Thursday, March 27, 2014

The saga of the 'floating coffins' continues

The Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) is assuring a despondent population and daily users of the ferry service that one (Johe) of the two rickety ferries dubbed "the floating coffins" is under repairs.  The second ferry "Kanilai" is also not in service, effectively isolating the northern half of the country from the southern portion. The economic impact of such an isolation is significant enough to warrant a study to assess the economic impact of such an isolation as a result of incompetence and high level corruption within the Jammeh regime.

Before the diplomatic break-up between Banjul and Taipei, the government of Taiwan announced through it Ambassador in Banjul that it is providing four new'Man" engines and propulsion and steering systems for the "Kanilai".  Gambians were told that these parts were for "Johe" and "Kanilai".  It was revealed during the presentation that similar number of engines (this time "Caterpillar" engines) were already delivered to the GPA for "Johe".   This was November 2013, a couple of weeks before the abrupt decision of the Jammeh regime to severe diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

During the presentation by the then Taiwanese Ambassador Samuel Chen disclosed that the funding of the four ferries amounts to US$1,625,384.80.  The Ambassador revealed that half of this amount was advanced to the Jammeh regime back in December of 2012.   He proceeded to hand over a check in the amount of US$728,153.92 which he said represented the second payment of 40% "of the four engines project" with the promise that the final payment of 10% will be paid after delivery of all four engines and their subsequent installation.  The check was handed over to the then Secretary to Cabinet one Noah Touray.  It is not certain that the 10% was ever paid since the diplomatic relations was severed soon after the presentation of the check.

The fate of the project is unknown following the diplomatic fall-out between the two former friends.  What is evident is that the repairs of these decrepit ferries have taken longer than necessary.  This is not the time time the public is being assured that repair works are underway.  A similar announcement was made back in December when services halted for several days.  Gambians are being assured again that repair works on "Johe" has started in earnest and when completed the General manager of the Ferry Services, Nuha Gassama, assures Gambians that the Banjul - Barra crossing "will not exceed 30 minutes" compared to the current 4 hours.  

Gambians have suffered, especially those who live on the North Bank and work in Banjul.  The general travelling public, including government officials who must travel the length and breath of the country are equally constrained by the lack of regular ferry service who are forced to venture to travel in very unsafe fishing canoes daily.

A government that cannot manage a regular ferry service between a 7 nautical mile stretch across the mouth of the River Gambia should hardly be expected to manage the lives of 1.7 million Gambians with any degree of success.  This explains the misery Gambians face as they go on about their daily lives in an environment of corruption and incompetence.

We are again encouraging the Taiwanese government to collaborate with Gambian civic organizations who are very much interested in accounting for the loans and grants contracted by Yaya Jammeh in the name of the Gambian people.  Let us start with The office of the President and the GPA's "four engines project." Gambians would like to know.