Thursday, September 20, 2018

An education tax of D30,000 to take effect January 1, 2015

Honey bee as GRA's logo
Acting Head of GRA - Y. Darboe 

Hon. Halifa Sallah lamented about the "Education Tax" and asked the question about the utilization of the proceeds when prospective teachers found themselves unable to gain entry into Gambia College to be trained because they lack the D7,000 required to be admitted.

His intervention was during debate of the State Opening of the National Assembly speech by President Barrow.

On 28th December, 2014, we raised the "Education Tax" issue and asked similar questions about its origins, rationale and utilization.   It is an issue that must be addressed in a systematic manner as part of the national debate in the development of our education sector.  We have the pleasure of republishing the blog post.  We've added the year "2015" to the title.  The post was written a few days before the tax was to take effect. 
                                                                    #######

The business community found a present it did not wish for under their Christmas tree from Yaya Jammeh -  a new education tax of D30,000 annually - as part of the regime's revenue proposal for 2015. Interestingly, this tax measure was not in the Finance Minister's Budget Speech.

The annual levy is for every business establishment to pay.
It is so sudden a measure, even of a tax of this magnitude, that notices started going out a day after Christmas - a present the business community least expected after the Finance Minister's Budget Speech which made no mention of an education tax.

When the question was posed as to why the education tax was not mentioned in the Finance Minister's Budget Speech which he delivered before the National Assembly last week, the response was this is a regime that practices what he termed "street administration."  When I ask him to elaborate he said "these GRA officials meet at 'Attaya Vous' and what ever comes to their head, they agree to propose to Jammeh who, in turn, give directives for implementation."

A similar tax existed a few years ago which was dropped for reasons only known to the regime.  It is now being quietly reinstated without a fanfare and not being featured in the Minister's Budget Speech.  It is no coincidence that Jammeh promised "free education by 2020" when he had already promised Gambians that Grade 1 - Grade 12 will be free in 2014.  It was as recently as last September that the Education Minister reiterated the promise.

Gambian parents have been posing questions to Headmasters about the "free education" claim by the regime because they still pay upward of D 1,400 in book bills and other charges.  It is perhaps as a result of Gambians beginning to see through the falsehoods that the regime is trying to recalibrate by shifting the date of free education to 2020 and to levy an education tax that was abandoned.

To reinstate the education tax without public debate and scrutiny and being completely omitted from the Minister's Budget Speech is one more indication of the type of a regime we are dealing with.  It is an opaque and sinister regime that is being managed by a group of functional illiterates who'd rather serve a tyrant and a criminal than to serve and protect the interest of the Gambian people.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Gambia's petroleum sector is opaque for a reason

The re-publication of this blog post - first published on 2nd April, 2017 - is meant to serve as a backdrop to what we hope will be a lively national debate before the drilling of Samo 1 well, in the words of Managing Director of FAR, Cath Norman, is creating a lot of buzz because its an 825 million barrel prospect.

We will be following developments and reporting on it to keep our readership abreast of developments, especially at the local level.
--------------------------------------- 

The announcement by ERIN Energy (formerly CAMAC) that it has reached an agreement with FAR Ltd. to farm-out Blocks 2 and 5 kick starts a petroleum exploration concession awarded to the Texas-based, Nigerian controlled company by Yaya Jammeh in May of 2012.

FAR is an Australian oil exploration company that is currently operating in Senegal.  In fact the two Blocks (2 and 5) are next to FAR's 2014 SNE-1 oil field one discovery considered the largest offshore oil discovery of the industry that year.

The Agreement between Erin and FAR, FAR will pay a purchase price of $ 5.18 and take over $ 8 million of the company's shares in exploration costs of a well that is expected go be drilled in 2018, according to industry sources.  By contrast, $ 400 million was paid in the case of the adjacent blocks in Senegal, making these figures appear minuscule, even when the size of the blocks in the adjacent areas in Senegal cover larger areas.

According to FAR's own estimates, Blocks 2 and 5 have the potential of producing in excess of one billion barrels of oil.  Block 2 as indicated earlier, is adjacent to Senegal offshore block in which FAR already has an interest as junior partner of the Scottish Cairn Energy that operates the SNE world class oil and gas field,

Since the Erin-FAR deal is subject to government approval, the Barrow government must revisit this particular contract Agreement i.e. between Erin (formally CAMAC) and Yaya Jammeh.  Pertinent issues must be raised with Erin ( for Blocks 2 and 5) and African Petroleum Corporation (for Blocks 1 and 4) including the amount paid for the two licenses and to whom the monies were paid.

The circumstances that led African Petroleum Corporation's (APC) withdrawal of its arbitration request with the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes after its license for Blocks 1 and 4 were terminated by Jammeh only to be reinstated without explanation must also be explained. Were the terms and conditions maintained as previously or were they varied? Obviously, more questions must be raised by the Barrow administration about all of these contracts and satisfactory answers provided by both APC and Erin.  

Gambia's energy/petroleum sector is opaque for a reason.  It allowed Jammeh to negotiate these deals personally with a select number of civil servants being privy to the details of the Agreement when these concessions should have been publicly tendered for transparency.

We need not remind readers that the Jammeh style of governance is unsustainable because it is inefficient and corrupt, depriving the public treasury much needed financial resources at the expense of Gambians who, on average, are living in abject poverty. The new government must reverse the trend by adopting best public procurement practices in the petroleum, energy and other public sectors.
--------------

CORRECTION :  The $ 400 M referenced in this blog was paid by Kosmos to Petrotim for the Deep Sea - St. Louis Block and not the adjacent blocks as initially reported.       

Friday, September 14, 2018

An e-Procurement system is an appropriate response to Gambia's increasing corruption problem


Corruption has become an endemic problem in The Gambia's new political dispensation. 

The problems has also become growing concern among foreign investors who'd otherwise like to do business with The Gambia but a effectively locked because of it. 

Indigenous businesses and locally-registered ones would prefer competing in a low-cost business environment that a level playing field provides for themselves and their prospective foreign business partners. 

In fact, it is believed that one of the reasons some world class companies, once active in the 1970s and 80s but are now absent in the economic and financial life of the country, is because of the high cost of doing business in a previously business-friendly environment, partially because of the unacceptable levels of corruption.  Other factors driving the cost of doing business to non competitive levels are bureaucratic red tape, the tax burden, monetary and personal freedoms.

As a corruption-deducing measure, a number of countries have adopted electronic procurement system, also known as e-GP system.  Rwanda is the first country in Africa to adopt the system nationally in its effort to improve transparency in an effort to minimize potential among bidders. 

Rwanda's system, known locally as UMUCYO which means "transparency", is an adaptation from the South Korean version of a web-based e-Procurement  system designed as an online portal with modules for advertisements, e-bidding, evaluation, contract management, inspection and acceptance, framework, catalogue, where suppliers can register and submit bids online.  This method eliminates the need for government officials to come in direct contact with prospective bidders when most of the shenanigans take place. 

We hope that the Barrow-led coalition government will start addressing the corruption problem that has tarnished the image of a transition government by introducing a procurement system similar to Rwanda's web-based e-Procurement system. 

                                                                      #####

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

In loving memory of Kasim Kanji - Re-publication

Thank you Coach Pasamba Jow for reminding me through your Twitter account of the brutal murder of Kasim Kanyi at the hands of Jammeh's brutal killing machine.  Today marks the 5th anniversary of this young man's death which must serve as a reminder to the governors and the governed of the tremendous sacrifices the country had endured over 22 years of one of Africa's most brutal and corrupt regime. 

The blog post below was published 5 years ago today. It is being re-published in loving memory of Kasim Kanji.  Unfortunately, we didn't have his photo to add to the narrative.  It would be nice if we can have his photo to accompany the piece.  Thanks

---------------------------------------------------------------------     


Kasim Kanji died at the hands of Jammeh's rag-tag but brutal security apparatus. The young hotel worker underwent severe torture sessions before his neck was broken, and his lifeless body returned to where he was initially picked up.  From this point on, it was the job of the Abuko police to complete the sinister job of concealing what happened, fabricating stories and terrorizing any one who dared to report what they saw. Unconfirmed reports say the parents and other family members have since been picked up by the police for speaking about the death of their son.

Gambians must resist being intimidated.  We are not naive or callous enough to pretend that there are no risks and/or severe consequences associated with speaking out.  There are;  but speak, we must.  Indeed, if it weren't for, at least, one eyewitness, and the brave uncle of Kasim who contacted the online papers, the story would never have been told.  The world would not have known, and Kasim's life would have been one more on a long list of disappearances, unexplained deaths - all of which had gone unpunished.

There were many more gruesome incidences like the one Kasim encountered last Saturday that had gone unreported because of fear of reprisals from the security forces.  Potential eyewitnesses have been traumatized in the past for stepping forward.  They are afraid to come forward.   Even if they do want to come forward, where will they report these acts of terror against a civilian population - the internet-based online papers.  We encourage potential witnesses to go to them with what you know about this case or any other similar case involving human rights abuses of Gambians.

The petition drive on behalf of Kasim Kanji is progressing well.  Thanks to the publicity given to it by the online press and others.  Inquiries from the international press is beginning to trickle in.  Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, I understand, are already asking for details of the case. www.change.org will be sending periodic updates to the American Embassy and the European Delegation Offices in Banjul of our campaign to end terror against the Gambian population and impunity from punishment of those responsible for these hinous acts.

Given the brutal nature of the Yaya Jammeh regime, we do understand the reluctance on the part of the citizens to speak to this particular gruesome act, and to others.  But without the public's help, the terror against the Gambian population will continue, and the problem that is the regime of Yaya Jammeh will prevail.  19 years of this nightmare is enough.

We are, therefore, appealing and encouraging Gambians who have information leading to the identity or identities of the police officers and members of security forces who were responsible for the murder of Kasim Kanji to come forward.  We want to prevent another Kasim Kanji from being murdered in the name of the personal security and safety of one man - Yaya Jammeh.   Do it for Kasim.

Please continue to encourage friends and colleagues to sign the petition at :
http://www.change.org/petitions/president-yahya-jammeh-president-of-the-republic-of-the-gambia-bring-to-justice-the-killers-of-kasim-kanji-of-lamin-village?share_id=IfSltoUiJt&utm_campaign=share_button_action_box&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

Thank you.

It is time to govern; going it alone, however, is unwise

Barrow, Bojang and Darboe
Although this editorial was penned barely four months ago (April 13th, 2018), imploring the victorious UDP executive and its rank and file to be magnanimous in victory and urging Adama Barrow not to go it alone, both counsels appeared to have been disregarded. 

UDP supporters went on a rampage, insulting anyone who dared question the direction of the party - most of which they wish they can take back -  and President Barrow, determined not to be outdone decided that he is sufficiently comfortable, politically and financially speaking, to go it alone with the support of a bunch of opportunistic bureaucrats and hangers-on who are driven more by greed than political acumen. 

The combination of these developments have plunged the country in uncharted territory thus exposing the country to great danger by increasing the likelihood of political instability which the IMF did not rule out in its June 2018 mission report.  So it is, therefore, not the wild and irresponsible machinations of a wide-eyed blogger. 

It is real and Gambians must sit back and take notice that the political transition is more perilous than we all bargained for when we embarked on our journey along the path of our new political dispensation.  The period we are in represents an inflection point in our history.  We must, therefore, take what is happening seriously.

Sidi Sanneh

Read on   
--------------------------------------------

The United Democratic Party (UDP) has swept the municipal elections after a short but gruelling and divisive campaign, peppered with tribal altercations that was on full display across various social media platforms.

The win allows the UDP to control all but one of the seven municipal governments across the country in its quest to consolidate its political power.

The party now controls the presidency (executive) and the National Assembly.  As sweeping as UDP's political victories appear, on paper the arithmetic, on aggregate, is not spectacular to write home about because of the under of political parties and independent candidates who contested the parliamentary and municipal elections.

A cursory glance at the results reveal as much as they mask which will, most certainly, occupy the attention of analysts into the foreseeable future     

Regarding the third branch, although the process of identifying and, subsequently, appointing the Chief Justice, Supreme Court judges and the staffing of subordinate Courts is controlled by the Executive, it is expected that the judiciary will be free from political interference.

Recent government decision not to renew the contracts of some foreign judges is an encouraging development that suggests the passage of an era in our history when the judiciary was weaponized by the dictatorship, using foreign judges and magistrates to punish political enemies, real and imagined.  The decision also signals government commitment to Gambianizing the judiciary.

We join others in congratulating the entire UDP membership and urge the leadership, and particularly he rank and file, to be magnanimous in victory.  And to the vanquished, we say be gracious in defeat.  Violence has never been a proper response to losing an election and neither is using the law to coerce political opponents after winning a very good idea.

The country is in a state of trauma, characterized by anemic economy, coupled with extremely weak and ineffectual institutions, rendering it ill-prepared to respond to emergencies of any kind.  What is needed now, more than ever, is a calm, peaceful and reconciliatory environment to help dampen an emotionally-and politically-charged post-electoral atmosphere that must start with the leadership of all political parties and independent candidates.

When all the campaign paraphernalia have been discarded and reconciliation engagements done with, it will be the moment to pull ourselves together, as a country and not a supporter of a political party, to commence addressing the numerous and now all-too-familiar problems facing us as a country; such as constitutional and electoral law reviews, a properly constituted economic management team, restructuring of the civil service as well as the security services etc. etc.  UDP alone cannot do it and neither can any single party.  It is time for all parties to pull together - as the only governing option likely to succeed.  Going it alone is unwise.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

President Barrow must step down in 2019, unless...

The Coalition of 7+1 
We are republishing our February 24th, 2018 blog post on the MOU as it becomes more topical with each passing day to pave the way for the national conversation to commence.

--------------------------------------

The adage that a person is as good as his or her word will be tested in the coming months as President Barrow presidency approaches the halfway mark of the three-year MOU-specified tenure in office, which, in our view, must be respected.

For Barrow to serve beyond December 2019, the Coalition Partners comprising of the seven opposition parties and the independent presidential candidate must reconvene, in a convention-style forum, to agree to extend the mandate prescribed in the MOU beyond the 3-year limit.

During normal times, the issue would find an easy solution by simply referencing the MOU which created the Coalition under certain terms and conditions.  Unfortunately, these are not normal times.  The country is beginning to emerge from twenty-two years of one of Africa's most repressive regimes, the trauma of which is debilitating to both the democratic institutions as well as the human spirit.

The dictatorship also weakened the political parties to the point of rendering them impotent.   The former regime succeeded, as well, in blurring the lines that distinguished one political party from the other.  The resultant effect is a symbiotic relationships between them, driven partially by expediency and political opportunism rather than by shared values and principles.

The blurring of the boundaries occurred among opposition political parties, as well as among political parties' interests and, the personal interests of individual party members that were beginning to converge after the electoral victory of Adama Barrow.  It immediately resulted in the trading of party membership for positions in the civil service.

Recently, we cited the various sentiments expressed across the political divide regarding whether President Barrow should stick with the provisions or principles set out in the Coalition's MOU that requires the Coalition President to vacate the seat after three years or to follow the stipulated constitutional presidential term of 5 years.

The matter may have been a topic of discussion during the negotiations that led to the selection of Adama Barrow as the Coalition's flag bearer.  Whereas there are some who feel that the Coalition partners should stay true to the MOU, there are other voices that favor the stipulated presidential term of 5 years.

Because the National Assembly Members were elected to serve the full 5-year term, it becomes necessary to realigned the president's term with that of the NAMs.  The shortening the term of the NAMs to 3 years would be an unlikely option because it is already consistent and in line with the constitutional provisions.

That leaves open the options of formally extending the term of the Coalition president for an additional two years or not extending the president's MOU-mandated 3-year term which automatically allows the Vice President to assume the presidency for two years.

A convention of the Coalition partners must reconvened sooner than later so as to determine the length of term of the transitional president created by an MOU that is still operational, independent of the standard constitutional provisions and, only if to confirm maintaining the current status quo.  The MOU created the current political dispensation.

The MOU should form the basis for untangling the untidy mess created as a matter of necessity.  It is therefore an absolute and necessary imperative to untangle the mess to allow The Gambia to start the recalibration of the term of office of the President of The Republic with that of Members of the National Assembly.

                                                                      #####

Monday, September 10, 2018

Can Gambia endure a China "debt trap" scenario?

Barrow with Xi 
With a struggling economy and a political transition program on life-support, the Barrow-led transition government finds itself adding to its long list of self-inflicted problems, leaving  a trail of lingering questions in search of answers to the potential dangers a debt overhang poses if The Gambia goes all in, head first, with Chinese President Xi's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Gambian delegation to the 2018 edition of the Heads of State Summit of the Forum on China - Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) returned home yesterday but nit before they signed three BRI Cooperation Agreements on infrastructure, economic cooperation and culture, according to a press release from State House.

President Barrow used the occasion of the signing to outline his transition government's priorities of "making electricity affordable and accessible, the expansion of the seaport of Banjul, road networks, mechanization of agriculture amongst others", the press release elaborates.

Serving as backdrop to this year's FOCAC Summit were numerous stories on financially-distressed economies in middle and low income countries aggravated by, if not the result of, what had been characterized as China's "debt trap diplomacy" that deliberately entices this category of countries to sign loans beyond their capacity to service, leading to defaults with dire consequences.

We wrote in our August 10th, 2018 blog post, which you can find here, that increasing number of countries are falling prey to what a bipartisan members of the US Senate referred to as predatory lending practices resulting in applications for bail-out loans from the IMF to repay loan arrears to China.   Sri Lanka was the first in line to seek a bail-out loan of $1.5 billion from the IMF to repay  China.

Pakistan's recently-installed Prime Minister is contemplating a similar move.  Djibouti strategic location has attracted Chinese interests to the point of ceding control of the country's only container terminal to Pekin.  We can now add Zambia to a growing list of loan defaulters leading to the surrender of the country's power utility company (ZESCO) to China as a result.

The heightened criticism of China's aggressive push into Africa and its "debt-trap" strategy has caused the Chinese president Xi Jinping to deny that its bilateral cooperation strategy is not to finance "vanity projects" using predatory lending practices as claimed in Western capitals but to help Africa remove main barriers to development, namely inadequate economic infrastructure.

Returning from the China Summit, the president of Botswana announced that the Chinese have extended a loan for rail and road infrastructure as well as writing off some debt which may suggest that they - the Chinese - are becoming increasingly sensitive to the rising international criticism about their policy towards African. 

Vanity projects are not limited to an African Head of State immortalizing himself in a statue built with an Ex-Im Bank of China loan but are equally applicable to an infrastructure project that will only add to the public debt that has already been declared unsustainable as is the case of The Gambia.

The Finance Ministry under Amadou Sanneh had made this very clear and documented that the Port Development Project, as initially proposed and estimated to cost $177 million, is not a financially viable proposition.  As the debt-to-GDP figures in 2016 and 2017 will show later, it would be a fiscally irresponsible act to proceed with the project as is.  We hope, therefore, that Mambury Njie, the current Finance Minister, will equally display fiscal responsibility. 

In addition to the high debt sustainability levels, the procurement rules were flouted by State House and the Minister of Works by awarding  all components of what would be the biggest project ever to a single company.  The decision to sole source the entire project constitutes a procurement malpractice and should neither be approved nor tolerated.  Government should have invited two or three other Chinese companies - since it will financed entirely by the Ex-Im Bank of China -  to submit bids.

Resisting the pressure from the Minister of Works, Bai Lamin Jobe and Office of the President will be the challenge facing not only the Finance Minister but the entire GPA Board that will probably meet the same fate as the NAWEC Board that was summarily dissolved last week.  The GPA Managing Director who provided the effective stewardship of ports operations that resulted a net after tax profit of D198 million in 2017 from D13 million in 2016 was unceremoniously and without notice transferred to the Public Procurement Agency, an ineffectual behemoth of an agency that deserves dissolution more than the other victims purged to pave the way for the impending Chinese wave.  You can find our last June blog post on the persistent lack of transparency in Gambia's public procurement system here. 

The IMF has told the transition government of Adama Barrow in June that Gambia's  debt vulnerabilities have risen since January - February 2017 with the debt-to-GDP ratio reaching nearly 130 percent of GDP from 120 percent the previous year under Jammeh.  The transition government in one short year has added 10 percent to the debt-to-GDP ratio.

With figures like these, a government in transition with no governance experience to speak of and, emerging from 22 years of brutal dictatorship that has left the economy in tatters, the question of whether the country can withstand the consequences of a Chinese loan default becomes academic.  The Gambia cannot endure a Chinese "debt trap" and therefore the need to navigate these treacherous waters soberly with the national interest above personal interest in mind.

Recommending that we move with caution and fiscal prudence as guide is not a statement against building strong and mutually beneficial ties with China.  We have used these pages in the past to support severing ties with Taiwan in favor of China in furtherance of a One China Policy.  However, supporting the One China Policy was not meant to be at the expense of the economic, political, social and cultural viability of the smallest country on the African continent. 

The national character of the country must be maintained at all cost.  And when the national security including the country's independence and sovereignty are put at risk - for whatever reason or reasons - Gambians must stand up and voice their opposition.

                                                                    ####