Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Petroleum procurement scandal: What is at stake

After successfully dismantling governments central procurement mechanism - Tender Board - when he seized power only to halfheartedly re-established after twenty years of centralizing all government purchases in the Office of The President, Jammeh is hoping that Gambians will forget that there was a functioning and efficient system in place since Independence.

However, listening to him on national television explaining how the system worked then made those familiar with how the Tender Board functioned wondered if Jammeh had any clue.  If you ask me, the guy is clueless.  He broke the system, used his power as Chairman of the AFPRC to enrich himself, his fellow Council members and his business cronies cronies.

Exploiting the vacuum he acted as the sole member of the Tender Board by deciding what the AFPRC will purchase and from whom to purchase  and where to purchase it from.  These goods and services range from who will build the Arch-22 and the terminal building of the Banjul International Airport to the make and model of vehicles and from which dealers to procure them from.  A great deal of wealth was accumulated from loans and grants raised from non-traditional sources like Taiwan, especially during the period when donors withheld aid immediately following the coup d'etat.

This brings us to the Gambia National Petroleum Corporation.  Prior to it being nationalized, all petroleum and petroleum products procurement was done for at least five years by Mohammed Bazzi, the Lebanese-Syrian, a business partner of Yaya Jammeh.  These products ranged from petrol, diesel and jet fuel for petrol stations and airport to heavy fuel and lubricants for NAWEC all procured by a single source for all of the country.

The monopoly condition was created by none other than Jammeh himself that carved out this lucrative environment for his Lebanese friend and business partner.  How lucrative you might wonder.  According to sources, a metric ton of fuel cost US$ 400 which it sold NAWEC and others for US$ 700.  With annual consumption in tens of thousands of metric tons, million of dollars in annual profits were realized in for nearly five years from 2010 to last year when procurement reverted to government.  Government and NAWEC now buys at US $ 400 per metric ton instead of $ 700.  Profits were deposited in Lebanese banks and not Gambian ones which certainly didn't help the nation's foreign reserves and balance of payment

Even though the Mandinari petroleum storage facility now belongs to government and it procures its own petroleum, every effort is being made by Jammeh's business partners the procurement is done to regain the privilege and highly profitable procurement venture.  This explains the mass arrests of officials of the Ministries of Petroleum, Energy and GNCP, accused of "economic crimes" which Jammeh says has cost the state US$ 12 million.

Make no mistake, bribery and corruption are prevalent in the sector according to our sources but by exaggerating and dramatizing the problem on national television, Jammeh laying the groundwork to return the procurement functions back to Muhammed Bazzi and his other business partners.  The procurement of petroleum and related products is too lucrative to be left in the hands of public officials.  The Lebanese businessmen want the business to revert to them and Jammeh is laying the foundation for it to happen by accusing senior Gambian officials and a businessman of economic crimes.