Friday, April 4, 2014

The case of Sheikh Tejan Sosseh: A travesty of justice

If there was ever the need to select a poster boy for Yaya Jammeh's abuse of the judiciary to intimidate, silence and conceal his government's policy failures, you need not search further than Sheikh Tejan Sosseh who is currently facing charges of economic crime and negligence of official duty.

Mr. Sosseh was Coordinator of Gambia Emergency Agriculture Production Project (GEAPP) before he moved to take up the coordination of the West African Agricultural Productivity Project (WAAPP).

He, together with the Permanent Secretary, Director of Agriculture and many other officials were summarily dismissed by the Gambian dictator while on his less than successful Dialogue with the People's Tour last July.  At the Agricultural Center in Chamen, farmers expressed dissatisfaction at what they saw as lack of support of the government agencies especially as  it relates to extension support and poor quality of seed.

As we have said in these pages, time and again, the problems of the agriculture sector were long-term in the making; from a declining budget support for seed multiplication, research and extension services, all suffered under the A(F)PRC regime that claim to put agriculture at the top of its priorities.  The dictator's ax had to fall on those who happened to have been around when the farmers made their complaints known before an obviously embarrassed Jammeh, and Sheikh Tejan had to be made example of.

What are the former Project Coordinator's crimes?  He's being charged with the regime's favorite and all encompassing charge of 'economic crime' and for negligence of duty.  The charge sheet states that while he was coordinator of GEAPP, he failed and/or omitted to apply the €5.3 million, equivalent to approx. US$7.3 million grant administered by the World Bank on behalf of the EU's European Development Fund (EDF).

Mr Sosseh's crime is that at the end of the implementation of the project, he had a balance of $67,489.20 which was returned to the Bank, who in turn credited the EDF account with the sum.  The return of this amount, a routine procedure in external grant or credit (loan) management "is detrimental to the economy of The Gambia and the welfare of the Gambian people", so say the regime of Yaya Jammeh.  This is nonsense.

The second charge facing Mr. Sosseh is that he "recklessly paid for the general procurement service" in spite of what was characterized as "shoddy construction and the rehabilitation of the Seed Multiplication Center at Chamen."  Here again, the project coordinator's role is to coordinate the implementation of all of the components of the project.  The civil works component is under the supervision of a consulting engineer to ensure that it meets the contract specifications, and it is done according to the time frame agreed between the contractor and the client (government).

Mr. Sosseh did not award the contract to the contractor.  Normally, contract award is done by a Tender Board with statutory members and representatives of the client Ministry.  Where there are deficiencies in the works, the contractor's obligation under a standard contract are carefully specified, and in the event of shoddy construction, the liability rests with the contractor, especially if the deficiencies occur when the contract is still in effect or during the 'guarantee period'.  Mr. Sosseh should, therefore, not be held liable for shoddy works.  That's the responsibility of the consulting engineer (who is employed by government) and the contractor.  Where are the consulting engineer and the contractor, in this case.

Based on previous experience, Mr. Sosseh should be commended for implementing the  GEAPP in a timely fashion and within budget.  His only crime was he implemented the project accordingly with money left over.
The balance reverted to the donors instead of spending the balance frivolously.  Perhaps this is what irked a regime notorious for its imprudent and frivolous spending habit.

Accusing him of paying for a shoddy work is a non-starter because he could not have released any funds under the procurement rules of either the World Bank or the European Development Fund without a certificate from the consulting engineer authorizing payment.  In the event of deficiencies, it should be the responsibility of the contractor to make good on the faults provided that the works are still within the guarantee period.  If not, then it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture to sanction the contracting engineer who should have done a better job of supervising the works.  Mr. Sosseh is neither the contractor nor the consulting engineer.

Mr. Sosseh's case, like so many others, has been lingering in the courts since last July.  Government has been deliberately dragging its feet in this, and similar cases before it.  It now appears that judge Amadi has had enough of the delays on the part of the prosecution, and has threatened to fine the regime for deliberately employing delay tactics.  The prosecution realizing that it has a weak case is resorting to delay in order to punish the accused.  The judge in this case must dismiss the case if the regime fails to proceed with the case. This is a young man's career that should not be deliberately destroyed by the failed regime of Yaya Jammeh. Mr. Sosseh should be set free so that he can start putting his life and carrier back together again.  The same applies to numerous other civil servants who find themselves in similar circumstance as Sheikh Tejan Sosseh.