Saturday, November 29, 2014

A dictatorship on a death spiral

 Former Gambian Ambassador to Taiwan caught unawares
Last November, the world was greeted with the surprising news that The Gambia had severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan, one of its most benevolent diplomatic partner.  No one saw this coming, not the Taiwanese Ambassador in Banjul nor his Gambian counterpart in Taipei who was not informed of his government's decision until he landed in Banjul.

The Gambian dictator who prides himself as the most unpredictable leader in Africa, if not the world, obviously did think that his decision the previous month to withdraw, for no apparent reason or warning, Gambia's membership in the Commonwealth was of the attention grabber he had wished before delivering the suckerpunch to Taipei with consequential effect.

The national budget or -  more appropriately - the dictator's personal finances was the first casualty of the diplomatic rupture as a result of Taiwan's decision to refuse Yaya Jammeh's personal request of $ 10 million in walking around money with the condition that it should be receipted or documented.  The demand was made in January 2013. Taiwan refused the demand almost immediately.  Allowing time, presumably for Taipei to reconsider its decision, and when it didn't arrive, Jammeh lowered the boom in November.

Because Taiwan's development aid was treated mostly off-budget or below-the-line, it is difficult to estimate its size from official returns, an arrangement that suited the Gambian dictator well but was highly injurious to the Gambians it was supposed to help.  The loss of Taiwan financial assistance became immediately evidenced by increasing requests for supplementary budget.  Living within Gambia's budgetary means became more evident and proved to be an insurmountable huddle in the absence of the Taiwanese aid.

Whereas the Taiwanese divorce impacted the budget directly and immediately, the impact of the Commonwealth withdrawal was less visible but equally impactful, especially in the areas of technical cooperation area under the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) that provides experts and offers training abroad for Gambians.  All of these programs eased immediately or phased over the training period of those caught up in the mess created by Yaya Jammeh.

Things simply went haywire from last November when in April this year Jammeh closed the border with Senegal after he unilaterally hiked the fares for the ferry crossings at all points of entry without the required notice in contravention of existing Agreements with Senegal.  Jammeh also demanded that the fares must be paid in foreign currency, this time in direct contravention of Gambia's own laws because the dalasi is legal tender.

The budget took another huge hit from this callous and illegal act only to have the borders opened, the fares returned to their original levels, and as a face saving device Senegal agreed on the payment in foreign exchange as an option.  An avoidable event that ended up being a costly exercise both financially and diplomatically.

The regime's problems are not all financial.  For a regime that seem to deliberately go out of its way to cause trouble with the view to generating controversy, it is not a surprise that it has found sources of controversial in radical islam and gay and lesbian bashing that threatens to divide Gambia in religious sectarian lines, using gays and lesbiams as convenient vehicles to advance their myopic political ends.

Within the last month along, the dictatorial regime in Banjul has managed to deny a United Nations Mission of two Rapporteurs access to the security wing of the notorious Mile II prisons as part of their investigations into torture and executions.  Last month, 62 countries gathered in Geneva and The Gambia was yet again the topic of discussion.  Representatives took to the floor at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) where the Gambia was admonished and urged to promote and protect human rights.

This week, the government determined not to relent in the face of international pressure upped the ante by issuing what it terms a "declaration" through the Foreign Minister to inform the world and "making it clear to the European Union and any outside bloc that wants to impose acceptance of homosexuals as a precondition for aid that we will never accept that conditionality, no matter how much aid is involved."

The declaration which was issued in a nationally televised speech by the Foreign Minister continued with the warning that "as from today, we are no longer going to entertain any dialogue on the issue with the European Union or any other power for that matter."

When it rains, it pours.....
   


Ambassador described in court as 'Boss from Hell."

Ambasssdor Harding
Former Deputy Ambassador Bojang
This is the third installment in a series of blog posts covering the case involving eight former Gambian diplomats and staff of the Embassy in London where it is alleged that a scam involving duty-free goods valued at approximately £ 5 million over a three-year period.  You can find our previous blog posts here, and here.
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In this installment, our sources cover the proceedings with Mr. Ramaraja, the former Embassy driver taking the stand who was the only defendant charged with two counts, the second charge – storing duty free at his home address in 2010.  

In that year, Mrs Maimuna Coker (former Financial Attaché) asked Mr Ramaraja to store the goods at his home because surveyors were inspecting the dilapidated building (57 Kensington Court) for estimates.  These duty free good were stored in the conference room of the building and that room contained lots of junk which were donated charitable items such as books, carpets, furniture. 


In his statement, Mr Ramaraja said that the Ambassador Mrs Elizabeth Ya Eli Harding allowed him to transport the goods in the official vehicle, registration number "1 GAM".  He did about four trips.  When the officer from the Revenue and Customs went to his house in Pinner, he was issued with a caution and never heard anything about the matter until he was asked in 2012 to attend a voluntary interview.

In his testimony, he revealed that Mrs Maimuna Coker was the only person at the High Commission, who was aware of visit by the Customs Officer and she promised to deal with the matter.  After Mr Ramaraja stopped working for the Mission, Mrs Coker called him several times to make credit card payments on her behalf and in exchange paid him cash.  

He denied calling Ambassador Harding about returning to work at the Mission because he eventually started working at the Zambia High Commission, which offered better pay and treat their drivers with respect.

In cross examination, Mr Ramaraja denied ordering duty free goods for himself because he was aware that he was not entitled to duty free and any order in his name was done without his knowledge.  Since he left, he had never visited any staff working at the Mission.

It was Mrs. Audrey Leeward to take the stand.  She was the Embassy receptionist during the period 2009 – 2012.  In her testimony, Mrs Leeward informed the court that she worked under instructions of diplomats and the handwriting on most order forms or C426 forms for duty free goods were completed by her on their instructions.  This was acknowledged by the Counsels for three diplomats – Gaston Sambou, Ebrima John and Georgina Gomez.  However, Mr Yusupha Bojang’s counsel suggested that Yusupha never gave instructions.

Mrs Leeward strongly denied it and stated that mostly a list written on a post-it note would be sent down to her requesting her to complete order forms on behalf of the diplomats and sometimes instructions came in the form of telephone calls.  She also stated that Mr Yusupha Bojang never signed any blank form before completion and Yusupha would ask her to order for his Gambian friends.  She never received any money on Yusupha Bojang’s behalf; he collected the money himself and paid his invoices. 

As receptionist in charge of the front desk, she signed for the delivery of goods at the Mission and would check the orders ensure that they tally with the delivery notes.  Once the goods are stacked in the conference room, each delivery note is put on top of the respective order and she would inform the relevant members of staff of their orders.  She confirmed that she was aware of the increase in the orders delivered at the Mission, but the representatives from the two duty free companies had always insisted that the Mission was doing nothing wrong.

She confirmed that Ambassador Harding was aware of duty free being delivered at the Mission because the deliveries were not done in secret and that door to the conference room was unlocked, in the morning, Ambassador Harding would always inspect the room.

In giving evidence, Miss Husainatou Noah, the longest serving member at the Mission testified that she had worked with quite a number of High Commissioners and Charge d’Affaires, but Ambassador Harding was like the “boss from Hell”.  She continued to tell the court about she was treated badly by the Ambassador by verbally abusing her. 
  
Miss Noah further told the court that she was asked by Ambassador Ya Eli Harding to order for her Gambian friends and families.  Most of the time, she (Ya Eli) would take the people to her office and give instructions that she assists Gambians.  

At one point, Ms Noah proposed to Ambassador Harding that it was not wise to give the Gambians a lot of duty free goods, but Ya Eli rejected such suggestion instead she insisted that Ms Noah help fellow Gambians by giving whatever amount was requested. She reported that previous Heads had never ordered in their name nor were they in charge of duty free.  This was always delegated to junior members of staff.

Ms. Noah continued her testimony by describing how even the fax machine was under the direct control of the Ambassador, that no one had access to it after working hours because the key was always in her custody, she would be last person to leave the building in the evening and the first person the next day morning.  According to Ms. Noah, Ambassador Harding was obsessed with the post; she kept the post box key, checked and sort out mails.  Sometimes Ambassador Harding would withhold the personal mails addressed to members of staff or even shred them.

In her knowledge of duty free goods, Ms Noah stated the C426 form sent to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office was to request for duty free goods in the name of the Mission,  in turn the FCO would approve the form before sending it to Customs Excise for release, therefore she was surprised that the staff were accused of ordering goods.

Mrs Ida Jeng Njie of the Tourist Board, the seventh accused in the duty-free scam asserted her rights to remain silent and not give evidence.  At this point, one of our sources observed that former Deputy Ambassador Bojang's testimony was "too revealing" that leaves the rest of the defendants with no option but to engage in "damage control".   

The case continues....

Friday, November 28, 2014

From a friend to another

Abdoulie "Bax" Touray 

The Standard newspaper has a piece reporting on the outcome of an interview the paper had with Abdoulie Bax Touray - a friend and a former colleague - who was part of a large delegation I led on my first mission to India as Jammeh's Foreign Minister from January 11 - 13, 2005.  

It was that mission that kick-started the current Gambia-India bilateral relations which eventually led to the Ex-Im Bank of India's investment activities that have led Babou Abdoulie Jobe - a FatuRadio presenter and commentator - to enquire about the Bank's Gambia portfolio which has grown to 5 Lines of Credit since January 2005.  This issue will be addressed separately, in a blog post of its own in the near future.

Bax's contention that The Gambia can attain middle income country (MIC) status in a generation is a reasonable prognosis to make but it comes with a series of caveats that can land one in serious trouble with the regime if mentioned. But one of these caveats is bad governance, a malaise that hardly goes hand in hand with economic progress i.e. growth and development.  

In support of his premise, Bax rightly cited Singapore (a favorite example of many) as a country that gained independence the same year as The Gambia whose per capital income was lower than those of Senegal, Ghana, Gambia which I have no problems with.  But a more appropriate example, and one that is closer to home, is Cabo Verde that has achieved MIC status in a little over a generation but not before it pulled out of its federation with mainland Guinea-Bissau to become independent - a step that insulated itself from what appeared to have been a permanent state of revolution and coup d'etats.  I am simply buttressing Bax's prognosis to signal my agreement. 

To say to Bax that I have read Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful" but must admit that I haven't read Hill's "Think and Grow Rich" but will now since Bax has recommended it.  But I'll implore my good friend (and that goes for my Facebook friends as well) to read Paul Colliers "The Bottom Billion" on how fifty (50) FAILED STATES, home to one billion is the biggest challenge of the rest of the world in the 21st century. Collier' fifty failed states will necessarily include most of the African countries that we normally will categorize as success stories. 

The former chairman of the World Bank's Development Research Group and now back at Oxford suggests that the ravages of civil wars, dependence on extraction industry and export of natural resources and bad governance, including rampant corruption.  

The problems posed by these countries are so ingrained that standard prescriptions no longer work.  But because we insist on applying the same prescriptions in the midst of rapid globalization and a shifting terms of trade that continue to favor rich countries, we've missed the boat.  The last to hop onboard before the ship set sail were Mauritius and Cabo Verde.

But all is not lost, according to Collier. He has specific recommendations to make including that the G-8 takes the lead by offering "preferential trade deals, new laws against corruption, new international charters and even conduct carefully calibrated military intervention."  

In short, business as usual is no longer applicable and neither desirable in a human condition that is dire that continues to be aggravated by bad governance and a global trade that is tilted against the bottom one billion humans on earth. The 21st century needs 21st century solutions to a Gambian (and African) condition that is yearning for news ways and approaches of addressing a looming humanitarian catastrophe that threatens the lives of one billion people around the world.  


        

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Why the case against Sheikh Tejan Sosseh should be thrown out of court

Sheikh Tejan Sosseh
Fraud Squad Officer, Essa Sowe, a functional illiterate like the rest of Yaya Jammeh's Police prosecution team, was cross examined in the case involving the former West African Agricultural Productivity Project (WAAPP) Coordinator and the outcome was so painful to watch that the entire case, as we have argued, should be thrown out of court.

This fraud of a fraud squad officer under cross examination claimed to have read all of the relevant documents that were unearth during their investigations in a case that first came to court in July of 2013.

Mr. Sosseh was being tried not for the WAAPP which he last managed but for the Gambia Emergency Agriculture Production Project (GEAPP) financed by a European Development Fund (EDF) Grant fund that was administered by the World Bank on behalf of the EDF.

We have characterized this case, as some many others before it in this Jammeh regime, as a farce and thus a travesty of justice.  We have even gone to the extent of questioning whether the World Bank was not complicit if it remained silent and not inject itself into the case, particularly as it regards its rules and procedures governing procurement, implementation and project completion.

Whether the EU and/or the World Bank volunteered information in favor of Sheikh Tejan Sosseh, the defence team, at least asked the pertinent questions regarding the case by going straight to the core.  For each project financed by a traditional donor there is always the main document, called Appraisal Report which sets out all the components, cost of each component, implementation schedule that is connected to a procurement schedule and related costs for each component.

If there is a construction component, it will be in all of these reports showing the name of the contractor(s), construction designs and the supervising engineer that must sign off on each and every step of the construction, certifying that it is up to standard.  If not, the contractor must correct all faults if it is within the guarantee period of the construction.  At the end of a project there is a Project Completion Report jointly completed by the donor and recipient.

During cross examination, the Fraud Squad Officer, Essa Sowe, said he's read all documents but when asked about the documents explaining the project, he said he's never seen or heard about the implementation report.  He also said he never saw or heard about the Project Completion Report which has been signed off on by the World Bank indicating that the project has been satisfactorily implemented.

Essa Sowe also said during cross examination that he did not know that the project he was investigation was completed, closed by the World Bank and the project manager, Mr. Sosseh, had since moved to Coordinate another project (WAAPP) within the Agriculture Ministry.

It turned out that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture did write to the World Bank to utilize the balance of funds amounting to € 5.3 million in some unspecified goods an services which was refused for unknown reason.  Mr. Fraud Squad Officer was not aware of this basic fact either after investigating the case since July 2013.

Despite a Project Completion Report signed off unto by both the World Bank and the government of The Gambia, the prosecution, is insisting that the GEAPP was not completed satisfactorily.  The legal implication of such a moronic defense only brings into question the status of official documents of this nature that legally bind the international donor community to recipient countries like the Gambia

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gambia's economy running on fumes

Yaya Jammeh
Amadou Colley, Governor 
The Governor of the Central Bank of The Gambia (GCB), Amadou Colley informed members of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) that reserves are running low thus reducing government's ability to meet its external obligations while further exposing the economy to external shocks that it cannot effectively manage.

The Governor is also the Chairman of the MPC that meets every quarter to review reports on the economy, its performance and remedial measures, where needed, but measures that are quite often ignored by the dictatorship that is the thorn on the side of a struggling economy.

In December 2013, external reserves stood at $170.3 million, equivalent to 4.1 months of import cover, down from $195.8 million in December 2012.

The Governor is reporting that reserves went down from $160.3 million in October 2013 to $ 132.6 million in end-October 2014, equivalent to 3.1 months of import cover from 4.1 months barely 12 months ago.   It means Gambia will have to prioritize its external obligations, and with the agriculture and tourism sectors expected to perform poorly, we agree with the Governor's prognosis of the economic outlook as being bleak.

The regime's external obligations include the all-important servicing of its external loan accounts with the World Bank, African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank to name a few.  Defaulting on loans/credits repayments can result in suspension which will bar access to loan facilities.

Dwindling reserves are not the only challenges facing the economy.  Inflation has also been on the increase to 5.6% in December 2013 with food prices rose to a high of 7.3% in October 2013 before easing to 6.6%. The domestic debt which we have also addressed continues to rise at alarming rates further fueling inflation.

Following the Office of The President's ill-advised fray into the forex market in 2013 to the extent that fixing rates from State House against the advise of the IMF, caused panic that saw a precipitous depreciation of the dalasi against the US Dollar by 14.4%, the Euro by 21.0% and the Pound Sterling by 14.7%.

The resultant drop in confidence in the forex market still resonant to this day because the few small forex operators left are still not convinced that Jammeh is still not manipulating the market from his home village of Kanilai.

Even the Governor admits bleak outlook for the economy going forward.  The two most important sectors of Agriculture and Tourism are both expected to perform poorly because of the late and poor rains and the Ebola outbreak in neighboring countries respectively.

The regime is always finds it convenient to blame external factors that they have no control over for poor performance, as the Governor has done in the case of the dwindling reserves, but very slow in pointing out the internal factors that is under the control of the regime like the ballooning domestic debt that increased to $ 13.9 billion (39% of GDP) or 25.1% increase from 2012.  

Prudent monetary and fiscal policies, as recommended by the IMF, will go a long a way in starting to address the problem but this regime's insatiable thirst for deficit spending is standing in the way of putting our economic house in order, a condition that will only deteriorate further as long as Yaya Jammeh stays in power.    

Monday, November 24, 2014

Gambian Opposition must join Hamat Bah to condemn Jammeh

The Gambian Opposition parties are being encouraged to take Yaya Jammeh to task on the blatant abuse of the budget process that led to the siphoning off billions of dalasi for the private gain of Jammeh and the very few of his circle of cronies.

Unfortunately, these budget gimmicks and shenanigans are becoming too frequent at a time when the economy calls for belt-tightening in the face of a deteriorating value of the dalasi and the ballooning domestic debt.  With a possible decline in groundnut production this year and an already dire food-deficit situation, the economic climate calls for both monetary and fiscal prudence.

The 2014 Supplementary budget request amounting to D 1.12 billion representing approximately 10% of additional resources to the 2014 Budget approved by the same National Assembly that subsequently approved the Supplementary Appropriations without substantive, thorough and serious debate of what can only be described as a deceptively concocted budget request.

The opposition parties must join Hamat Bah, leader of the NRP who's rightly convened a press conference to protest at the appropriateness of the request and the lopsided nature of the 2014 Budget in favor of a non-operational unit of government like the Office of The President.

Hamat Bah needs to be joined by the leaders of the opposition. in opposing the decision of the National Assembly and to take the extra step of demanding that the Supplementary Budget process be re-opened, debated thoroughly, including a line-by-line justification of each individual request, including the amount D 459,473,513 for the Office of the President, purportedly to pay for celebrations, airplane crew salaries, insurance and air tickets for the all-female "protocol officers", purchase of luxury cars and fuel for the presidential  entourage, and other frivolous expenditure items.

We have already taken a stance on the matter, and we hope the rest of the leadership of the opposition will too.  

GAMBIA: What's behind the currency reform

New D 20 note with Jammeh's head
In a recent blog post, we reported on how the Gambia's Central Bank Governor, Amadou Colley, went before joint parliamentary committee to prepare the Gambian people for the worsening economic news that will continue to befall them for years to come.

During his testimony, he informs members of the joint committee in a document stamped "confidential" that the regime was on the verge of embarking on an exercise of reforming the Gambian currency.  The reform was necessary, according to Mr. Colley, to improve the "security and durability" of the currency.

Reports of testimony was not carried by the official mouthpiece of the regime which is a sure sign that the regime is trying to conceal something from the public. Certainly, the fact that a new design of the D 20 note (equivalent to 46 ¢ American) that carries the face of the Gambian dictator was not revealed to the public.

The under-the-radar treatment of the new note is understandable coming from someone who demanded the withdrawal of currency notes bearing the face of former President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara.  What a brazen hypocrite.  Whether the Governor of the Central Bank testified to this effect is unclear but what is clear is that the new note is the first to be introduced in nearly 20 years.

According to the De La Rue press release, designer of the new note, it is to commemorate "20 years of the President's rule" (emphasis mine).  It has a green background to remind every Gambian that it the AFPRC's currency and not a Gambian one further advancing the nauseating partisanship that represent the ruling party's ideology which signals the commencement of the 2016 presidential campaign.

This particular note will be the symbol of the campaign, should we get to the 2016 elections.  It is green and carried the photo of Jammeh which they plan to flood the market with at the detriment of an already distressed economy.

At the joint parliamentary committee session, the Governor warned, in advance, that the currency reform will reduce the currency in circulation in the coming weeks and months but he didn't why this would be so, especially if the withdrawal of old currencies and the introduction of new one are done systematically.  A regime that is not transparent in its dealings with the public is always viewed with skepticism and mistrust.

Currency reforms are usually associated with, and attempts to control runaway inflation which is what we think is also what's happening here.  It is also an attempt to fight the rapid depreciation of the dalasi. Counterfeiting of the dalasi is as old at the A(F)PRC, so, the currency reform could also be an attempt to stop the illegal practice which many have accused Yaya Jammeh and his cronies of being the main perpetrators.

We hope during its next mission to Banjul, the International Monetary Fund will seek answers from the regime regarding the overall monetary management issues and the supplementary budget of over  D 1 billion with an equal sum representing the size of the annual budget of the Office of The President at the expense of key productive sectors of an economy that is on the skid.  

An impeachable act

Over D 1 billion was the size of annual budget of the Office of The president which is equivalent to the entire 1992 Government budget, the year Gambia's budget first crossed the one billion dalasi mark.

In 20 years, the budget has ballooned to D 10 billion and mounting with Jammeh allocating 10% of the entire budget to himself with no corresponding increase and improvement in public services nor economic growth and development. Where did Yaya spend D 1 billion in 2014 on?

Jammeh and his cronies spent this humongous sum - that should have otherwise gone on providing medical supplies and other critically needed educational supplies -  on luxury cars, aircraft operation and maintenance, petrol, comfort girls cum 'protocol officers', hotel bills (including Sindola), air tickets, entertainment and "attaya" (Chinese green tea).

All of these expenditures went to ensuring the comfort and security of one dictator and his immediate family. Every effort must be made to rid Gambia of this cancer that is destroying the very fabric of Gambian society.

We continue to salute  Hamat Bah, leader of the National Reconciliation Party for being the only opposition party leader to draw attention to what amounts to abuse of office by Yaya Jammeh and his accomplices in the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank .

We hope the leader of the biggest opposition party, Ousainou Darboe will speak up to this callous act of sabotage of an economy that is already on the ropes, thanks to 20 years of mismanagement and corruption in high places.

It is an unconscionably and an irresponsible act  that warrants impeachment however improbably it may be, since the National Assembly is equally culpable as Jammeh's reliable and faithful partner in crime.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Vision 2016 will fail miserably

Yaya Jammeh's false and pretentious claim of making The Gambia self-sufficient in rice has been questioned by serious agriculture as well as development experts.

The president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has said so in many words by couching his response to the question of whether a country that has experienced a 70% decline in agricultural production and spending $ 50 million annually to import rice can be self-sufficient in rice in 2016. 

His response was : yes, it is an ambitious objective but attainable BUT "it also calls for strengthening of institutions, consistencies in policies, an enabling environment for the private sector and massive investment in rural infrastructure."  This qualifier was conveniently and deliberately omitted by the regime in it's rush to give the impression that IFAD's boss is a validator of goals of Vision 2016 which says The Gambia will attain rice self-sufficiency by 2016.

IFAD was not the only one to distance itself from the target and the timeline of achieving the goal of Vision 2016 designed with the cynical political objective of giving something that a hopeless population can cling on to as elections approach.  The in-country heads of the UNDP and FAO have all essentially said the same thing as the IFAD boss, and have couched their language vague enough to keep them from being declared persona non grata by the idiosyncratic dictator, to borrow a description of Jammeh by Taiwan after last years diplomatic fall-out. 

To demonstrate how preposterous Vision 2016 is, we are willing to give in on all the institutional constraints, consistencies in policies, an enabling environment for the private sector and massive investment in rural infrastructure.  Even if all of these conditions have been fulfilled, the labor requirements cannot be fulfilled under the current production model being employed, especially as it relates to labor.

Presently, Jammeh is using involuntary labor by coercing villagers into providing their labor free of charge.  To refuse to 'volunteer' means severe penalties including but not limited to being labeled "opposition supporter" which will ultimately land you in jail.  A model of production where the cost of labor is zero is unsustainable in the long term even where the goal is reached in the timeline prescribed in Vision 2016. 

Traditional agriculture is labor intensive and thus a critical input.  If it remains "free", the total cost of production is necessarily distorted as the Jammeh model is, which is not a surprise to those familiar with how public policy is generated in Banjul these days - around a brewing 'attaya' (Chinese green tea) in a vous-like surroundings with junior army officers and hangers-on with no idea of how a modern state is run.  Their idea of governance comes through the eyes of Nollywood. and that's why Gambia is in such a mess as it finds itself.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Yusupha Bojang to Southwark Court: "I am happy to take profit wherever it comes from."

Deputy Ambassador Yusupha Bojang         Gambian Embassy
This blog is based entirely on the reporting of Keith Perry of UK's Telegraph newspaper
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Described as the diplomat who oversaw the tobacco racket that cheated British taxpayers of £ 5 million, Yusupha Bojang (aged 54) the former Deputy Ambassador at the Gambian Embassy in London told the Southwark Crown Court Magistrate that he was happy to make profit wherever it came from.

The court also heard that the Gambia Embassy was "turned into a tobacconists", with customers queuing up outside the Embassy after Yusupha Bojang allegedly started his £ 5 million duty-free scam with seven other co-defendants in the case.

The Deputy Ambassador and seven of his former Embassy colleagues are accused of abusing the duty-free, tax exempt of goods for personal use and used delivery driver to send them more than half a million 50g pouches, it was said.

The Embassy became a tobacconists, the court was told, with customers queuing to receive their ordered tobacco which has no limit, unlike alcohol.  The court was told that deliveries where usually taken and signed for by Ms. Audrey Leeward (aged 45) who sat on the front desk.

Although Yusupha Bojang denied ordering thousand of pounds of rolling tobacco, and insisted on knowing nothing about the orders he made and appeared to have signed for.  He told the court that he had no idea how much Ms. Leeward was ordering or how much money he made from the scam.

The court heard that over a three year period, the eight defendants collectively ordered or were invoiced for in excess of 350,000 50g pouches.

Prosecutor Jane Bewsey QC said there was "systematic abuse" of privileges granted to Diplomatic Missions based in the UK.

Four of the eight defendants were employed as diplomatic staff and thus entitled to enjoy the tax-breaks of items such as alcohol, perfume and tobacco "for personal use". They are Bojang (54), First secretary Gaston Sambou, 48, finance attache Ebrima John, 38, and welfare officer Georgina Gomez, 29.

Co-defendants and staff members receptionists Leeward, secretary Noah, 60, and driver Ramarajaha, 54, were locally recruited and therefore not entitled to the privileges.

The eighth defendant Ida Njie, 42, was employed by the Gambia Tourism Authority.  Although housed at the Embassy, she was employed by the Embassy and thus not entitled to the same privileges.

Jurors were told that diplomatic immunity did not apply in this case and all the defendants were subject to U.K. law.   All defendants deny a single charge of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue.

Ambassador Ya Eli Harding, Deputy Ambassador Bojang and First Secretary Gaston Sambou, Georgina Gomez and Ebrima John have taken the stand.

The case continues.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Deplorable ferry services

Yesterday while Yaya Jammeh was announcing his intent to seek funding for a second airport (perhaps near his home village of Kanilai), the general public was being denied afternoon ferry service between the capital city of Banjul and Barra - a service that links the two halves of the country.

The ferry services, run by the Gambia Ports Authority have been intermittent at best.  We have reported on the dangers of these ferries and attempts by the regime to replace them that only made matters worse.

Two inappropriately designed ferries named "Kansala" and "Aljamdu" are berthing at the Banjul port whose ownership is still murky.  The ferry deals which were negotiated in Greece have ended up in limbo with the regime still tight-lipped about the legal status of the two vessels.  Meanwhile,  Gambians are faced with the daily inconvenience and hazardous challenges of using decrepit and dangerous vessels that we've described as "floating coffins".

The replacement of these ferries commands top national priority over a second airport, a suggestion that is anything but a pipe dream designed to divert the attention of Gambians from the most pressing issues facing the country.  A second airport is not financially feasible and thus unjustified.  What we need are new replacement ferries at all the major crossings, especially Banjul - Barra and Yelli Tenda - Bamba Tenda ferry crossing.

BREAKING: African Petroleum reaches deal with Gambia's Yaya Jammeh

The regime of Yaya Jammeh, the Gambian dictator announced in January this year that it has terminated the exploration contracts of African Petroleum (Gambia) Ltd for Blocks A1 and A4.

Soon thereafter, African Petroleum Corporation announced that it is going to international arbitration with the Government of The Gambia, a request lodged with the World Bank's International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) based in Washington DC.

The Ministry of Petroleum officials were in London a couple of weeks ago to negotiate a deal with African Petroleum where the arbitration request with ICSID will be dropped in exchange for the restoration of the contracts for Block A1 and A4.

The Senegalese oil discovery announced recently may have been an influencing factor in getting the dictatorship in Banjul to temper their belligerent and unpredictable attitude towards foreign companies they have been dealing with in the last decade most of which ended in arbitration.

The details of the deal between AP and Government of The Gambia are unknown, as are other similar contracts with other petroleum companies designed and intended to keep Gambians in the dark.  It is expected that a joint announcement will be made shortly.

Gaston Sambou and Georgina Gomez accuse Ambassador Harding of lying to the Court

Gaston Sambou
In Gaston Sambou, former First Secretary at the Gambian Embassy and Georgina Gomez gave evidence at the Southwark Crown Court in the case concerning the 32 tonnes of duty-free tobacco  worth approximately £ 5 million.

In the previous week, Ambassador Ya Eli Harding took the witness stand, and denied knowledge of the ordering of tobacco of the magnitude alleged to have been ordered by eight of her Embassy staff over a three-year span. 

It was First Secretary Mr. Gaston Sambou's turn on the stand to testify.  He claimed in his testimony that the C426 Forms completed were to request from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (CFO) the release of duty free goods.  

As far as Mr. Sambou was concerned, all the forms were authorized by the FCO, therefore the Customs & Excise were mandated to release the goods.  In his opinion, he did not act dishonestly because the forms went through the proper channel.  

The duty free goods supplied were, Mr. Sambou continued, for members of the Gambian community. Gambians were able to order for the goods using the catalog published by the duty free companies and made no profit out of the orders.
Georgina Gomez is at far right

At this point, the Prosecutor promptly requested Gaston Sambou to list the names of Gambian nationals who had bought goods through the mission.  

Mr Sambou also reiterated that the Ambassador Mrs Elizabeth Ya Eli Harding was aware of duty free goods ordered and delivered at the Mission’s address.  This was very transparent, no secrecy about it, she (Ya Eli) had requested orders for friends; therefore she acted deceitfully by denying having knowledge of it.

Gaston acknowledged signing order forms and the duty free companies – International Diplomatic Supplies and Chaccalli De Decker were fierce competitors who were pestering the mission for orders.  He questioned the amount cited in the indictment, because no indication was given as to what amount can be requested.  These companies should be held responsible and not staff at the mission.

When it was Georgina Gomez's turn on the stand, made a stunning statement that most of her orders were for Ambassador Ya Eli Harding.  As she was very close to Ya Eli, the Ambassador would suggest that she order for Gambians.  Using Ya Eli’s slogan “we have to help the Gambians”.  

Mrs Harding would refer nationals to her and orders would be placed.  Once the goods were ordered, Ya Eli would give her the money as soon as the goods were collected and instruct Georgina to keep the money in the Finance Attaché’s safe which was in his office on the fourth floor.  Mrs Harding would regularly remind her about the needs of Gambians that was why more orders were being placed.

Sometimes, Mrs Harding would walk her friends downstairs to collect their boxes and was also surprised that Ya Eli denied seeing or handling boxes. 

Even when she away from the office, Mrs Harding would call on her mobile phone, instructing that she place orders, Georgina would then call her colleague at the Mission to put orders through. Goods were collected from the warehouse at the request of the duty free companies

Ebrima John, the Embassy's Finance Attache also testified that he was not aware of dishonest dealings, and the orderings were authorized and legally correct.  He too was approached by Ambassador Harding to order for Gambian nationals.  

He confirmed that when goods were delivered any officers in their rooms could hear noise and that Mrs Harding being on the first floor heard the noise and sometime when he was in her office, Ya Eli would remark about the goods being delivered.  Although he signed order forms, that was part of his duty but he did not keep track of orders as they were not important.

The case continues at the Southwark Crown Court


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Not even Dr. Kal Bayo can save Yaya Jammeh

Dr. Kalidu Bayo, Secretary General
The regime of Yaya Jammeh has so destroyed the structures of government that not even the hiring of Dr. Kalidu Bayo can save the regime.  Instead, the regime will end up consuming him.

Here's why Dr. Kalidu Bayo will fail:

1.  The regime is populated by those not interested in governing which is in itself the biggest challenge any Secretary General faces.

2. Yaya Jammeh seized power to enrich himself, those of his immediate family members and a few minions.  The lucky ones will part with their loot and the many unlucky ones will end up at the National Intelligence Agency's dungeon where they are tortured for the purpose of extracting "evidence" that will eventually be used to prosecute the victim even when the constitution guarantees the protection of the people against self-incrimination.

3.  Crony capitalism instead of free and open market capitalism is the standard operating system where a very selected few, Gambians and non-Gambians, are protected from the real and free market mechanisms - a protection that makes it possible for these very privileged few businessmen to price gouge thus feeding inflation.

4.  The Civil Service that Kal Bayo heads has been dismantled, and its reputation dragged through the mud by a group of nonentities led by Yaya Jammeh.  Most of these undistinguished and unaccomplished members of the regime, including the pathetic members of the National Assembly, are school drop-outs.  Good luck to you, Kal.  Try communicating with them, starting with your boss and see if any of them make any sense. They are completely out of their depths.

5.  The recent Supplementary Appropriations Bill that eventually won the approval of the rubber stamp National Assembly is the latest of the numerous irresponsible acts of Yaya Jammeh. The extra-budgetary request of over D 1.12 billion ensures that the domestic borrowing limits set by the IMF and agreed to by the regime will once again be exceeded.  This will, of course, not the first time that the regime has flouted their promise to stay within prudent fiscal limits.  An economy that's on a meld-down mode consumes everyone, including the Secretary General.

6.  On the human rights front, the persistent use of arrests, imprisonment and torture is the most effective tool applied by this wrecked regime to keep the population in check.  The gay and lesbian communities are the latest victims to be targeted by the regime resulting in many fleeing the country for neighboring Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.  When will this arbitrary suppression of the freedoms and liberties of Gambian end.  Let us see you, Dr. Kal Bayo, do something to stop this madness.

7.  Finally, I am certain that you have come to realize the moment you stepped in your office that the Service is not the same as the one you helped build in the 1990s. It has been destroyed by an incompetent and corrupt regime of which you are now a part; a destruction so extensive and comprehensive that you may be consumed by it.  Good luck.

 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Half a billion dalasi of the supplementary budget went to Office of The President as suspected

According to a breakdown of the D1.12 billion supplementary budget approved by the Gambia's National Assembly on Monday, almost half of it or D 459 million went to the Office of the President as suspected.

D 136 million of this amount went for travel expenses of Yaya Jammeh, salaries for his flight crew, their insurance cover for flying Jammeh, Zainab Jammeh and their two kids.  The amount also includes costs of air tickets for the presidential entourage that following him around the world, including "protocol girls" who act more like Jammeh's comfort girls.  

The D 500,000,000 is a supplementary budget allocation in addition to that the 2014 allocation approved last December - an amount so colossal that it has started to be openly questioned in certain circles of the civil service.  When we reached a senior civil servant about the numbers, he reacted vehemently against the unbalanced and callous approach to budget appropriation process which he described as "opaque, designed to conceal the gross mismanagement of taxpayers money while enriching themselves in the process."

The Ministries of Energy and Petroleum, both under the Office of the President received a combined D 30 million extra allocation for what is unclear, while the Ministry of Agriculture received no additional resources despite all the loud talk about Vision 2016 that has promised to usher in rice self-sufficiency in a couple of years.

D 63 million and D 65 million went to the National Assembly and the Judiciary, whereas the Ministry of Justice received an additional.  These are institutions that Jammeh uses so effectively in suppressing the rights and liberties of Gambians, therefore he will ensure that resources are not a hindrance to enforcing the dictatorial powers of he regime.  In case you were wondering what additional resources the Ministry of Education received in the appropriation exercise - zero, zilch, nada.

Please find below the breakdown of the supplementary appropriations in numbers, courtesy of FOROYAA:
National Assembly                                                                    63, 126,718
Judiciary                                                                                      64,896,994
Independent Electoral Commission                                             9,218,640
Public Service Commission                                                         4,994,079
National Audit office                                                                               21,353,843
Ministry of Tourism and Culture                                                18,501,822
Ministry of Justice                                                                      46,308.958
Pensions and Gratuities                                                              98,342,649
Ombudsman                                                                               18,311,180
Miscellaneous                                                                  50,420,000
Ministry of Lands & Reg. Government                                      45,879,340

Ministry of Trade.Regional integration and Employment       67,981,727
Ministry of Youth & Sports                                                       36,259,340
Ministry of Environment Parks and Wildlife                           31,065,629
Ministry of information, Communication infrastructure            20,211,598
Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resource                                 37,254,997
Ministry of Energy                                                                    19,759,460
Ministry of Petroleum                                                               11,648,410



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reckless handling of the Gambian economy



Gambia's National Assembly passed a supplementary appropriation bill worth over D1 billion to add to an already ballooning domestic debt.  The bill was introduced by Ousman Sonko, the Interior Minister who was standing in for the Finance Minister who's on a junket with Yaya Jammeh to Qatar looking for financial assistance.

The 2014 budget, according to Minister Ousman Sonko, is focused on fiscal prudence, aimed at addressing the growing deficit that is being financed by costly domestic borrowing when the request before the National Assembly achieves the opposite.

One of the budget items that attracted the attention of reporters is the D 86 million request to defray the cost of celebrating the 20th anniversary of the so-called 22nd July Revolution, a figure that is more than the entire annual budgets of many Ministries and Departments of government.  The Jammeh regime has to celebrate one thing or another.  A month doesn't go by without a celebration being organized in Jammeh's village of Kanilai involving huge expenditures that will be underwritten by an over-taxed population.

The regime has come under pressure from Gambian dissidents abroad over its human rights record but economic management issues are increasingly gaining ground.  In anticipation of a public backlash over the latest supplementary appropriations, Amadou Colley, the Governor of the Central Bank went before the joint National Assembly committee to prepare the ground for what he hoped would be a soft landing should the D1 billion bill reaches the National Assembly.

Supplementary budget requests and approvals have become routine, with five such requests since 2009. Previously, multiple annual budget requests were the norm, but now a single request is preferable by the regime to limit the number of public outcry to a single, as opposed to multiple outcries from the public.

The $1 billion appropriation request will be financed internally, a practice that started in 2009.  Prior to this date, donors were approached to assist in its financing but because of the lack of discipline and fiscal prudence, no donor will encourage such irresponsibility by encouraging the regime in destroying the economy.

By resorting to domestic borrowing, the government is competing with the private sector for investment funds that would have made it possible to finance expansion of the sector to create more employment for Gambians.  The 'crowding out' effect resulting also in higher interest rates is a recipe for disaster.  The effects are everywhere - businesses are fleeing to neighboring Senegal, locals are closing their market stalls and youth unemployment is hovering around 80%.

The D 1 billion rise in borrowing will most certainly exacerbate the fiscal deficit problems of the regime by slowing growth resulting from lower domestic demand.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Testing the limits of Senegalese 'Teranga'

The case involving Gambian businessman Amadou Samba at the Radisson Bleu Hotel is still pending, according to recent reports.

The full details of the case are yet to be revealed in a court of law before another incident in the Senegalese border town of Karang with a potential of further straining an already strained relations between Gambian exile/dissident community and its Senegalese host government.

Recent incidents involving Gambian dissident groups in Senegal should be a cause for concern for those who value the maintenance of the diplomatic balance between two sister countries.

These two incidences, coupled with uninformed utterances of some highly visible members of the Gambia exile community in Dakar against the Macky Sall's government in general and Senegal's Interior Ministry personnel dealing with refugee matters in particular, underscore the need for a somber reflection on the tactics employed by members of the Struggle with a view to assessing the potential negative impact on the attitude of the Senegalese government on the one hand, and that of the Senegalese people on the other - two separate and distinct entities and both reacting differently to public opinion with the former reacting more expeditiously than the latter

These acts of defiance and protestations against the regime of Yaya Jammeh while within the confines of Senegalese law and of absolute necessity, they also tend to open themselves to the accusation of grandstanding, however unfair it might seem.  These skirmishes are distractions that serve to focus attention away from the real, and what should be the only target : Yaya Jammeh.

The distribution of T-shirts in plain sight of the Gambian border town of Amdalaye unnecessarily exposes the vulnerabilities of the Gambian protesters to a very nervous Gambian security apparatus of the dictatorship that has been on permanent full alert since the incidents.  Therefore, in the future, incidents of this sort should be avoided because they tend to be full of symbolism but lacking, unfortunately, in strategic substance.  

The dissident community in Dakar is now in the hundreds, if not thousands, sufficient to mount a formidable Gambian-led protest against the tyranny in the Gambia but it appears that the community is not organized. The formation of a DUGA-like umbrella organizing structure should be a top priority of the dissident/refugee community in Dakar.    

Recent events have compounded an already strained relations between the government of Macky Sall and the refugee community in Dakar thus putting to the test the limits of Senegalese "Teranga" - a test that Senegal probably has never experienced before in its long history of welcoming refugees fleeing African dictators from all corners of the continent.

The host, Senegal, has displayed maturity and grace toward its treatment of Gambian refugees in the face of innuendos and unsavory claims - bordering on personal attacks - against President Macky Sall and members of his government which have been appropriately ignored, showing the maturity of Senegalese democracy and the decency of the accused.  

Senegal has been a gracious in the face of adversities, both real and manufactured.  It is time for Gambians to reciprocate by behaving less adversarially towards their Senegalese host.   The enemy is not President Macky Sall or his government.  The enemy is Yaya Jammeh and his repressive, corrupt and inept government.    


A letter to Gambia's Finance Minister and Central Bank Governor


Hon. Kebba S. Touray
Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs
The Quadrangle
BANJUL

Mr. Amadou Colley
Governor of the Central Bank of The Gambia
Central Bank Building
BANJUL

Dear Hon. Minister,

                               RE: A list of locally-financed 'critical development projects' 

I am writing to request a list of all the locally-financed projects undertaken by the government in the last ten years and the individual costs associated with each of these projects.

This request is being made as a result of the response provided by the Governor of the Central Bank recently at the joint National Assembly committee relating to the growing domestic debt that is getting worse.

According to the Governor of the Central Bank, the persistent growth of the domestic debt is as a result of government competing with the private sector for loans in the banking sector resulting in higher cost of borrowing.

The Governor seemed to have suggested to the joint National Assembly committee that domestic borrowing of the magnitude seen in the last decade or so is unavoidable because it was necessary to fund what he described as "critical development projects."

It would be highly appreciated if the Government can provide me with a list of these category of projects with project cost associated which each of these critical development projects.

I look forward to hearing from you.  It would appreciated if the list could be sent directly to my email address at smsanneh@gmail.com

Sincerely yours



Sidi M. Sanneh  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gays and lesbians being rounded up in The Gambia

Alieu Sarr
Morr Sowe
________________________________________________________

The dictatorial regime of Yaya Jammeh has mounted a "clean-up operation" in the tourist area by arresting Gambians identified as gays and lesbians.  Men dressed in black, identified as members of Jammeh's notorious members of his security forces, have been going around hotels and bars in the tourism development areas along the Gambian coast arresting those they 'suspect' of being gay.

It is being reported that members of the security have been soliciting the assistance of those requesting the tourism areas to help identify 'suspected' gays and lesbians resulting in the arrest of, at least, three known individuals.

Among those arrested are Morr Sowe, Alieu Sarr and Kemo Sanyang (photo unavailable) are known to have been in the custody of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for simply being identified as gay.  Their rights are being violated because of who they are accused of being.

Human rights is a universal concept that must be applied across the board if it is to have any meaning in it's application and enforcement.  We cannot apply it selectively.  Gays and lesbians are human beings and created by the same Creator.  To say that the gay community is not worthy of legal protection exposes them to the dangers of harassment and illegal detention.  In fact those endorsing the regime's hatred for and harassment of gays and lesbians are equally culpable in the violation of the human rights of these Gambian citizens.

The harassment of the gay community has resulted in many fleeing to neighboring Senegal where they feel safe.  This harassment and illegal detention of innocent Gambians by the dictatorship of Yaya Jammeh must stop.  Morr Sowe, Alieu Sarr and Kemo Sanyang must be released from detention or charged. They cannot be held indefinitely without charge in violation of their constitutional and human rights.  We cannot be selective in how the law is applied.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Let justice guide our actions - Up-date

Lang Tombong and co
UPDATE: The Supreme Court has released Batch Samba Faye on appeal. he was serving a life sentence after being found quilty of murder in December 2004.  
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There is a saying that history repeats itself. This week begins with a lot of mixed feelings for us in the diaspora. On Sunday 9 November 2014, the British Government and their allies will be paying their respect to the gallant soldiers that sacrificed their lives in the 2 World Wars. In fact, little Gambia played a major role and lost a total of 300 Gambian Soldiers who fought alongside the British forces.

Whilst we join forces with the British Government to pay respects to our gallant men that fought for the preservation of peace, and justice, it must be an ideal opportunity for us to reflect on what lies ahead for the rest of the week. Today being November 11th marks 20 years in which The Gambian National Army acting upon the auspices of the Defunct Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council summarily executed the likes of Lt Basirou Barrow, Lt Dot Fall, Lt Gibril Saye and few others for attempting to overthrow the military government. 

The truth of the matter is that there was no such thing as a Coup Plot, it was sheer act of cowardice by the military junta. As we continue to mourn their loss, we pray that this Government will one day show some decency by releasing the dead bodies so that they afforded a decent funeral.

In the next 24 hours, the Supreme Court of The Gambia will have to deliver their final ruling in the Treason case involving General Langtong Tamba and 7 others in which they were found guilty and sentenced to death. Judging from the experience on treason trials in the Gambia which dates back to the case of Pap Cheyassin and Co during the First Republic, this case in its current form is a blatant example of gross miscarriage of justice.  

The prosecution’s case lies primarily on the evidence given by Ebrima Marreh and Rui Jabbi Gassama. Despite the inconsistencies in their statements, the trial judge did not hesitate to convict them of a serious crime of treason. To add insult to injury, the trial judge decided to impose a death penalty against Tamba and 7 others. It is quite unfortunate that the Supreme Court in delivering the judgment did not exercise their powers properly against upholding the judgment from the “inferior” court-The Gambia Court of Appeal which was presided by Justice Joseph Wowo and the High Court presided by Justice Amadi

Although the death penalty is permissible under Gambia law, the constitution which is the supreme law of the Gambia clearly outlines the situation which it could be rightly used. In the Tamba Treason case, the evidence was uncorroborated and unreliable for any rightful person of legal integrity to consider imposing the death penalty. Therefore the onus now lies on the Supreme Court Judges assigned with tomorrow’s ruling to show wisdom and be reminded of the words of our national anthem- Let Justice guide our actions. The evidence against Tamba and Co is too weak to warrant a conviction. 

The Supreme Court Judges now have the chance to restore sanity into our jurisprudence by acquitting the entire 7 plotters for lack of substantive evidence. Last week, we read Learned Counsel Sherrif Tambedou’s submission in court, in which he provided reasons why the death penalty was in appropriate. I cannot disagree with him, given the shallow evidence which the then Director of Prosecution Richard Chenge presented at the trial.

The task of the Supreme Court Judges will be “complete” when they have to make another ruling in the appeal case involving Batch Samba Faye who was found guilty of murder in December 2004. This case was primarily one of provocation by the victim and there is overwhelming evidence of a gross miscarriage of justice by Justice MA Paul. 

Previous sittings in the appellate courts have clearly established that Batch Faye’s conviction by way of a death penalty is unsafe and unsatisfactory. In fact, the rationale behind this reasoning could be found in the link provided here  The dissenting judgment by Justice Mabel Agyemang does raise eyebrows as to whether this man should be found guilty of murder.

After serving almost 10 years, the time has now the courts to acquit and discharge Batch Samba Faye. A miscarriage of justice is much visible in this case and again I call upon the Supreme Court Judges to remember the words of our National Anthem – Let Justice Guide our Actions.