Friday, February 20, 2015

The € 6 million ferry rehabilitation scandal is worse than you think

We reported on our blog post of 26th August 2013, exactly a year and a half ago, deploring the state of Gambia's ferries which was triggered by the gearbox problem that the "Kanilai" developed while at seas which caused it to drift rudderless to 12 hours with hapless passengers on board.  At the time, we said the blame should not be confined to the incompetent GPA administration that it should be squarely laid at the doorsteps of Yaya Jammeh.

Few months later, precisely in October of 2013, the Government of Yaya Jammeh suddenly announced that The Republic of Taiwan (RoC) has agreed to step in to help address the problem of the ferries.  A month later, the then Taiwan Ambassador to The Gambia, H.E. Samuel Chen handed over 4 (four) MAN engines as well as propulsion and steering systems from Schottel, the German manufacturer of marine propulsion systems.

During the presentation ceremony, the Taiwanese Ambassador said that the total cost of these parts were $1,625,384.80.  Ambassador Chen, however, made a startling revelation that half of the amount had already been advanced to the regime back in December of 2012.  The balance of the funds in the amount of $728,153.92 was handed over by the Ambassador with the 10% of the remaining cost to be paid upon delivery of the engines. These parts were meant for the two Banjul-Barra ferries "Johe" and "Kanilai", the very same ferries we are now being told will cost Gambian taxpayers € 6 million.

What happened to all of the Taiwanese money is unclear because the procurement procedure employed was equally unclear.  Was the regime directly responsible for procuring the engines and the propulsion and steering systems or was Taiwan.  It would appear from the reporting of The Daily Observer, the official mouthpiece of regime, that the Jammeh regime was in control of the procurement process and not Taiwan whose role appeared to have been limited to disbursement of funds.

The story becomes murkier because the diplomatic breakup between Banjul and Taipei occured soon after the check presentation and before the delivery of the engines.  Since 10% retention of the over $1.5 million of the total cost was to have been paid upon final delivery, it is unclear whether Taiwan or Gambia ended up paying.

Of course, the rehabilitation of the current ferries became the second best option of a regime notorious for is corruption and ineptitude after another "ferry deal" went horribly wrong.  The two ferries The "Aljamdu" and the "Kansala" were currently moored at the Banjul port because they are of inappropriate and poor design but not after a big inauguration with Jammeh (Morr Ndaggeh) leading the "celebrations".

It turns out the two mothballed vessels were 27 years old, refurbished with accidents during their seaworthy days, causing structural damages that may still pose serious safety problems.  Not only that, there may be other legal encumbrances, including possible insurances fraud, engulfing those two vessels which may have costed the Gambian taxpayer another € 6,345,000.

These scandals involving the ferry services have the potential of putting the Gambian taxpayers on the hook for over € 12 million, leaving the ferry services dangerous and unsafe at any speed.  The Greek company named Gallia Holdings, a partner in the joint venture company is threatening legal proceedings against the regime of Yaya Jammeh, further complicating an already messy situation. What a shame.

Meanwhile, we have reached out to Schottel of Germany and to our sources around the world for answers.  We will never rest until we get to the bottom of this.  The Taiwanese authorities are also being encouraged to shed light of their role in a dysfunctional ferry services that millions of dollars were spent by Taiwan with little to show for it in terms of improvements to the services.