Friday, January 31, 2014

The boycott of the GPA ferries continues

The Senegalese Transport Union's boycott of the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) ferry services continues unabated.  The meeting held this week between the union and Gambia government officials ended in a stalemate.  Meanwhile, the intransigence continues with no end in sight.

It must be noted that the borders between The Gambia and Senegal have not been closed.  It is only the President of the Republic of Senegal who has the power to close his side of the border, and no anyone else, including the Transport Union. Senegalese commercial vehicles are bound by union rules to observe the boycott but non-commercial and private vehicles are unaffected by union action.

The Senegalese union is a typical "bread and butter" organization that protects the economic well being of its members, and promotes their general welfare.  It is independent of the Senegalese government - an independence they guard jealously against government and third party interference.  The ferocious nature of the union's defense of their independence against government interference is shared by unions across francophone Africa, something inherited from their colonial heritage.  Unless the national security of Senegal is threatened, the union will not accommodate any attempt by the government of Senegal to interfere in the boycott.  It is the State that will determine when the national security line has been crossed, at which time all concerns will act in unison.

Unlike The Gambia, Senegal is a democracy that values the separation of powers, and the independence of unions to engage in legitimate activities on behalf of its members.  The unions are boycotting the ferry services because Yaya Jammeh changed the rules by requiring the payment of foreign currency.  The mandatory nature of the decision is what caused the boycott.   Although the payment in CFA had been optional, it had always been a currency of choice by both the Gambia and Senegal since the inception of the GPA in 1972, but for different reasons.  For the Gambia, the CFA it is a source of foreign exchange, and for the Senegalese, it is convenient because it is their national currency, and since it was optional, they preferred it to going to a forex bureau to change to local currency.  Revenue collected by GPA, especially the CFA component has always been accessed by Jammeh since he seized power in 1994 for use outside the normal operations of the GPA which has contributed to it's current insolvency.

Even when the dalasi was losing value against the CFA, the GPA under the Jawara regime never changed the rules which was a smart move.  To change the rules automatically removes the option that the Senegalese drivers enjoyed all these years - a change which sparked the current controversy leading to the boycott. The rapid loss of value of the dalasi is the obvious trigger, a decision that is costing the Gambian economy in decline in revenue for GPA and other commercial activities around the crossings at Farafenni and Barra, in particular.

Resumption of negotiations over the boycott between the Senegalese Union and the government of Yaya Jammeh is uncertain at this point.  Meanwhile, the economies of both countries suffer, however disproportionately, and in our view, unnecessarily.    

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Groundnut buying season : Good news, bad news

It is rather early in the groundnut (peanut, to my American audience) buying season that started last month in a avalanche of confusion, to hail it a success or declare it a failure.  The confusion started with the announcement of the producer price that the farmer was being offered and the declaration of the season open on the 3rd of December by the Agribusiness Services and Producers Association (ASPA) only to be told by the Gambian dictator that they've been fired with immediate effect.  Agents of the ASPA were no longer empowered to buy the produce.

Instead, the Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC) will now be responsible not only for processing and exporting Gambia's primary foreign exchange earner, they will now be responsible for buying and transporting the crop to transit points and beyond, completing the vertical integration of the GGC by the single stroke of the dictator's pen without considering the implication of such action.  For a corporation whose financial viability is questionable at best, with limited managerial capacity, according GGC monopoly status is ill-advised.  Signs are already there, but time will tell as they say.

These limitations notwithstanding, the season started with the projection that GGC will buy 40,000 tons. Although it is too early to tell from our vantage point, it appears, as we have said in previous blogs, it will be a steep hill to climb because of the monopoly status of the GGC which, by definition, bars private buyers from participating.  Limiting the players, suppresses competition which, in turn, freezes the price that the farmer gets at the official price.  Private buyers, last year, offered the farmer higher price which forced other buyers to up their price.  For example, last year when the producer producer price was D 10,500 per ton, Chinese buyers were offering Gambian farmers D 19,000 per ton. Needless to say that higher price ultimately benefits not only the individual farmer but the rural farming and business communities. Unfortunately, this year, the Gambian dictator saw to it that private buyers have been banned from the market.

Brisk buying has been noticed in seccos (buying points) in Ballanghar, Lower Saloum partly because Senegalese are crossing the border to sell there nuts there.  This is a good sign because it means that there was little or no credit buying in this area, at least for now.  It is also possible that the price on offer in The Gambia, despite the lack of competition from private buyers, is higher than what's on offer across the border.

Illiassa is also reporting brisk buying, and as at this week, there was no credit buying.  However, other seccos in Farafenni are reporting some credit buying.  farmers are being asked to come back a day or two for their money.  Seccos have been running out of money to pay for the crop.  We hope this is a localized phenomenon and a temporary hiccup rather than a generalized one.  We will know as the season progresses whether credit buying has taken places, and if so, the extent of it and its impact on the tonnage purchased.

When we posed the question of credit to local farmers and businessmen in the Farafenni area, the responds was that it depends on the "demand for money".  If the traffic is high, the buying agent usually runs out of cash, but as long as the waiting period is a day or two, farmers don't mind the wait.  There's an air of apprehension in certain quarters about the ability of the GGC to continue paying for the produce they buy from farmers.  After all, government still owes some farmers huge sums of money from previous seasons which are still outstanding.

Some farmers are unhappy with the allowance for the weight of the bags that is deducted from the total weight of their produce at the weigh stations.  It ranges from 1kg - 1.5kg from secco to secco.  As one farmer opined, "a kilogram here, and a kilo gram there, add up to something big for someone in Banjul." We could not agree more with the sentiment of this farmer.

The final bad news is that in the Farafenni area, the volume is high but the nuts are small and underdeveloped which means the export volume premium HPS (hand picked selected) that brings in higher premium export price will not be as high as hoped.  This problem points to the quality of seed nuts available to farmers for planting. The regime has done an extremely poor job of multiplying high quality seeds, and making them available to farmers.  Other farm inputs like fertilizer and agricultural credit have been in short supply. Building a strong agricultural extension services to support the farming community has also been an abysmal failure, and agricultural research budget slashed in favor of funding celebrations and cultural festivities.  For the regime of Yaya Jammeh, pomp and pageantry trumps over the livelihood of the ordinary farmer, every time.

This is a first in a series of reports on the farming season which we will continue to monitor.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Is Raleigh dead ?

No, not Raleigh the city, but Raleigh the political process that was sold to the political parties and activists alike, as the vehicle capable of bringing the opposing parties in a unified coalition against the dictatorship in The Gambia.

When the Dakar venue for the meeting failed to materialize, the good folks of Raleigh, Atlanta and Washington graciously stepped in to save the day by suggesting Raleigh as the alternative venue. Gambians from all corners rallied around the organizers to stage, what was billed as the most important meeting of opposition ever.

Despite initial reluctance in some quarters to support the idea, the meeting was convened and leaders of all major political party, with the notable exception of one, attended Raleigh.  Interspersed with the political party leaders were keys players in the Gambian political scene and leaders of civic and activists organization.

The two-day meeting culminated in a Communique, signed by all parties, which set out to construct a structure named the Steering Committee, and to provide a framework within which the political parties are expected "to pursue an Agenda for Democratic Change in The Gambia."  Besides the coordinating function which runs throughout the Committee's terms of reference, its main task is "the effective crafting and representation of the Agenda for Change." There's the resource mobilization function of the Steering Committee which can only be successful if the main task of crafting an Agenda for Change must first be successful for the stakeholders and potential donors to buy into the enterprise.  Thus, getting the Agenda right is a necessary prerequisite, in our view, for the rest to fall into place.

Extensive discussion took place during, but principally, after Raleigh, regarding the size of the Steering Committee.  In their desire to be inclusive by ensuring that all geographical areas where Gambian exiles reside are represented, organizers extended membership to 27 individuals.  The size became a topic of discussion, and so was the composition.  It is unclear where the Committee stands on both issues as at now. A Steering Committee of 27 members spanning three continents, even with modern communication technology, was considered unwieldy which may hinder the work of the Committee in building consensus around contentious issues, especially in drafting an important and complex a document as an Agenda for Change that all parties involved can support and rally around.

The Chairman of the Committee has yet to be named.  An announcement of his imminent selection proved to be premature.  Leadership is of utmost importance which should have been resolved by the party leaders and representatives of civic and activists groups.  In fact, the size and composition of the Steering Committee should have also been resolved before they departed Raleigh.   As a result of these omissions, delays in the process are almost inevitable which may dampen interest and enthusiasm.

It's been eight months since Raleigh, and yet we are unclear as to where we are for lack of information.  A one-pager from either the organizers or the members of the Steering Committee will help allay worries that Raleigh is on its death dead which would be a shame after all the effort and hard work that went into making it happen.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Is the UTG a ticking time bomb?

The University of The Gambia is an effective propaganda tool for the Jammeh regime and a convenient talking point for A(F)PRC supporters. As it is a propaganda tool, so it is also a ticking time bomb, ready to go off because it is producing 'graduates' at a rate that the economy cannot absorb.

The Gambian economy is not growing fast enough to absorb 50 - 100 graduates annually. Don't tell me the civil service will provide them with employment, because it cannot. The private sector, on the other hand, is contracting instead, and many enterprises closing their doors. Yet, UTG continues to churn them out at blazing speed with total disregard for quality.

The bomb will go off earlier than projected for an institution that is barely 2 decades old. I hate to say this but 'we told you so'.

The above is a Facebook post, prompted by a Voice of America report about youth unemployment in Africa despite advances in higher education.  The explosive ranks of the unemployed young Africans is threatening the social fabric and stability of governments.  International Labor Organization say that in Africa, the youth are twice as likely to be unemployed as adults, despite the fact that the young are better educated than previous cohorts.

African governments must address the problem urgently or else they will face a rising tide of unrest all across the continent.

We intend to take an in debt look at the problem with special reference to The Gambia. 

The VOA piece is here:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Gambia 1994 - 2014 : 20 years of pure unadultrated hell

How Dr Jamus Jammeh looked in July 1994
Tobacco Road, Banjul compounds
The A(F)PRC regime of Alhaji Dr. Professor Yaya Jamus Junkung Jammeh is preparing to 'celebrate' what, members consider to be 20 years of progress.  The celebration is planned to coincide with the fifth Party Congress.  It is in this regard that a team of party stalwarts, led by the Leader of the National Assembly, is touring the country to sensitize and gin up support from a demoralized populace that has suddenly awoken to the stark realities of 20 years of misrule, incompetence and high level of corruption never before seen in the post-Independent history of The Gambia.  The team comprising of Assemblymen, Mayors and other party officials dubbed the "Taskforce Committee".

During the first meeting of the Committee, The Assembly Leader touted the record of the A(F)PRC and the first gem he pulled out of their success bag was the University of The Gambia (UTG), and the fact that the current Secretary General of both the Civil Service and the ruling APRC, an oxymoron, is a product of the UTG.  It is as misleading as it is frequent a claim by a desperate regime in search of success stories to justify its twenty years of failure.  To correct the record, I posted on my Facebook page a litany of the constituent institutions that make up the UTG - Brikama College Campus, Management Development Institute, the Gambia Technical Training Institute, The School of Nursing, The School of Public Health, The Rural Development Institute, National Agricultural Research Institute, all 5 of the Regional Education Resource Centers.

All these structures were built by the government under Sir Dawda Jawara, without which, there will be no University. Most importantly, the academic mission and content were formulated well before some of these structures were completed with the St Marys University link.  Pulling all of these together form the UTG.  To claim, therefore, that UTG was established singly by the Jammeh regime is not accurate.  The foundation and most of the content were in place a decade before these irresponsible and rogue soldiers entered the scene.

The Committees next destination was Basse where the A(F)PRC is losing political support from all age groups, particularly the youth who were promised free and quality education.  Access was also promised with some degree of success.  However, on all other aspects, this regime has failed to deliver in spectacular fashion.  The quality of primary and secondary education have deteriorated at alarming rates as suggested by the poor results posted by Gambian students in the West African school leaving certificate exams as well as entrance exams to secondary schools.

Under Jawara, the emphasis was on the 'software' aspect of education under the First 15-Year Education Policy 1988 - 2003, like teacher training to improve quality of instruction, text books, basic supplies etc, instead of the brick and mortar.  Admittedly, the latter is more visible and thus scores higher propaganda points that teacher training.  Therefore, the military junta went for building schools all over the map with total disregard for the school mapping exercise that would have delineated the areas that needed facilities the most.  The end results is that most schools were either under-used and/or lacked basic items, like school forms, desks and school materials and supplies.  It is fairly common for teachers in these schools to bring along basic supplies financed personally.

The A(F)PRC failed in the field of education where they should have succeeded because, if for nothing else, the Gambian youth supported the coup d'etat and thus an important constituent of the so-called July 22 Revolution.  One of the reasons of the coup advanced by the regime was that the Jawara regime reserved all scholarship slots for sons and daughters of Ministers and  PPP militants, and for that reason, the coup was justified.  Of course, Gambians now know better.

Education was the low hanging fruit, and even here the regime managed to mishandle and mismanaged the opportunity.  As regards fiscal and monetary policy, the regime relied, initially, on Jawara's hold-over both at the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank for advise and guidance.  However, with time, Jammeh convinced himself that he's acquired sufficient working knowledge of monetary policy to go it alone.  The meddling started, first by fiddling with our external accounts which forced them to start cooking the books.  They proved their incompetence in these areas to which led to their discovery and eventual sanctions by the IMF. The regime was forced to refund monies advanced by the Fund and the suspension of disbursements. The regime started tampering with the floating exchange rate which served Gambia well since 1986 which sent shock waves across the local forex market leading to decline in confidence and the withholding of foreign exchange from the market by local players.

The A(F)PRC's spectacular incompetence in economic affairs was surpassed only by its management of dissent.  Under Sir Dawda Jawara, Gambia was the bastion of free democratic expression of thought and ideas.  There were no security agencies, like the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), that was dedicated exclusively to the repression of the opposition, both real and imaginary.  The National Security Service (NSS) was it was known then, was primarily an agency that collected and monitored intelligence primarily for national security purposes and not to use the agency as a tool of repression and to stifle, gag and imprison political opponents as is the case under the current dictatorship.

Under Jammeh, human rights abuses became the norm, and torture the weapon of choice, of a regime that lacked the competence and the desire to provide a set of policy choices to those offered by the opposition. What was lacking in intellectual capacity and power of persuasion, they made up in pure and brute force. The level of brutality meted out to Gambian by the regime is comparable to the violence the North Koreans face in the hands of their brutal and secretive regime.  Just like the Kim Jung Un's regime, the Jammeh regime resort to torture, murder, extrajudicial executions, forced imprisonment, forced exile and disappearances of those who dare oppose the regime or those who the regime regard as a threat to their continued iron-fist rule.

Therefore, after 20 years of repression and the absence of the rule of law, the Gambia has nothing to celebrate but to work towards riding this scourge from The Gambia.  The A(F)PRC regime must go so that Gambians can start the long road to reconstructing a damaged economy and an equally damaged national character.  The Gambia Jammeh inherited from Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara is a far cry from the Gambia Jammeh will leave behind - a very sad story that is unworthy of celebration.  In 20 years, Jammeh has made The Gambia poorer (both materially and morally), more corrupt, less productive by working less and engaging in leisure more, more violent and less respected around the globe.  In short, the last 20 years has been a pure unadulterated hell for Gambians, a suffering that must end.      

Friday, January 24, 2014

Jammeh is in Paris, gravely ill - UPDATE

The Gambian dictator departed Banjul on Monday, 20th January for medical treatment in Paris.  He departed by special flight a couple of days after celebrating what he claimed to be marking the 7th year of his discovery of the HIV/AIDS cure.

All four of his private jets are still parked at Banjul International Airport. It is now evident that he used both the celebrations and preferring the use of use of private charter instead of his private jet as decoys.                                                

This is a developing story.

UPDATE:  Jammeh left Banjul last weekend for Paris on chartered flight.  He returned Friday night/Saturday morning, according to a very reliable source.  What type of medical attention he received, and the specific ailment he's suffering from, is something we are not privy to.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why EU plan to boost aid to Gambia not a bad idea

Please, before you start hurling rocks, allow me to explain why I think boosting aid for The Gambia during the Article 8 dialogues between the European Union and The Gambia is not a bad idea, despite the serious human rights issues and serious corruption posed by the current regime.

According to reports, the EU is posed to double aid to The Gambia to € 150 million over the next seven years from the last EDF Article 8 dialogues figure of € 75 million.  At the concessionary windows of the World Bank and African Development Bank Group, there are similar talks that take place which they refer to as Replenishment negotiations with eligible Member States, with one significant difference - the EDF is replenished every seven years while the other institutions are for a shorter duration i.e. three years for both IDA and ADF.  Moving resources or reallocation them can be very difficult once the negotiations have been concluded, and the Agreement takes effect.  In the case of the EDF, you may have to wait for another seven years before you can receive any budget enhancement of significance.

The second point of note is that Article 8 is a significant departure from the old Cotonou Agreement that tended to provide relatively narrow set of issues bordering on political conditionalities.  The meetings where highly formal then, involving only Finance Ministers and high level officials - a setting that left little scope for frank and open discussion.  The Article 8 of today is different which seeks to broaden the level of participation to include civil society groups, and the scope of issues to discuss.  Of equal importance is that its is a process that lends itself to periodic assessment and evaluation, leading to further consultations on human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law which is commonly referred to as the 'essential elements' of the partnership between the EU and the ACP countries.

Lost in all of this, i.e. the planned increase in aid for The Gambia, is the assurance given by the EU Development Commissioner that "(F)or the next two years, the EU intends to allocate a limited envelop of up to € 25 million to support the Article 8 negotiations."  The threat to block funding for The Gambia has raised what has been described as "considerable tension" within the EU membership.

A community as diverse as the EU, such tensions and disagreements are frequent given that national priorities and interests may, and do, differ.  It is reported that Spain and Italy are reluctant to cut aid because they are two - one might want to add Portugal to the list - of the countries more affected by economic immigrants from Africa. The thinking in Spain and Italy is that if aid is denied, it will increase poverty, thus driving more of the immigrants to their countries.  This fear - founded or unfounded - has driven Spain, and perhaps other countries, to enter into bilateral agreement that will allow the repatriation of illegal immigrants from The Gambia back to Banjul.

This, of course, raises the question of whether it is appropriate to use aid as instrument to punish governments like the one in Banjul.  The fear is, of course, when you deny aid, the intended beneficiaries (women, children, rural population and the like) may end up the victims.  Targeting them for assistance, including the channeling of funds through NGOs and local civil groups are frequent methods of getting around direct support to the government.  Some of these methods are being used currently by the EU in The Gambia, and there's are no indications that these will stop.

On the whole, increasing the aid envelop for The Gambia, subject to the current periodic review to ensure that the concerns of civic society groups, human rights advocates and ordinary Gambians are met, is not a bad way to go.  I think what the EU is saying, in so many words, to Gambians is that in the event there's a change in government, and the manner of the change is endorsed by the international community, the funds will be there for the new government.   OK, the missiles can now fly.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fool me once

The euphoric and celebratory editorial of the Daily Observer of today, about the increase of the 2014 producer price of groundnut (peanuts) is further confirmation, if one was ever needed, of the government's approach to public policy, in general, and the agriculture sector policy in particular.

As like most things this government is involved in, public policy is short-term designed to produce instant gratification for the beneficiary and political gain for the regime.  It must also be visible for propaganda purposes even if the policy will end up, as it will most certainly always does, in total disaster.

There are many examples of shenanigans and propaganda ploys in the 20-year history of the Jammeh regime, too numerous to enumerate but we will attempt to remind our readers of a few. The producer price is open to such manipulation for propaganda purposes.  It is, no doubt, an important factor in the scheme of things because it provides an enhanced income to the farmer, but it is only one tool out of many in the tool box. 

The prohibition of credit buying - which is reportedly still going on - is the other side of the producer price coin without which the farmer will take his/her peanuts elsewhere or find an alternative use for it.  Apart from these two, there are numerous other policy measures, including, but not limited to, a strong input supply (fertilizer, quality seed), agricultural research and equally strong extension services should also be in the tool box.  Of course, these vital policy instruments are not sexy and visible enough to command high propaganda value - a commodity that Jammeh thrives on. 

Remember the 'Wartsila' and the 'Pielstick' generators that were escorted on foot by none other than Jammeh himself, from Banjul to Kotu which were to end the darkness that Greater Banjul still finds itself a decade later?  What about the ferries and the elaborate dedication ceremonies and APRC "Yayi Compins" (female political agents) being sucked into the believe that the end of river crossing nightmares of Gambians and Senegalese were over.  It is worse today than anytime since 1994.  These generators and the stories behind them is the subject of our ongoing inquiries into the corrupt practices of this regime. 

It is still very vivid in our collective memories when Jammeh waved a CD in our faces before national television cameras - a disk which purportedly contained the "full data room" or OML (oil mining license), terms I learnt from a Gambian petroleum expert, assuring Gambians that lifting the black gold from the bottom of the ocean was only a year away.  I think he called the blocks "Alhamdulilah A and B ".  This was also almost a decade ago.  He entered into a contract with a Canadian firm in secret, and last week he terminated the contract by accusing the company of engaging in speculation. A law suit against Jammeh for breach of contract and intellectual property theft is imminent. 

These instant propaganda tools employed by Jammeh were effective in the past but not any more.  Gambians have wised-up to the tricks of this snake oil salesman, including the farmers quoted in the DO editorial who kept saying to the interviewer, yes the producer price is up, but what about the government helping us with fertilizer, what about more incentives for farmers etc.  Te farmers are saying to this irresponsible and incompetent regime that there's more to our plight than the producer price.

Monday, January 20, 2014

NAWEC: "Wartsila" and "Pielstick" generating sets

We are looking into the "Warstila" and the "Pielstick" generating sets installed, respectively, at Brikama and Kotu.
Developing story.....

Carnegie Minerals falls victim of Gambian dictator

 In a recent press conference, Gambia's new Finance Minister revealed the level of  corruption under the regime of Yaya Jammeh after a casual investigation and review of the pubic accounts. Preliminary figures suggest that Jammeh siphoned of hundreds of millions of US dollars over the years, especially in the last decade.  What has been revealed thus faris the tip of a iceberg.

This blog has written a great deal about several dubious business dealings involving foreign and local business partnerships with Jammeh during his 22 years dictatorships.  One of those business associations was with Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd.

Below is one in a series of blog posts about Carnegie Minerals that was published in January 2014. We will be republishing blog posts relating to Jammeh's other business dealings including but not limited to African Petroleum Company, March Petroleum and Westwood.

This blog post was first published in 20th January, 2014
Uranium mining in Niger

Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd, a subsidiary of the Australian mining giant, expelled from The Gambia by the dictatorship in 2008 has been found guilty and fined over U.S. $ 200,000,000 by the Special Criminal Court presided by a Cameroonian mercenary judge who is, himself, reportedly under arrest for unknown reason.

It could be recalled that in 2008, security forces raided the offices of Carnegie Minerals in Sanyang village and arrested its Managing Director, Charles Northfield, and accused the company of illegally mining for titanium, iron ore and uranium which was outside the contract which allowed for only zircon, silicon and ilmenite.  Mr. Northfield was later smuggled out of the country by a private British security firm to save their client from certain torment at the hands of a megalomaniac dictator.

In October 2008, following the accusations by the government, Carnegie Minerals(Gambia) Ltd filed for arbitration with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Dispute (ICSI) which is a World Bank body established in the mid 60s for this very purpose.  A tribunal has been established comprising of two Americans and a French national, with both parties engaging the services of legal counsel with Jammeh retaining the services of Mayar Brown Rowe & Maw, Paris, France.  Both parties have already filed a post hearing brief on the 19th September 2012 which signals that final decision of the arbitrators couldn't be too far off after almost six years into the process.

Questions being raised now is why would Judge Nkea proceed with the judgement while arbitration tribunal in Washington is still deliberating.  Is it that Jammeh smelt the rat?  Is it a preemptive move in anticipation of an unfavorable ruling from the ICSI tribunal?  Jammeh's record of honoring binding contracts has been anything but good.  He's walked off contracts, seized private investor's property and has deported investors who end up forfeiting investments left behind in The Gambia.  And as a South African online paper at the time Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd ran afoul of Jammeh aptly put it " Being dispossessed is turning into a common occurrence to those that dare venture into Gambia, and as African countries clamor for investors, the list of countries being forced to leave the West African nation seems to be growing."

Accusing the company of malfeasance and breach of contract in 2008, after operating in the country for almost a decade was suspect.  More puzzling and illogical was the accusation that Carnegie Minerals was mining uranium, iron ore and ilmenite in the sandy beaches of Sanyang village, contrary to the mining concession. Granted, ilmenite was mined in the general area in the late 1950s but, as far as records go, there's no record of discoveries of uranium or iron ore deposits in the village of Sanyang or any part of The Gambia.

According to mining experts, the geology of the area doesn't seem to support Jammeh's claim.  It is seen rather as a ploy to get rid of Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd. in an attempt to seek out a more favorable deal for himself.  After all, the entire petroleum and mining concessions in the Gambia have been negotiated exclusively by the Office of the President with few officials having access to details of contracts signed with foreign entities, including the Carnegie deal.  Since they are not tendered internationally, they remain the exclusive domain of the dictator and few of his officials which explains why those who even worked in the Ministry of Petroleum and officials handling the mining concessions are either in jail or they have their travel documents seized and thus prevented from travelling abroad.  It is an industry shrouded in secrecy and for good reason, as we begin to uncover more of the corruption that permeates the Jammeh regime.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Greek partners to sue Jammeh for € 40 million

The 27-year old ferries with troubled maritime histories are causing additional headache for Yaya Jammeh and his dying regime - a regime that is coming under increasing pressure to mend its ways, however late in the day.  It now appears that the joint venture between Gambia government and Gallia Holdings of Greece with 45% and 55% respective share holdings is becoming unstuck with the Greek partners looking poised to sue Gambia for a reported sum of € 40 million.  The Greeks who were in Banjul to manage the deal and train Gambia Ports Authority operators are reported to have shortened their stay and have returned to Greece. This is a developing story....

Jammeh's Gambia: A state of deliberate incompetence

The Gambia under Sir Dawda Jawara used to pride itself as a state that was striving to achieve a level of, what can term as, functional democracy that  required the building of new institutions as well as the strengthening of the old.  Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC), Gambia Ports Authority (GPA), Gambia Commercial and Development Bank (GCDB) and its offshoot the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB), all belonged to the former category.  

The Gambian Civil Service, the Judiciary and Parliament were inherited from colonial Britain and thus belonged to the latter category of institution.  What the two categories shared in common was they were all considered by the administration as "work in progress" - trying new approaches in response to a ever changing economic, political and social environment while not hesitating to change, re-orient or disband institutional structures that proved to be inappropriate, inefficient and/or duplication of existing ones.  

The GCDB and ADB come to mind as institutions that were not performing as well as expected which resulted in the privatization of the former and the liquidation of the latter, suggesting a significant difference between the Gambia of old and the Gambia under Jammeh.  Jawara will not hesitate to make a mid-course correction if he sees things aren't moving in the direction that will maximize output for the economy or benefit the people they were meant to serve. 

Jawara's Gambia was a state of constant motion in search of appropriate solutions to emerging challenges facing a young nation trying to respond to the needs of a young and growing population.  Naturally, the agriculture sector saw a  mixture of the creation of new institutions and the strengthening and rationalization  of old.  Ministries of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Environment were created in response to a persistent drought condition that plagued the Sahel, and its impact on the environment.  

Other technical departments sprung from the Agriculture Department, including the annexation of the livestock extension services to the veterinary services to form the Animal Health and Production Services. Specialized divisions were created for seed multiplication and production, horticulture, agricultural engineering and mechanical services, soil and water management services among several other services dedicated to servicing the most important sector of the economy that provided, to this day, 70% of Gambians with employment.  It is also the sector that was and still is the single biggest foreign exchange earner to date.  

The cooperative movement initiated by the Department of Cooperation was further strengthened with the creation of the farmer-based and farmer-owned Gambia Cooperative Union (GCU) which assumed the marketing of its members produce, the distribution of agricultural inputs, and also served as credit union for farmers.  The GCU was dismantled by the military junta that seized power in 1994 for reasons best known to the Revolutionary Ruling Council under the then 29-year old Yaya Jammeh.  

The old Gambia Oilseeds Marketing Board (GOMB) inherited from out colonial past was restructured and renamed the Gambia Produce Marketing Board (GPMB) primarily responsible for the marketing of agricultural exports only to fall victim of the Structural Adjustment Program of the Fund and the Bank. through privatization that hasn't worked as well as hoped.  In fact, the Gambia Groundnut Corporation is an attempt at replicating the GPMB without its managerial and technical expertise nor the financial resource capacities.

Under the current regime that has been in power for nearly 20 years, the institutions they inherited soon proved to be nuisance because of the transparency and accountability measures built into them as normal course of doing business.  For instance, following the privatization of the GPMB and the acquisition of the Denton Bridge facilities by Alimenta, the junta found the independence with which the processing and export of the groundnut crop was being conducted to be too independent of central government even though it was a purely a private business owned by a private business concern, and a foreign one at that.  The facilities were seized in broad daylight and owners sent packing.  Gambia Public Transport Corporation (GPTC) was mismanaged by the junta and had to close its doors with hundreds of Gambians joining the unemployment ranks.  Most other institutions met the same or similar fates.  

The Gambia Ports Authority operated a highly competitive operations, and a profitable one at that.  It financed its own operations and serviced its external loans in a timely fashion that led to the development of its facilities to regional, if not international standards.  All that is gone to the point that the GPA cannot operate its ferry services, and struggles to meet staff salaries.  Gambia Telecommunications Corporation (GAMTEL) was listed as having the best telephone services anywhere in Africa, outside of South Africa.  Jammeh and his wrecking crew managed to destroy a company that was once the pride of The Gambia.  Again, because the accounting system they found in operation there was too transparent for a corrupt bunch of soldiers who came to loot the treasury and anything in their path.  The list goes on.  SSHFC is now on the road to putting the entire Pension Fund at risk because of bad investments forced on its Board by the dictatorship.  No wonder Social Security was unable to meet is December staff salaries on time.  They were paid in the New Year.

The damage done could not have occured so rapidly and comprehensively if the civil servants and managers they inherited together with institutions these managers painstakingly helped build were not systematically harangued,  humiliated, paraded in the back of trucks around town, thrown in jail, exiled and some killed - all in the name of "transparency, accountability and probity" military-junta style.  Once they got rid of the competent, the junta immediately instituted what has now evolved into a state of deliberate incompetence.  Former taxi drivers with little or no education are brought into these vital institutions at senior management level.  The only qualification that matters in The Gambia now is tribal affiliation and a recommendation from the dictator's mother or a close associate.  Nothing else seem to matter.  And some of us wonder why we are where we are, and how we got to this state. 

One of the biggest challenges facing a successor government in Banjul is the re-building of the institutions damaged by the current regime.  Although this particular blog did not focus on rebuilding the judiciary, it should be one of the top priorities, including the restoration of the dignity of the legal profession that has been one of the first casualty of the so-called 22nd July Revolution with the conduct of a Judicial Inquiry into the behavior of past and present judges and magistrates, as proposed in some quarters.   An immediate staff audit is required at both levels of the civil service and the parastatal sectors which could run concurrent with the rationalization of the entire public service to bring them in line with the new economic development policy objectives under a new political dispensation.     

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Gambian youths are abandoning the APRC in droves

Mr. Musa Sheriff, is a Liberian national and editor of  The Voice newspaper.  He was arrested and detained by police for publishing a story last December, and reporting that 19 youths have decided to switch allegiance from the rule APRC regime of the Gambian dictator to the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) of Ousainou Darboe.

The announcement of the defection of these youth was made at a UDP youth conference in the village of Tanji, a few kilometers outside the Gambian capital.  The celebratory mood was short-lived when a mass arrest of those in attendance was conducted by the police.  All, except the youth leader, were later released following an uproar from opposition supporters and political activists.  The youth leader,  Ebrima Solo Sendeng, is currently in court charged with giving false information to a public officer.

Musa Sheriff covered the gathering at Tanji where the 19 youth defected to the opposition UDP.  It is for this reason that he was arrested, and currently in jail pending arraignment.  He is expected to be charged with publishing false news.  The regime is under pressure from the citizenry because of the inept handling of a once thriving economy which was the envy of the sub-region.

The youth formed the base support of the Jammeh regime since he seized power illegally - a support that has been dwindling with the rise in the unemployment figures, a worrying development for the dictatorship.  The kids have finally caught on to the scam perpetuated by a rogue regime whose only interest is a small circle of business associates of Yaya Jammeh.  Corruption, under Jammeh, is at the highest level ever recorded in post-Independent Gambia.  This is a regime that seized power under the pretext that they were to save The Gambia by stamping out corruption.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Taiwan must review foreign aid policy in light of developments in The Gambia and El Salvador

Former Salvadorian president Francisco Flores under questioning by a congressional panel last week
AFP photo

It is becoming all too familiar - a Taiwanese check meant for development aid, disappearing in thin air at the expense of the citizens it was meant to help.

Francisco Flores, who was president of El Salvador from 1999 to 2004 found himself answering to charges that he pocketed three checks from Taiwan amounting to $ 10 million.  He admitted to receiving the checks but denied diverting them for his personal use.

According to the Taipei Times, Flores's successor, president Mauricio Funes suggested to reporters that the missing Taiwan fund  "might have been skimmed or misused" and suggested that prosecutors should look into the matter.  The checks in question were issued by the Bank of New York on behalf of Taiwan, and endorsed by Flores to a bank in Costa Rica, through another bank in Miami, Florida before it ended up in a bank in the Bahamas.

Mr. Flores's defense is that he never deposited any check in any bank, and "that is key for me..." The mere fact that the office of the president did not deposit the checks is sufficient defense of the likes of Flores of El Salvador and Jammeh of The Gambia. The latter is presently entangled in a web of Taiwanese checks dating back to 1995 until he abruptly severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan over his demand for cash payment of $ 10 million from Taiwan which was refused, according to officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

As El Salvador sees it, MOFA is uncooperative and as a result, and in protest, the central American country has recalled its Ambassador from Taipei, according to reports of the Taipei Times.  The reason cited by Taiwan for not cooperating fully is because the matter has now entered the judicial process which, in our opinion, is as lame an excuse as the one offered by the former Salvadorian president i.e. he did not deposit the checks personally, therefore he's clean and/or absolved of all blame or culpability.  Taiwan should cooperate with the authorities in San Salvador in order to get to the bottom of the matter.  As a democracy in a sea of undemocratic governments, Taiwan will contributing immensely to efforts in promoting democracy and the rule of law especially in the case of The Gambia where dictatorship rules.

Declining to even comment on whether Flores received checks from MOFA while in office, is not helpful to the legislative and legal processes in El Salvador, and certainly detrimental to any effort of those trying to improve on "transparency, accountability and probity" to quote the Gambian dictator.  They were the words used by the Jammeh-led putsch against a democratically-elected government of Sir Dawda Jawara in 1994. Jammeh's reason for the coup was to end corruption. Gambia has seen more corruption today than in its entire post-Independence history, inadvertently fueled, in part, by Taiwanese checks.

It is our considered view that The Gambian and Salvadorian cases should serve as ample evidence for the need for Taiwan to review its foreign aid policy which appears lacking in rigor.  It is true that before assistance is extended, these countries are required to submit proposals which are then reviewed by Taiwan prior to decisions being taken.  But we have seen in at least one major project in The Gambia where over $ 15 million was spent in the past 18 years that benefited, according to reports, 90 Gambian farmers.  Who are these farmers? Where are the project areas?  What're the project outcomes? How can such a major project, by Gambian standards, be so shrouded in secrecy and whose impact on development is hardly documented anywhere.  We encourage the Taiwanese authorities to provide project documents and evaluation reports which, under normal circumstances, should be in the public domain.

It is also true that a request for $ 10 million by Gambian dictator, Yaya Jammeh, was refused which triggered the diplomatic break-up between Banjul and Taipei - a demand that would have required Taiwan to hand Jammeh cash without any paper trail which was an attempt by Jammeh to set the transparency and accountability bars even lower.  Ordinary Gambians will be forever grateful that this particular demand from Yaya Jammeh was refused. But we also know that they wished other checks were not drawn in their name that ended up in Jammeh's pocket.  

Therefore from our vantage point, as Gambians on the outside looking in, Taiwan still needs to do more.  It must tighten its foreign aid policy by revisiting its three guiding principles - seeking just cause, following legal procedures and effectively implementing the programs.  It is our contention that the policy can be tightened without losing friends which appears to be a major concern of Taiwan. Of course, the mutual exclusivity of policy reform and the likelihood of losing friends can only be proven if Taiwan is willing to move forward with appropriate reforms, at minimal risk.

While the three centerpieces of Taiwan's foreign aid are laudable in themselves, they will be less so, and may be detrimental to economic and social development in these poor countries if loopholes are not closed and implementation procedures tightened, monitoring and evaluation procedures included.

For example, many Gambians were taken by surprise to learn, many for the first time, about the vegetable and fruit plantation project financed by Taiwan.  According to MOFA, over $ 1 million a year was spent on the project in the last three years alone - a project that started receiving funding since 1995.  By our own estimates, Taiwan must have spent a minimum of $ 15 million over the 18-year period.

The peoples of El Salvador and The Gambia are counting on the Government of Taiwan to cooperate with those trying to improve on the transparency and accountability through better project design and effective monitoring and evaluation of Taiwan-financed projects by requiring a participatory approach, and actually ensuring that there is local ownership and involvement.

In the case of The Gambia which is a dictatorship, and by definition, lacks parliamentary oversight, Taiwan must step up to the plate to protect the interest of the Taiwanese taxpayers, as well as the ordinary Gambians in whose names these loans and grants are granted.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Abidjan in war and peace

Sentry Post 
Entrance to Hotel Ivoire
Foutou and Souce graine

Riviera Golf Hotel?

Ouattara's flag car 
She still loves Abidjan

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ivorian President Ouattara has the last laugh

Yaya Jammeh, the Gambian dictator was excluded from the official photo of the Heads of State of ECOWAS who were in Abidjan to meet with Shizo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister who was leading a high-powered Japanese trade mission targeting business opportunities in Africa.  The meeting was a follow-up to to the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) which Jammeh attended last June.  He was also not extended the usual courtesies reserved for Heads of State by the host.

To understand the treatment of Yaya Jammeh at the hands of President of Cote d'Ivoire, Alassane Dramane Ouattara, affectionately known as ADO (his initials), one must understand the extent of the Gambian dictator's meddling in Ivorian politics dating back to the the first ever military coup d'etat in 1999.  Anxious to gain international and regional support, the military junta, led by retired General Robert Guei, reached out to a military-turn-civilian regime in Banjul for support, and thus an opening was created for Jammeh to meddle and play mischief.

The Gambian dictator was visited on numerous occasions by several Ivorian delegations.  Lauren Gbagbo continued the courtship after he was elected in the controversial October 2000 presidential elections that barred ADO from contesting.  Ouattara was disqualified by the 'Ivoirite' clause of the country's newly-minted Constitution which stipulated that both parents must be of Ivorian origin to contest presidential elections.  The fact that he'd proven the Ivorian citizenship of both of his parents, and that he served for three years as Prime Minister under the late Houphouet-Boigny from 1990 - 93, and occupied positions at the IMF and BCEAO as an Ivorian did not bar those who subscribed to the exclusionary nature of Ivoirite.

After the highly contentious elections of 2000 which he won, Gbagbo continued the courtship of leaders like Dos Santos of Angola and Jammeh of Gambia in an increasingly hostile diplomatic environment.  Jammeh saw immediate similarity with, and developed affinity to Gbagbo.  Like Jammeh, Gbagbo was also from a minority tribe of the Bete, and felt boxed out of the electoral process over the years, not only because of his variety of Pan-African politics which was mixed with the politics of exclusion but because he was from a minority tribe, Bete, in a country dominated by the Akan tribes (Baoule and their sub-groups), and the Dioula tribe of ADO.

Jammeh saw in Gbagbo a reliable ally who preached a variety of African politics that Jammeh can readily identified.  Both claimed to be Pan-Africanists.  Both came from minority groups who try to maintain power by constructing a coalition involving majority tribes who believe to have been cheated of the Presidency.  Jammeh was quick to see an opening in the frosty relations between Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire. The relationship between President Wade and Gbagbo was equally frosty at the personal level, despite the fact that both were and still are avoid socialists of the French variety, but that's where the similarity ends.

Wade was very pro-France and received both financial and political support from the Socialist Party and associated international groupings.  When Wade was in the opposition, he was a regular visitor to Abidjan where he received financial support from the large Senegalese communities in Cote d'Ivoire, and the Ivorian political establishment.  There's a strong historic link between Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire, apart from sharing the same colonial heritage.  After all, the Father of the Nation married a Senegalese, and had nephews of Senegalese extraction who, according to Baoule tradition, should inherit his wealth and not his immediate children.  The late President Houphouet-Boigny had, in his Yamoussoukro home, reserved a place of worship for his family of Muslims and Christians, even though he was a devout Catholic.

The Cote Ivoire crisis saw Senegal tilting in favor of the Muslim North, partly because of the Senegalese immigrant population, largely Muslims themselves and thus easily identified as supporters of a fellow Muslim in ADO.  Gbagbo saw Senegal as supporter of Ouattara for the same reason, and also someone who's been suspected of providing financial support to Senegalese politicians even when he was in exile because he's a wealthy individual, and his wife is also individually wealth in her own right.

Jammeh recognized the divide, and exploited it by throwing his full support behind Gbagbo who decided to play mischief by using Jammeh to channel support to the rebel movement in southern Casamance as payback.  He felt Senegal was supporting the Ivorian rebels who, at the time, controlled the northern half of Cote d'Ivoire, so he will help ferment more trouble in the Casamance by supporting the MFDC rebels, financially and materially.  Banjul soon became the transit point - MFDC rebels using Banjul to travel to Abidjan for medical treatment, and Gbagbo using Banjul to collect Iranian arms to supplement supplies from Angola and South Africa.  Thabo Mbeki support was more overt than Dos Santos's, although support of the former was more political and diplomatic than latter whose support took the form of arms.  Money and guns traded hands in Banjul at the height of the Ivorian crisis, and Banjul became refuge to the Gbagbo rebels who fled Cote d'Ivoire to escape capture and eventual prosecution after their electoral defeat.

The strong relationship between Gbagbo and Jammeh continued even after the Ivorian former President lost the elections and was captured by the Forces of the North with French assistance.  His support of Gbagbo continued even as his friend was being handed over to the Gambian Chief Prosecutor at the Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity.  Jammeh continued his opposition, and has vowed never to recognize the government of Alassane Dramane Ouattara because "according to the Ivorian constitution Laurent Gbagbo is the legitimate president of Cote d'Ivoire."  He further stated that Gambia will never recognize " any government that has been imposed by forces outside the African continent, no matter the reason." Therefore, to visit Cote d'Ivoire and expect full presidential courtesies from a government he refuses to recognize to this day is the height of insanity.    

Friday, January 10, 2014

More pictures of the ECOWAS - Japan trade meeting

A picture is worth a thousand words

His Excellency Sheikh Professor Dr. Alhaji Yahya Jamus Junkung Jammeh  has been excluded from the official group photo of the ECOWAS Heads of State who are in Abidjan to attend the joint Japan - ECOWAS trade mission which is a follow-up to TICAD V held in Tokyo last June.  The Japanese delegation comprising of Japanese businessmen is led by the Japanese Prime Minister

Alassane Dramane Ouattara will not have Jammeh in the photo because Gambia is the only country in the world that has refused to recognized the Ouattara government, yet he insists on attending the Abidjan meeting only to embarrass himself and his country.

Dispatch from Abidjan.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Disaster awaits the 2014 groundnut season

The regime of Yaya Jammeh has announced that it is withdrawing its partnership arrangement with Agribusiness Services and Producers Association (ASPA) which means that the association will no longer purchase the groundnut crop on behalf of government.  That function now goes to the Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC), a government entity that owns the groundnut plant as well as transportation facilities and storage facilities nationalized from Alimenta in 1999.

Government tried to privatize GGC in 2005/2006 but failed when only one bidder showed interest.  Why? Because it is not a viable operation to generate enough interest even locally.  The only response to the invitation to bid came from one local firm with no experience in groundnut marketing.  Foreign firms were equally disinterested because the manner in which government ended up with the Denton Bridge facility is still in their minds, when a government agent and supporter entered the facility, brandishing a pistol to seize it from the rightful and legal owner - the Swiss-based grain company named Alimenta. 

In 2005, the regulations and marketing left the defunct GAMCO - predecessor to GGC - as the sole operator for the processing and marketing of groundnuts.  GAMCO lacked capital and lacked marketing experience as well.  When the groundnut export market collapsed in 2005, and exports brought in only $2 million as compared to $16.9 million in 2004, GAMCO went under.  Government re-opened the export market to multiple operators, including ASPA.  GGC was also allowed to export groundnuts, expanding their role from being exclusively involved in the processing, transporting and storing to include exporting. 

Now that ASPA has been kicked out of purchasing groundnuts, GGC's role has been further expanded to including buying groundnuts.  The agency now appears to be the sole buyer of the farmers produce which immediately raises the question of capacity.  Does GGC have the capacity to buy, process, transport, store and export this year's entire groundnut crop.  The announcement is imprecise enough to allow for speculation as to the role, if any, of ASPA, now their partnership with government has been withdrawn. 

If there's one single factor that has contributed to the economic problems facing The Gambia is Yaya Jammeh's mishandling of the agriculture sector in general, and the groundnut sub-sector in particular.  The 2014 season is another disaster waiting to happen because of Jammeh's insistence on interfering at every turn, instead of allowing the private sector to operate freely.  This was a sector that, barring drought and other natural phenomenon, worked reasonably well as a reliable supplier of foreign exchange to the economy.  

We would have liked Yaya Jammeh to heed the words of General Colin Powell "you break it, you own it', but unfortunately, Jammeh is not in the habit of owning up to anything.  In fact, as if he's sense the impending disaster, he's already warned project managers in the agriculture sector that he's ready to fire and/or imprison anyone he deemed to be wanting in managing their respective projects.  For Jammeh, the problem is always lies somewhere else.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Is insurance fraud involved?

The tale of the two ferries has generated so much curiosity that I was provided with the above photo.  The red arrow points to the engraved name of the former "Sophia P" which is now the "Kansala".

The vessels "Kansala" and "Aljamdu" were built in January 1987, and therefore, far from being new. Records also show that one was involved in an accident in the northern Aegean Sea, injuring one person and resulting in structural damage to the hull.

The two ferries are 27-years old.  Their structural integrity is questioned.  They each cost $ 4.35 million a piece for a total of $ 8.7 million.  The government of Yaya Jammeh, and the GPA owe the Gambian people an explanation and immediate remedial action, including but not limited to, the dissolution of the Joint Venture with the Greek firm.  Where's the JV Agreement between GPA and Gallia Holdings. There appears to be serious legal issues involved here, including possible insurance fraud.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The 'new' ferries are 27 years old

Faced with a persistent problem of ferrying passengers, cars, commercial trucks and animals across the north and south banks of the country divided in half by the River Gambia, resulting in huge economic cost to the economy, the government of Yaya Jammeh decided to enter into a joint venture with a Greek company to purchase "a fleet of new ferries", according to State House's own website, "that will take over service at the Banjul - Barra crossing."

The joint venture between government and a Greek firm named Gallia Holdings Ltd. purchased two ferries eventually christened "Aljamdu" and "Kansala" at a total cost of Euro 6,345,000 which, in today's exchange is approx. $ 8.7 million.  The two vessels were commissioned on 23rd July 2011 to coincide with the 17th anniversary of when Yaya Jammeh seized power unconstitutionally from a democratically-elected government of Sir Dawda Jawara.  The operation of the ferries were entrusted to the Greek company that also has a controlling shares of 55% of the venture.

It became evident soon after the vessels' arrival that there was trouble.   The vessels' size and type were inappropriate.  The roll on, roll off, vessels were incompatible with the existing ramps, suggesting that the vessels were not suitable for the purposes for which they were intended.  For instance, the entire front end of one of the vessels broke off and sank at sea off Barra in January last year, and the other has been mooring at the port facilities in Banjul or at the TransGambia crossing up-river.

Apart from their occasional use during "Dialogue with The People's Tour" by Jammeh, these vessels, which cost the joint venture $ 8.7 million, have never been operated commercially since their arrival in The Gambia. Operationally, one would consider them to have been effectively mothballed.  As a consequence, the smaller class ferries, "Johe" and "Kanilai", dubbed locally as the "floating coffins" continue to ply irregularly, and so ever dangerously across the 7 nautical miles, putting Gambian lives at risk with every journey.  Until issues surrounding the "Aljamdu" and "Kansala" are resolved, the Banjul-Barra crossing will continue to pose a threat to life for those condemned to using unsafe ferries.

For those unfamiliar with international maritime protocol, every vessel manufactured in a member state of the International Maritime Organization has an identification number.  In the case of "Aljamdu" and "Kansala", a curious occurrence was discovered, both vessels shared a single ID number : IMO 8881577.   According to Lloyd's Intelligence Report, both vessels were built in January 1987. So to refer to these vessels as new by Jammeh is incorrect.  At least one or both vessels were registered in the Marshall Islands, presumably by the new venture company under a different name.  While the beneficial owner or owners is/are unlisted, the registered owner is listed as Contess Navigations Inc. in the Marshall Island.  For our purposes, what we need to know is that the vessels are 27 years old, and are registered Marshall Island.  However, the registration of one of them was later transferred to Sierra Leone.                                                                                                                                        
Maritime records cast further doubt on the physical and structural integrity of one of the vessels which showed it was involved in a collision with another vessel in the northern Aegean Sea on the 13 March 2001 resulting in hull damage (holed, cracks, structural failure).  In the same accident with 'Thassos V'  which occured in dense fog, the starboard bow and hatchway suffered minor damage with one person injured.

How the two vessels could share one identification number was puzzling enough for us to reach out to expert marine engineer who has been following Gambian affairs and particularly Gambian Ports Authority's (GPA) ferry operations.  His explanation was that the "'Kansala' was registered from 3 May 2011 to 4th May 2013, and 'Aljamdu' was registered from 5th May 2013 to present.  From  2011 - 2013, "Aljamdu" was registered in Sierra Leone, and from 5th of May 2013 to date the registration has been moved to Panama.  After extensive scrutiny of ownership records, "Kansala's" identity has now been established as the former "Sopia P" with an IMO number 8421248.  The last recorded beneficial owner and Commercially operator of "Sophia P" now called "Kansala" was one Mr. Alexandros Boufis of Spetses, Greece.

Meanwhile, we will continue our scrutiny in order to shed more light about the ownership of these vessels and what happens particularly to the 45% government portion of the joint venture. Meanwhile, the continued lack of regular ferry service between Barra and the capital city of Banjul, is causing major disruptions to the economy and the the lives of ordinary Gambians.

Before the diplomatic break-up, Taiwan had procured replacement engines, propulsion and steering systems for the two smaller class ferries "Johe" and Kanilai" to put them back in service but there's still no visible improvement.  Is it possible that the $1.5 million worth of replacement parts have been diverted and sold instead?  The Gambia Ports Authority operations are inefficient, its management corrupt and has become bankrupt as a result.  Meanwhile, hundreds of passengers and vehicles remain stranded on both sides of the river - another glaring failure of an incompetent and very corrupt regime.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Jammeh threatens to expose Taiwan corruption

His Excellency, Sheikh Professor Dr. Alhaji Yahya Abdul-Aziz Junkung Jamus Jammeh, the idiosyncratic Gambian dictator threatens to expose high level corruption within the Taiwanese government should accusations and criticism of his person and government persist.

Revelations that Jammeh demanded cash in excess of $ 10 million from Taiwan which was refused, came from senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan.                                                  

According to the Gambian dictator, he is in possession of what he characterized as "shocking" information, and warned his former friends "I will say what I have to say." The dictator is, of course, hoping that the Taiwanese authorities' criticism of him will cease with his threats to expose corruption in Ma's government.

The Gambian dictator made this threat against the present and previous governments of Taiwan in his end-of-year national television interview.  The sit-down interview was conducted by Gambia Radio and Television Service aired throughout the New Year. GRTS is government-owned and controlled.                            

The threat to expose high-level corruption of his former friends came after authorities at MOFA attributed the abrupt break up of diplomatic relations between Gambia and Taiwan to the incessant demands of the Gambian dictator for money - in cash and unreceipted - that could no longer be sustained nor maintained by the Ma Ying-jeou-led government. This revelation irked the dictator who, until this revelation, managed to keep 1.8 million Gambians, the poorest humans on earth, in the dark about the foreign aid he was receiving in their name.    

The announcement to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan came in a short release from the President's Office on the 15th November 2013, almost a month after a similar surprise move by the idiosyncratic and emotionally unstable Gambian leader when he withdrew his country's membership from the Commonwealth.  In both instances, neither the Gambian population through the National Assembly nor his cabinet was consulted.  In fact, his Foreign Minister read it, like the rest of the world, in the news. 

The Gambian leader painstakingly tried to separate the people of Taiwan from the current Mo government by reminding listeners that his problem is with the government and not with the people who 'will remain friends' with the Gambian people.  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Finance Minister tries to conceal the facts

Budget Speeches used to be Statements of Government Policy going into the new fiscal year, and a review of preceding years’ performance, in words and figures, but primarily in words.  The numbers portion of the process is contained in the Budget Estimates.  In both cases, however, budget implementation benchmarks served as measures of past, present and future performance.  It was also a place to announce new policy measures.  That was then, this is now.

We've combed through the Finance Minister's 42-page 2014 Budget Speech, and found nothing of substance except the regurgitation of the regime’s repeated promises to donors that it will be more fiscally responsible in the coming year.  It never does and we have demonstrated year after year that this regime has no intention of holding down domestic borrowing to a manageable or sustainable level because there is no one in The Gambia who will challenge the insatiable demands of Jammeh to satisfy his personal comfort and safety at the expense of everyone else.  He coughs, everybody jumps.

The brevity and inanity of the speech was an inevitability because of the casual treatment of important sectors of the economy received from the Hon. Minister was designed to conceal the fact that the 2014 Budget was no different from the last.  For example, the entire agriculture sector was treated to a 4-sentence 2-paragraph statement, and no mention of the groundnut sub-sector, the biggest foreign exchange earner.  The energy and petroleum sectors received a couple of sentences each, and nothing on exploration except to tell Gambians that the National Petroleum Company built several petrol stations at the cost of over a million dollars.  Who really cares?  Government should not be in the business of retailing petrol in the first instance. 

Gambia's foreign policy was treated to a whole sentence about the strategic interests of Gambia, and not a word about the fiscal impact, if any, the withdrawal would have following the withdrawal from the Commonwealth.  Nothing also on the severance of diplomatic relations with Taiwan and the budgetary implications of such an asinine move WILL have, and consequently, what adjustments are called for and their budgetary implications.

GPA, NAWEC, SSHFC, GAMTEL and the other government parastatals were not treated individually, and nothing was said of their financial performance over the 2013 fiscal year, and certainly nothing about going forward with these bankrupt companies that are an obvious drag on the budget and the economy.  Since it is not a pretty story, the Finance Minister conveniently ignored them.  Gambians would have liked to hear from their government about plans to replace the decrepit Banjul – Barra ferries or the ‘floating coffins’ for short in which they are forced to travel in crossing the 7 nautical mile stretch each day to get to and from work or to the market place.  Heavy-duty Senegalese trucks that had to make a detour to the Bamba Tenda – Yelli Tenda crossing are now faced with another set of problems of having to pay in foreign currency, a policy that went into effect without notice resulting in boycotts of the ferry services by truck drivers.  The budget speech would have been an appropriate place to notify users in advance, but that is too much to ask of a regime that seem to get a kick out of inflicting pain on its citizens as well as its neighbors.

 It is not until you get to the annexes, especially the pie charts, that one begins to see what the budget narrative tried to conceal.  This regime, as I have said in earlier posts, intends to continue to pursue its failed policies of spending disproportionate amount of our taxes on the security of one man through the President's Office and allied security agencies, primarily Defense and Interior Ministries, at the expense of agriculture, trade, employment, health, social welfare and the development of the Gambian youth.  The pie charts clearly confirm our suspicions, no matter how hard the folks at the Finance Ministry tried to conceal the evidence in their presentations.  Again, Ministers and officials in the civil service will continue to dance to the tune of a dictator who has little or no regard for the general welfare of Gambians.  And until he's gotten rid off and soon, the budget will continue to reflect his wishes and those of his business associates, and not those of the Gambian taxpayer.