The blog was penned on 9th March, 2015 at the height of Jammeh's rampaging hit squad unleashed on a defenseless and much traumatized population with scores of forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and torture which were taken in the jaw in stony silence by civic, political and religious leaders with some allowing themselves to be infected with the Stockholm Syndrome, the virus externally induced by the tormentor-in chief with cash and worldly goods.

Fatu Camara also re-posted the story of Ya Binta Jarju who was targeted and her brains blown out by the Bulldozer group and then proceeded to threaten her boyfriend who was riding in the same taxi that fateful night if he should ever speak about the incident - the link to the story can be found here.

The country will never start on the road to reconciliation and normalization without addressing the horrors of the previous regime.  The nation will never heal if the painful process of confronting the past does not take place and the longer it is delayed, the more difficult it will be to attain the cleansing of the National Soul which is, as we've said previously, a prerequisite to reconciliation. Those responsible for these heinous acts are still roaming our streets and, more repulsively, occupying the highest and most coveted positions in the Barrow government.  These people must be weeded out of the system, charged and brought before a court of law.  Those found guilty punished and those found innocent be let free.

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Sidi Sanneh 
To sit, watch and actively participate in the destruction of the Gambia through our active or passive support of Yaya Jammeh who came out of the blue to torment, torture, maim, rape, extra-judicially execute, exile, imprison and humiliate our sons, daughters, wives, husbands, uncles, aunts, grand-children while we stay mute, and pretend nothing ever happened.

There was an instance when the life of a father was attempted, and if not for the timely intervention of medical treatment in Senegal, another precious life of a Gambian would have been wasted by Yaya Jammeh's criminal gang.  What did Yaya Jammeh do?  He appointed the victim's daughter to the bench while the father was still in exile in America.

Eventually, the victim returned to Gambia to those who attempted to assassinate him.  These are personal tragedies with national proportions and, thus, must be discussed within that context, and also within the context of trying to understand Jammeh's tactics that he's used to stay in power. The world must know what Gambians are going through under the regime of Yaya Jammeh.  We cannot accomplish this goal if all of us stay mute.

It is only in The Gambia where a husband is killed by the notorious security henchmen of the regime only to find the wife hitching a ride the next day to Kanilai to engage in 'celebrations' and fraternizing with the very soldiers who killed her husband.  Gambia's social fabric is being destroyed by a regime that careless while we watch from the sidelines or help in the destruction.

Stories like these are horrid and numerous.  As a Gambian, I am embarrassed by them.  How did we get to be where we find ourselves?  How did we degenerate to this inhumane and unprincipled state of mind that a wife will report a husband to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in the name of a brutal dictator? These and many questions will engage psychologists, psychiatrists, behavioral scientists and other social scientists for generations to come.  What a degenerate life we have resigned ourselves to as a Nation?  Where is the moral decency in us?

Ebrima Barry, a schoolboy was forced into a sinister exercise that required him to load and off-load a truck-load of cement by a group of Fire Service personnel.  Young Ebrima collapsed and died of stress because his small skeletal frame could not bare the brunt of the abuse while we stayed silent.

Within the same time-frame, a thirteen-year old girl was raped by members of the same Jammeh security henchmen.  We stayed silent.  As a result of our irresponsible behavior as elders, fellow students had to take to the streets in civil disobedience to demonstrate against injustices meted out to the populace resulting in 14 students being mowed down.

In this one instance, Pa Dacosta, with Manu Kumba as master of ceremony spoke up while the rest of us stayed mute.  Eventually, Manu succumbed and was consumed by a vile regime that thrives on sectionalism.  Rape and murder have become a weapon of choice of the tyrannical regime in Banjul. We all know it but chose to stay silent.

On the eve of the unofficial release of the 'United Nations' Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment' which describes The Gambia's precarious security position as being at a "pivotal moment".  The Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs warned that, as a result of last 30 December events, Jammeh "seems poised to further suppress fundamental human rights and retreat into isolation The Gambia's neighbors, the region and international community."

We have seen the proliferation of military check points and marauding "bulldozer death squads" tormenting civilians which has resulted in the assassination of Ya Binta Jarju, a Red Cross volunteer because she was a passenger in a taxi that, according to the polices, fail to stop at a military check point.  The official version of events contradicts witnesses versions - witnesses who will not come forward for fear of reprisals which is not surprising because report after report, ranging from Amnesty International to the Robert F. Kennedy's Center for Justice and Human Rights substantiates the fact that The Gambia is ruled through fear instilled on the population by the regime.

Community policing has failed precisely for fear of reprisal - a failure confirmed by the Rapporteurs' Report.  We have become the enemy and yet we continue to support a regime that has us under siege with military checkpoints every 500 meters, choking traffic and affect normal conduct of business.

It pains me to write this blog post because of we have failed the most vulnerable of the Gambian population in pursuit of our own selfish ends.  Perhaps when the NIA agents come knocking at our door in the dead of night, maybe we would have realized then that the strategy of keeping one's head down and to pretend that everything is hunky-dory is not such a wise idea after all.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

TransGambia Bridge Project : Now you tell us

At the height of the border closure in 2016, The Gambian delegation to the talks in Dakar led by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs raised the issue of the design of the bridge when the construction of the bridge was about to start or has actually started.  It was public knowledge that Jammeh played politics with the bridge project ever since he seized power in July 1994.  The on-again off-again bridge has resulted in two postponement or stoppages during the mobilization phase.  So it came as a complete surprise to Senegal and Gambia when design objections were raised at the border closure negotiations by the foreign minister which led to the blog post below.

I am republishing this specific blog post first published on 15th May, 2016 to supply context that led to our pre-post of yesterday which has generated interest but unless the genesis of the project is known and its long history studied and appreciated, the complete picture will remain a mystery.

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Neneh McDoull-Gaye, Gambia's Foreign Minister

An Appraisal Report of the TransGambia Bridge Project has been in existence at the African Development Bank for nearly two decades, sponsored by Senegal and The Gambia.  This means that the Jammeh regime has been aware and has been a party to its preparation and has signed off on the project's economic, financial and technical feasibility from the start.

After several years of abandonment, it was decided to update the appraisal report.  The process requires that all aspects of the project - economic, financial including costings and technical undergo a thorough review.  That goes for the (technical) design as well.

The reappraisal was done in 2010, Board approval in 2011 and project start-up in 2012 with the full knowledge and active participation of the Jammeh regime and Senegal because it is classified as a regional or multi-national project even though the bridge will be entirely within Gambian territory. The Jammeh regime was involved in all phases of project preparation including loan approval and effective processes.

The extraterritorial character of the project is central to Jammeh's reluctance to sign off on the deal. We have touched on this issue elsewhere which we will revisit at another occasion.  For now, we will stick with other aspects of the projects.

It is only today that Gambia's Foreign Minister is objecting to the design of the bridge which, according to her, obstructs or impedes the navigability of River Gambia, one of Africa's most navigable rivers.  This is, of course, a legitimate concern so fundamental to the entire project that it raises some serious questions. Where were these people 20 years ago or 10 years ago or even 4 years ago to have raised this apparent design flaw and demand design changes to address the clients concerns.

Why is it still hard for some to see why we continue to call for the voluntary resignation of Yaya Jammeh?   The incompetence level of this regime continues to rise at exponential levels with time, an inverse relationship that continues to test the tolerance levels of our politicians at home and the supporters of political change at abroad.  #JammehMustGo

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Trans-Gambia Bridge Project design is a legitimate concern of Gambians

The TransGambia Bridge Project has become current again as a topic of discussion following the recent visit of President Barrow to Senegal where it appears that of the Bridge Project is one of the three Agreements signed.

We have written a great deal about the genesis of the project and about subjects related to it.  The most recent one was the 25th May, 2016 when we expressed concern about the final design of the bridge which, if it's mishandled, will have a lasting impact on the economic, social and environmental fabric of our society. 

We are republishing the blog post by request. 

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Example of a cantilever bridge 
The Gambia River, one of the most navigable and important rivers on the African continent, is the single most important natural resource of one of the world's poorest countries - The Gambia.

The Gambia exists because of the river that it took its name from.  The River Gambia is The Gambia and The Gambia is River Gambia.  It is, therefore, a natural resource that must be protected at all cost and to be preserved for generations yet unborn.  To protect and reserve it is to protect and preserve Gambia's national identity.
Source of the River Gambia
The bridge over River Gambia has always been central to Senegal's, as well as the regional's, interest that will connect northern and southern Senegal, as well as to connect a critical link of the ECOWAS highway system linking Abuja to capitals along the west African corridor.

The original project, under the purview of the OMVG was first mooted in the late 1970s.  The project included a barrage component (Bridge - Barrage Project) to provide irrigation water for rice production, a component that was proven to be environmentally unsustainable, according to a USAID-funded University of Michigan study.  Gambia's interest which centered on the barrage for irrigation fell when it proved an unsustainable proposition.

Senegal managed to keep the bridge project alive for over three decades until fairly recently when the project was reconstituted as a Bridge Project.  It is important, at this stage of the negotiations, for Gambians to familiarize themselves with the history of the project to appreciate the geopolitical importance as well as the implications of the outcome of the negotiations that is taking place in Dakar.

During negotiations, the Gambian Foreign Minister, Mrs. Neneh MacDouall-Gaye, raised the design issue of the bridge which, according to her, obstructs or impedes the navigability of River Gambia. The fact that Gambia is raising fundamental design objections, albeit late in the project cycle, is extremely important an issue that MUST be satisfactorily addressed by both parties and the donor community, including the AfDB.

The late objection should not be an excuse to proceed without satisfactorily addressing the issue because, if indeed the design obstructs navigation of one of Africa's most navigable rivers, it will be a national tragedy of monumental proportion that will be revisited by an successor government to Yaya Jammeh.
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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Barrow's administration must tread carefully

Economic prospectors, as opposed to the traditionally serious and genuine investors, have been hovering above everything of financial and economic value for easy pickings to take advantage of the newness and the inexperience of the Barrow administration.

Their eyes are step on the Mandinari petroleum storage facility, the ownership of which was transferred to government under dubious conditions.  It is a project, the financing of which is still unclear.

It is claimed that the project costed $ 50 million.  Neither the principal investor nor the Jammeh regime has been forthcoming on who guaranteed the $50 million.  Was it a sovereign guarantee through the Central Bank of The Gambia?   Protecting the national interest is paramount in such a strategic investment as the Mandinari facility.

Regarding the upstream portion of the petroleum sector, there are more questions about the cancellation by Jammeh of his ESPC contract with the African Petroleum Corporation (APC) for Blocks 1 and 4 (offshore) which resulted in APC filing an arbitration request with the World Bank's ICSID the outcome of which is unclear because Jammeh abruptly changed his mind by reinstating the once cancelled contract. What drove him to do so is a question needs answered.

The other outstanding issue that requires explanation is the apparent variation of the standard contracting formula of 90% for the oil companies and 10% for government.  Petroleum companies doing business in Africa, APC included, maintain the same standard formula for similar contracts in Senegal, Liberia, Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana.  But in the case of The Gambia, APC has the entire 100% allocated to it and zero accruing to The Gambia.  Why the variation in contracting?  Is the 10% intended for an escrow account?  We need answers before any divestiture is even contemplated,    

This 'cowboy' class of investors must not be encouraged, especially when they are crowding out potential investors - domestic and foreign - from playing a central role in helping The Gambia achieve its economic development goals and growth potential .  Return on investment must go hand in glove with benefit accruing to the national economy.

That said, we welcome the fact that the full compliment of the cabinet has now been realized with the swearing in of six more ministers, permanent secretaries and senior civil servants thus finally paving the way for the convening of the inaugural cabinet meeting.

We need not reiterate nor itemize the numerous problems facing the new government.  What is urgently needed, however, is a data-driven blueprint outlining the government's agenda for the coming 3 - 5 years, prioritizing its goals and objectives.      

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ousman Sonko may walk out of a Swiss jail a free man soon unless...

Ousman Sonko, former Interior Minister
The man who once proudly referred himself  as the disciple of Yaya Jammeh may soon be freed from a Swiss for lack of solid and irrefutable evidence against Jammeh's most trusted and longest-serving Interior Minister.

Unless witnesses step up to the plate and provide evidence against one of the most notorious characters that the 22-year dictatorship has ever produced, Ousman Sonko will be a free man in the next 48 hours, according to a very credible source.

We at sidisanneh.blogspot.com have been collaborating with investigative journalists and international lawyers and organizations who have used our blog posts as open and secondary source of information.   However, there is only so much we can do from where we are.

Witnesses and victims who have evidence against him must step forward.  The identities of those who volunteer information to authorities will be protected by the Swiss authorities whose duty it is to guarantee anonymity of witnesses.

If Ousman Sonko walks out of a Swiss jail a free man in the next 48 hours or so, you will have no one to blame but yourselves.  Good luck with that because we would not want to think of the implications as well as the fallout from such an eventuality.  Who will take us seriously, then?