Friday, November 22, 2013

Taipei's messy gunboat diplomacy

There is growing demand from Taiwanese politicians for their government to take full account of all of the outstanding loans owed by former allies with the view to reclaiming them.

There appears to be growing frustration in Taipei over outstanding debts owed by former diplomatic allies. Gambia has now joined the ranks. Despite successful court battles and law suites victories against Taiwan's against them, some of whom have refused to repay their loans, there is still over $150 million outstanding loans that are still being subsidized by Taiwanese taxpayers.  How long Taiwan will be saddled with these loans that taxpayers must continue to subsidized before additional legal measures are taken - if additional legal recourse is available to government - is anybody's guess.

While Taiwan is still recovering from a diplomatic thunderbolt that struck last week from the direction of Banjul, there's obvious self-assessment and diagnostics being carried out to establish what actually happened, and why neither the Foreign Affairs Ministry, including the Foreign Affairs Establishment, nor the Taiwan Embassy staff in Banjul saw it coming.   Like in any messy marriage breakup, there's always enough blame to go around with the unavoidable finger-pointing, and the 18-year Taiwan - Gambia relationship is no exception.  Recriminations have started emerging from sources that do not wish to be identified revealing additional loans that The Gambia may have contracted with the Ex-Im Bank of Taiwan totaling $ 20 million. What the amount was for is not yet clear but it must have been for the procurement of goods and services originating from Taiwan.

Is it possible that all or a portion of the $ 20 million from the Ex-Im Bank of R.O.C. went towards the procurement of the three boats "donated" to the Gambian Navy by the government of Taiwan to replace the previous four vessels delivered in 2009?  If these were outright gifts, then what was the loan spent on.  As a Gambian eloquently put it on my Facebook page, "I hope someday soon, Taiwan would come out, not in a retaliatory fashion, but in the name of accountability, to tell us some of the things they have done for/with the regime in Banjul."  He continued " that shouldn't be seen as breach of any (diplomatic) confidentiality but instead being accountable to the Gambian people who are going to bear the brunt of the loan repayment..."

It should be noted that Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou agreed to the deal to replace the four 50 ton Dvora class (known in Taiwan  as Hai Ou or Seagull) during his April 2012 visit to Banjul.  One of these 50 ton vessels reportedly "suffered serious damage" suspected to have been linked to the 2005 massacre of 50 African nationals, including 44 Ghanaians.   According to, the group of African nationals was reportedly picked up by the Gambian naval vessels in international waters, transported to Gambia and hacked up by "security forces, axes, machetes and other weapons.  A Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report linked Jammeh to these heinous crimes.  Jammeh withdrew Gambia's membership from the Commonwealth last month, and abruptly severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan last week.  It could all be attributed to coincidence, and it may not all be.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, it is hoped that in due course the Taiwan government will shed light on these loans particularly as reports start to emerge suggesting that some of these marine assets have found their way into Moroccan waters where they are being operated privately - assets meant for the Gambia and the Gambian Navy to ensure, in the words of the Gambian Vice President in receiving these vessels, "that our territorial waters are well protected, together with our marine resources, and address banditry at seas as well as deter or punish the criminals", as quoted by the local newspaper, The Point.

Unlike the $ 10 million in cash that Yaya Jammeh demanded from the Taiwan with the specific request that a receipt was not needed which was refused, the Ex-Im Bank of R.O.C. was receipted and goods and services invoiced, and thus should be easily identified.  We hope the government of Taiwan will make this information public so that the matter can be pursued.  The Gambian people deserve to know what is being contracted in their name by a regime that has now been shown to be corrupt, and therefore undeserving to be shielded from public scrutiny.     薩內 甘比亞