Sunday, October 22, 2017

#Jammeh2Justice Campaign will be victims-centered

A two-day closed-door meeting was held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel brought together the who’s who of the human rights organizations and lawyer groups from around the world including in-country groupings such as The Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations and representatives of the Gambia Bar Association.  

The third day was an open forum that allowed a representative sample of some of Jammeh’s victims to narrate their stories of horror and savagery they suffered at the hands of Jammeh’s henchmen – some of whom are still embedded in the new administration. 

The press was invited, as the final act, to pose questions to members of the Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice - the formal name of the effort #Jammeh2Justice - whose membership comprises of the organizations and individuals who attended the closed-door sessions that discussed strategy for the Campaign to bring Jammeh to book.

Mr. Gaye Sowe of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa and Jeggan Grey-Johnson of the Open Society Foundation played a key role in putting together what can aptly be described as a consultative mechanism for all the key players that will be involved in the campaign to bring Jammeh and his accomplices to justice.  It will be an all-inclusive vehicle that will facilitate the Government of Adama Barrow to play a more active and visible role in the process going forward. 

Lifting a page from the Hissene Habre playbook, it was concluded very early in the opening sessions of the meetings that the campaign will be victims-centered with e victims of the 22-year dictatorship success of the campaign will depend on the role that the victims will assign themselves.  In April this year, Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch who pursued the case of the Chadian dictator that led to his conviction in Senegal to life imprisonment for similar offenses Jammeh is being accused of, brought to the Gambia Chadian victims who explained to Gambian victims their ordeal and how they narrated their individual stories of rape, torture and other forms of human rights abuses at the hands of Hissene Habre.

In short, victims must start telling their individuals stories to the world as an integral part of any strategy that may be adopted.  In fact, the most moving and impactful part of the three-day gathering was when a dozen or so victims of Yaya Jammeh started telling their stories before a packed audience.  It was as emotional and it was therapeutic an experience for many in the hall.  It was a signal that the Campaign for Bring ex-Gambian Dictator Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice has officially started, at least for us at the sidisanneh.blogspot.com
In addition to telling their stories to the world, members of the Victims Center “called upon the Government of The Gambia to exert diplomatic and political leverage to ensure that Yahya Jammeh faces justice with all due process guarantees.”  Members are also committed to ensuring that their voices are heard at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission.
We will add to the list of our priorities the plight of the victims, their families and colleagues by adding our voice to bringing their stories to our audience that is spread across several continents including key Western capitals.   We also intend to bring you regular and reliable updates on some of the active cases currently pending in Europe such as that of Ousman Sonko, former Jammeh Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko pending in Switzerland and whose indictment was made possible by the proactive stance of TRAIL International with Benedict De Moerloose as the lead counsel. 

The list of current members of the Coalition to Bring ex-Dictator Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice includes the following: The Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations, Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, Gambia Bar Association, Gambia Press Union,  Article 19 West Africa, Coalition for Change in Gambia,  EG Justice (Equatorial Guinea), TRIAL International, Human Rights Watch, Guernica 37, La Fondation pour l’egalite des chances en Afrique and Aids Free World.  




Sunday, October 15, 2017

Gambians demand an open, transparent and accountable government

Sidi Sanneh 
To emerge successfully from over two decades of dictatorship was never expected to be an easy task.  We will measure success by the degree to which Gambians are free from fear of being persecuted for exercising one's inherent right to free speech and all other inherent rights to associate, to assemble and to a free press.

Although Gambians began enjoying these freedoms immediately after January 17th this year when the former dictator was forced into exile, it is too early to have it become embedded in the national psyche as earned freedoms.  We are presently on that long journey, estimated to be successfully concluded in a generation or two.

Skeptics are quick to dispute the estimated time frame required to reverse the effects of what Jammeh's Information Minister characterized as the "social re-engineering" experiment that affected all aspects of Gambian life.

Primary and secondary education have suffered under Jammeh, if test results of the West African Exams Council are good measure of the state of our education system.

Our economy, burdened by constant interference by Jammeh to favor himself and his business partners have resulted in a skewed foreign exchange regime and a distortion of the market that will last years before it corrects itself, assuming, of course, that interference will cease under the current government.   Corruption became rife and institutionalized under 22-year of dictatorship by a regime that seized power unconstitutionally on the pretext of  ending "rampant corruption" under the legal government of Sir Dawda Jawara.

The social and cultural environment under Jammeh placed high premium on militarism, the promotion of tribal identity and the  projection of physical power to emulate the power of the security apparatus that acted as deterrent to likely opposition to his power.  The influence it has on society may be difficult to measure but anecdotal evidence in the form of increasing aggressive behavior, drug misuse and abuse by the youth population can be cited. 

High youth unemployment sustained over decades because of inappropriate economic policies have resulted in mass exodus of young people to Europe via the most dangerous of route across the Sahara Desert, through Libya, across the Mediterranean and into Europe.  Unfortunately not all make it safely.  Gambian migrants using this route end up dying in disproportionate numbers compared to other nationalities.

Yaya Jammeh is the most consequential and transformative leader the Gambia has ever had.  Unfortunately, the impact of his dictatorship had, and continues to have, a detrimental effect on society.  And because of the extent of the damage done to the economy, the social and cultural fiber as well as the confidence of Gambians have been negatively affected, it will take a generation or more to reverse a trend that is currently impeding economic and social progress.   

To reverse the effects of one of Africa's most repressive regimes, democracy must be nurtured and propagated, both in theory as well as in practice, by the Barrow administration as a necessary first step in order to guarantee an open and transparent government.  For the government to be accountable, it must not only commit itself to the virtues of an open and transparent government but it must be putting those virtues into practice.

The recent scandal involving 57 vehicles that the government claimed to have been a "donation" to the Gambian president by a "Barrow supporter" who, according to his press secretary, wishes to remain "anonymous" brings to the fore a national conversation that we must have as a country in transition.

The government of Barrow is faced with two stark choices (i) either maintain the current corrupt and discredited institutions that were created in the image of the dictator to enhance his wealth-seeking shenanigans and manned by his most dedicated enablers, strategically posted to facilitate the easy looting of the meager resources of one of the poorest countries on earth or (ii) elect to open a fresh page that will start the process of dismantling an administrative structure purposefully designed to perpetuate the dictatorship that lasted for over two decades.  The choice is for President Barrow and, him alone, to make as Chief Executive Officer of the Republic of The Gambia.  The ball is clearly in his court.           

Thursday, October 12, 2017

How Zainab is helping destroy the Gambian economy

On November 11th 2016, we published this blog post about the wife of former dictator Yaya Jammeh and how she became part of the country's problem because of her expensive lifestyle that took a devastating toll on the Gambia's economy.   We are happy to republish the post

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Zainab Jammeh 
Yaya Jammeh may be the main culprit but his Morocco-born wife, Zainab Jammeh, is a significant contributor to Gambia's deteriorating economic environment.

Her jet-setting lifestyle is proving to be the bane of Gambia's dwindling foreign reserves because of her insatiable taste for luxury goods and high-end living that rivals the Hollywood starlet.  Her lifestyle requires foreign exchange which is in short supply for a number of years.  But that doesn't deter her from demanding for more from her dictator husband whose confiscatory and illegal demands from the Central Bank Governor for money is causing him sleepless nights.  The practice is so prevalent and getting worse that unconfirmed reports have it that a recent IMF mission demanded a stop to it because it bordered on criminality.

Zainab Jammeh's foreign travels are by private charter out of Dubai.at an average cost of US $ 200,000 per trip according to our sources.  At an average of one trip a month for a minimum of couple of weeks per trip, her hotel bill alone at her favorite hotel suite in McLean, Virginia, a presidential suite can cost the public treasury upward of $ 40,000  - $ 50,000.  In short, a trip by Gambia's First Lady can cost $ 1,000,000 to $ 1,500,000.  Although she and her husband own a $ 3.5 million mansion outside Washington DC, they have abandoned it because of the Gambian protesters they attract anytime they try living in it.

Mrs. Jammeh is not totally oblivious to the fact that the country's dwindling foreign reserves.  She recognizes the difficulty her husband encounters in providing the foreign currency needed that forces him to demand local currency - which will always be in abundant supply as long as there's enough supply of ink and paper - from the Central Bank to be converted in dollars by Trust Bank, a government-controlled commercial bank.  The First Lady's response to the new normal is to establish a number of "Foundations" for child health and cancer for the sole purpose of soliciting foreign money from the Gulf States and other Muslim countries.  She was recently in the Gulf and in Malaysia soliciting funds on behalf of her Foundation most of which, it is believed, in diverted for her personal use.

The reputation of both Yaya and Zainab Jammeh abroad is nothing to write home about and thus will limit their capacity to raise huge sums of money.  It is, therefore, expected that while Mrs. Jammeh's fund raising efforts may pay off in the short run, it may not be sufficient to finance the lifestyle they've come to accustomed to without dipping their hands in the public trough.  It is a sad and unfortunate fact that for as long as Jammeh is in power and the economy continues to contract, The Gambia will ill-afford the expensive the expensive lifestyles of Mr. and Mrs Yaya Jammeh.  It is time that both be retired from public life this year.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Publicly-financed projects must be openly tendered

Gambia Port
When governments sign loans, they are doing so on behalf of the citizenry with the promise that the funds will be used prudently and efficiently.

To fulfill this promise,  there's a clause in standard multilateral loan agreements that in order to get value for money, the procurement of works and services must be openly tendered by inviting companies that meet the minimum qualification criteria.

As for bilateral loans, the field is limited to companies registered in the country providing the funding to compete among themselves.  For instance, if bilateral funding is from the UK, they could limit the competition only to British companies.

Competition, the saying goes, brings out the best in us and when companies compete on a level playing field, to provide goods and services to a client, the client always wins.  The absence of competition assures inferior product output or service at probably a higher cost to the client. Therefore, the government of the Gambia has always adopted the international procurement standards for the procurement of goods and services as standard best practice even when only local funds were involved.

Yaya Jammeh-led 1994 illegal coup d'etat changed the entire landscape and swept along with the legitimate government, all the best practices the putschists found in the civil service, including the principles of an open tender procedure for the sole purpose of having a clear way to the meager resources of one of the world's poorest countries.

Although the Tender Board was supposedly replaced by a Procurement Agency, it never functioned independent of the Office of the President of Yaya Jammeh.  In fact, Jammeh directed the tender process from his offices at State House, as amply demonstrated on a daily basis by the Commission of Inquiry into his illicit wealth.

We've been saying since President Barrow assumed office last January, for the country to reverse the downward spiral of the economy, we must, as a country, move towards an open society, not only in our politics but in the economic management sphere.  We must shed the Jammeh way of governance where it is more transactional that fuels corruption and stifle economic growth and development.

In this regard, we have encountered, in the past several weeks, some public procurement anomalies that may develop into an undesirable trend, if remained unchecked.  And based on information received, we may be on the verge of experiencing two more projects at NAWEC for the procurement of HFO using requirements that effectively eliminate other potential suppliers and the Gambia Ports Authority's Banjul Port Extension Project.

In the case of NAWEC's HFO procurement notice, requiring that suppliers have at least two (2) contracts within the last five (5) years with a value of at least $10,000,000 "that have been substantially completed and that are similar to the proposed goods and related services" looks and sounds like only one company i.e Mohammed Bazzi's Euro-Africa Group that had monopolized the supply of HFO for almost a decade will be the only qualified company to submit a proposal.  If this notice is allowed to stand, it will eliminate all local business enterprises from competing in a project that will be financed entirely by the Gambian people.

This is coming in the midst of the Commission of Inquiry where it is being revealed, practically on a daily basis, how the non-observance of standard procurement rules and the abuse of the procurement system have led to the bankrupting of Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation and many other State Owned Enterprises, including NAWEC.

As regards the Banjul Port Extension Project, we hope that legal advise from the AG Chambers was sought by GPA and the Ministry of Finance.   Based on public information, it is unclear how China Bridge & Road Construction or China Road and Bridge Corporation - if its one and the same - was selected over other Chinese companies since it is a bilaterally-funded project by the Export-Import Bank of China on concessional terms (2% interest) in the amount of approximately $177 million.  

In a recent newspaper interview, the Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure was quoted as saying that "we should pray for a President who comes regularly with sound EOs (Executive Orders) to expedite the development of this country."  Such a statement being uttered by a minister in the midst of the Commission of Inquiry that is highlighting the flagrant use (or misuse) of presidential power suggests a degree of insensitivity to the plight of the Gambian taxpayer.  The tone-deafness is equally perplexing.

We want to reassure the minister, if one is needed, that we will continue to make as much noise as possible to ensure that The Gambia is not plunged into another disastrous experiment in unchecked power of the executive.  It is no longer business as usual.

Even for projects financed bilaterally, domestic companies are encouraged to compete.  There is no indication that there were other Chinese firms involved in the selection process, in this case, that led to choosing China Bridge and Road.

It is in Gambia's interest to insist on competition among qualified firms for the award of such contracts - both in terms of pricing and quality of service.  An open and transparent procurement system must be encouraged and institutionalized, incorporating all the proven best practices associated with this form of committing public funds for the purpose of improving the lives of  all Gambians.

The new government of Adama Barrow cannot afford to maintain a totally discredited system that had bankrupted nearly all of our SOEs that finally led to the ouster of Yaya Jammeh from State House.
                                                       
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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How America helped create dictator Yaya Jammeh

Here's some more background information to help our readership understand and appreciate the deliberations of the Commission of Inquiry into Jammeh's illicit wealth and the role America played in creating the person we now know to be one of the most brutal and corrupt dictator Africa has ever seen.

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Former U.S. Ambassador and Gambian dictator

Former Deputy Head of Mission
















Speaking on the phone to Bruce Knotts, the former Deputy Head of Mission to The Gambia he opined that Ambassador Jackson McDonald's efforts which succeeded in the lifting of U.S. sanctions against the Jammeh regime as well as providing Yaya Jammeh with financial support only to return to Washington to become the Gambian dictator's lobbyist certainly could appear as inappropriate.

Knotts did not make a direct accusation but said that Jackson's actions in his official capacity followed by his financial benefiting personally as Yaya Jammeh's lobbyists "smelled" to high heavens.

Ambassador Jackson had just assumed office in Banjul in 2001 shortly before the presidential elections which was considered by the opposition and many credible international observers as neither free nor fair.  That notwithstanding, Ambassador Jackson certified the elections results and with that action lifted the US sanctions against the regime of Jammeh that was in place since July 1994 when the 29 year old Lieutenant Jammeh, fresh from military training in the US.

The lifting of those sanctions by the US did not only strengthened the dictatorship of Yaya Jammeh but it also strengthened the personal friendship between the two.  The "rendition"program also saw the inclusion of The Gambia as one of those "black holes" where Al Qaida suspects were held, interrogated, sometimes tortured before being transported to Iraq and other sites across the globe, including GITMO.

McDonald's lobbying firm, Jefferson Waterman International (JWI), secured a lucrative contract from
Yaya Jammeh to spruce his image in Washington.  We have written extensively on the cosy relationship between Jammeh and JWI through Ambassador McDonald, a relationship that his former Deputy called "unethical" and borders on "corruption" because the lifting of sanctions allowed American taxpayers money to be used by the Jammeh regime in, what appears to be, in exchange for lucrative lobbying contract after Jackson left the foreign service.

JWI was not the only one doing business with the tyrannical ruler.  A second K Street lobbying firm that was doing business with the Gambian dictator was BRG Government Affairs LLC.  According to its Department of Justice filings, the contract appears to have been terminated on 31 December 2013 following protests against the firm that had ties with Haley Barbour, former Mississippi Governor and powerful Establishment Republican.

As Cherno Njie and Papa Faal, the two Gambian-Americans facing a two-count charge under the Neutrality Act of trying to unseat a foreign friendly country of The Gambia, the role that the United States played in creating a despotic and tyrannical regime like the one in Banjul is worth bringing to the attention of the world.

According to Bruce Knotts,  the personal relationship between Jackson McDonald and Yaya Jammeh "was extraordinarily and inappropriately close."  There is always "the fear that American diplomats will forget that they work for the American government and become too close to the host government," Mr Knotts opined, "Ambassadors to serve a dual function of representing their country and explaining their host country to their home country."  He proudly proclaimed the following: "I never forgot that I was working for the American government.  Jackson was working for Yaya Jammeh and showed that when he retired and went onto Yaya Jammeh's payroll."

Ambassador Jackson also went to work to see that Jammeh qualifies for AGOA which has since been expunge from the list of eligible African countries by Presidential Proclamation which took effect 1 January 2015.  However, President Obama's action, though welcomed, did little to nullify the impact of his invitation to the White House in August of 2014 of Yaya Jammeh, a known human rights abuser and someone who has refused cooperating with the US government in the case of the two Gambian-Americans who went missing while on a visit in The Gambia in March/April of 2013.  The Gambian dictator used the photo opportunity granted by President Obama by using the images printed on t-shirts that were distributed at political rallies in The Gambia is clear contravention of the rules for the use of the images.

Deputy Ambassador Bruce Knotts did not only ran afoul of his boss, he was in trouble with Jammeh too.  The American diplomat's compound/residence was violated before he was thrown out of The Gambia so that he will not act as Ambassador after McDonald's tour of duty ended.  Mr. Knotts was against the indefinite detention of Baba Jobe, even though he knew he was not clean, because it contravened Gambian law.  He said he was on the side of the rule of law.

The relationship between Amb. McDonald was so useful to and supportive of Jammeh's dictatorial and repressive tendencies that when the American diplomat's tour of duty was about to end, "Yaya Jammeh did all he could, even petitioning the Department of State to keep Jackson McDonald as U.S. Ambassador to the Gambia.  The Department of State reminded Yaya Jammeh that Jackson McDonald was the U.S Ambassador, not the other way around", according to the former American Deputy Ambassador to The Gambia.

It is to be noted that the Gambian dictator has named the military health facility at the Bakau barracks the "Ambassador Jackson McDonald Military Hospital" and he's been bestowed with Jammeh's highest civilian honor, both honors that should have been declined by the American Ambassador because of what Yaya Jammeh represents.

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Why the JWI campaign was personal

At the 31st sitting of the  Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of the former Gambian dictator, Yaya Jammeh, U.S. Ambassador Jackson McDonald came up on several occasions in connection with the procurement of numerous fire engines purportedly for the Gambia International Airport and sixty-five (65) 'John Deere' tractors supposedly for Jammeh's agriculture program.

We are re-posting this blog post we first published on 1st November, 2013 as background information to help our readership appreciate and understand the information being revealed.   Happy reading.
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Ambassador Jackson McDonald 
   
It is now official.  The lobbying contract between the K-Street firm of Jefferson Waterman International (JWI) and The Government of The Gambia has been terminated.  In its filings with the Justice Department to report on its lobbying activities, as required by law, it shows that the contract has been terminated  effective October 2013.*  It is unclear if the termination was mutual because it was to run for another three years at a total cost of $4 million.  The President of JWI is retired Ambassador Jackson McDonald who served as U.S Ambassador to The Gambia from 2001 to 2004.   Let us be clear, the contract was fro JWI to spruce up the image of a dictator whose human right record was appalling where democracy flourished under a democratically-elected government until replaced by military coup d'etat when extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture, rigged elections and false imprisonment became the norm of a once democratic country with a liberal economic policies.  

I met retired Ambassador Jackson McDonald in 2001 while we were both living and working in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.  He was serving as Deputy Chief of Mission at the United State Embassy as I was serving as Executive Director at the African Development Bank.   He had just been nominated by George W. Bush to be the next American Ambassador to The Gambia.   To help prepare for his new role, and also to help in prepare for his Senate confirmation hearing, someone proposed that he reach out to me for a briefing.  He called, introduced himself and I immediate complied.  He invited me to a dinner an the Nuit de Saigon, a trendy Vietnamese restaurant in Deux Plateaux.

It didn't take him long into the dinner that he knew my position regarding the Jammeh regime.  I was not only highly critical of his overall handling of the economy, but I was particularly appalled at his human rights record.  I think he was taken aback not because of my strong criticism of the Jammeh regime but because I was able to reconcile my positions with the fact that I represented the interest of The Gambia, among four other countries, on the Boards of Director of the Bank.  My response was that my views about the government may be critical of the regime - views that I have expressed on the Board of Directors on a couple of occasions, but they were not inconsistent with my role as a Member of the Boards.  As long as The Gambia was servicing its loans, and abiding by the fundamental rules governing membership, it can continue to draw against its rights to access financing.  I implored him to press Jammeh to improve the human rights record and to allow for a more open election process, among a list of other issues.   I left the dinner thinking that the newly nominated Ambassador was going to make human rights his top priority which he promised.   

Ambassador McDonald left soon thereafter for Washington to prepare for his confirmation hearing and subsequent posting to Banjul.  We kept in touch and exchange emails.  When things started really deteriorating, the communications slowed and eventually stopped.  I have been in the business long enough to know that the personal views of a representative (be it a Board Member of a development finance agency or Ambassador) must be balanced against current policy, as in my case at the Bank, and national interest as in the case of Ambassador McDonald.  But is so happens that the promotion of human rights and a free and fair elections were always a top priority for the U.S. government, and yet during Jackson's tenure human right conditions deteriorated dramatically and political intimidation reached new heights.  Remember the 2001 presidential election campaign?  Granted Ambassador McDonald assumed office in October, few weeks before the 2001 elections but was present when electoral fraud was documented to be rampant, opposition party leaders and supporters were intimidated, beaten and jailed.  The Ambassador, in my view, did not come to the aid of Gambians whose rights were constantly being trampled on my a dictatorial regime. This is view held by many including those not holding strong political views but were keen followers of Gambian politics.    

On the economic management front, I had always felt that Jammeh was interfering too with the economy.  In October 2001, the BBC described the Gambian economy as "still work in progress, with much of the government's efforts spend on reducing poverty."  By now, Jammeh has established the reputation of being undisciplined which has exasperated donors to the point of almost discouraged the IMF to extending further loan facility.  This was the period that the effects of the seizing of the ALIMENTA facilities at the Denton Bridge were beginning to be felt across the economy with limited processing facility for the groundnut harvest.  Alimenta had won arbitration and Gambia was to pay $11.2 million to the grain giant for loss of earnings and investment - a payout that caused Gambia to miss IMF performance criteria that year.

These were developments that occurred under the watch of Ambassador McDonald which, in my view, were not handled with the proactive zeal that I expected of him.  At least, I expected that much from my friend.  It would seem that he had an excuse for every excess of Jammeh.  His relationship has become very cozy for the liking of many, including opposition leaders who felt that the Ambassador was more interested in protecting Jammeh than the opposition leaders by not speaking out more forcefully against the dictator.  To eliminate any doubt in the minds of Gambians that the outgoing Ambassador with a friend of the dictator, the Military Health Center at the Bakau Depot carries the name The Jackson McDonald Military Health Center as a passing gift.  No other American Ambassador has ever received such honor from Jammeh who built a reputation of being anti-American, anti-UK and anti-West.

It is this cozy relationship between the two men that got me going, so to speak, once I learned of the contract between Jefferson Waterman International where Ambassador McDonald is President and Yaya Jammeh.  Prior to good public with my petition against the contract with change.org, I had made several attempts to reach out to him to see if the matter can be worked out privately.  That was my prefered choice.  But when he ignored my emails and phone calls to his office and website, I decided to go public. Along the way, I join DUGA-DC in a protest in front of the JWI offices last year.  I am now happy that the entire episode is over.  This chapter is closed.   The lessons that should be drawn is that lobbying firms will be risking their reputations if they continue to ignore calls to refrain from dealing with dictators like Jammeh who has very bad international press.  Firms will be entering into such contracts at their our peril.  Entering into business deals, especially lobbying contracts to spruce up their tattered images is high profit margin but with very high risks.

Let me go on record to say that Ambassador Jackson McDonald is a good man.  He made a bad business judgment in this case by trying to cash in on a relationship with a character whose international reputation is nothing to write home about.  I am certain that after Ambassador Jackson's experience with Jammeh, his firm will stay away from dictators who prey on their citizens by denying them the very basic of human rights and freedoms that we all enjoy in America and Europe.

Africa is the new business frontier with high economic growth.  In fact, of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, eight of them can be found in Africa.  Therefore, business opportunities are increasing and are presenting themselves in many sectors which present choices that never existed before.  Therefore, there is no need to do business with unsavory characters, not only in Africa but in the United States as well.  One simple rule that I tell my business associates and partners to apply in selecting where and with whom to do business in Africa :  if it bad for America, it is bad for Africa too.   Unfortunately, Ambassador McDonald did not apply this rule when he entered into a contract with one of Africa's dwindling pool of dictators.

*Corrigendum :  The termination was October 6th 2013 and not June 2013 as reported in an earleir version of this blog. My apologies    



Senegal's new Foreign Minister makes first visit

President Barrow with Senegal's Foreign Minister 
Barrow, Kaba, Darboe and staffs  











Senegal's new Foreign Minister finally made his much anticipated first trip to Banjul today. According to the press release from State House, Mr. Sidiki Kaba was acting as Special Envoy of the Senegalese President to President Barrow to convey the message of bilateral cooperation and "reiterating President's Sall's commitment to the spirit of friendliness and good neighborliness between The Gambia and Senegal."

The other purpose of Mr. Kaba's visit, according to the release, was to introduce himself in his new functions as Senegal's Foreign Minister.  Prior to assuming his new post, Mr. Kaba, a human rights activist, was his country's Justice Minister.

In addition to paying homage to President Macky Sall in recognition and appreciation of Senegal's leadership in The Gambia's transition from 22 years of dictatorship to his country's, President Barrow reassured the foreign Minister that the two leaders will continue to consult each other on regional and other issues of mutual interest.

Regional integration appears to have been on President Barrow's mind, especially after the recently concluded Gambia-Senegal Economic Forum in Dakar that placed great emphasis on finding ways to overcome the obstacles at the border crossings, impeding the free movement of goods and peoples between the two sister countries.

Accompanying his Senegalese counterpart to State House was Gambia's Foreign Minister, Mr. Ousainou Darboe, accompanied by his senior staff.   Also present were the Senegalese Ambassador to The Gambia, H.E. Salieu Ndiaye, who accompanied his Foreign Minister.  

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

SeneGambia Federation: Has Jammeh made the case?

The just concluded Gambia - Senegal Economic Forum where impediments to the economic integration of the two countries were discussed, there's a renewed interest in some form of a closer association - both economic and political - between the two countries.  This dialogue - in one form or another - is as old as the two sister countries.  As we are fond of saying, Senegal and The Gambia are condemned by both history and geography to make the relationship work to the advancement of both parties.

On July 15th 2014, we wrote a blog post entitled : SeneGambia Federation: Has Jammeh made the case.

Enjoy !!

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Could it be that Yaya Jammeh is succeeding where the United Nations had failed in the early 1960's, and Kukoi Samba Sagnia's failed 1981 coup d'etat making it possible (if not inevitable), the political union between The Gambia and Senegal.

The Gambia's viability as a sovereign state has always been suspect  because of its small size and poor resource endowment.  As a result, the United Nations, prompted by the United Kingdom, studied and eventually concluded that The Gambia's economic and security viability at Independence can only be assured by federating with Senegal.

The political leadership of the People's Progressive Party rejected the idea and so did many Gambian politicians.  There were a few exception, including I.M Garba-Jahumpa who entertained the idea of some form of a political association between the two states, a position influenced by and consistent with his Nkrumaist/Panafrican greed.

At Independence in 1965 to 1970 when The Gambia graduated from its grant-in-aid state status from Britain,  the political leadership's main preoccupation had been to prove to the rest of the world that the smallest independent country in Africa could be, and is viable as a state when the national budget was being financed by internally-generated resources from taxes and excise.  Loans and grants from the World Bank and similar financial institutions became the primary sources of loans on concessionary terms that kept those who still questioned the country's viability at bay, at least until Kukoi struck in the 1981 coup which saw the destruction of both lives and economic infrastructure.  Business confidence was shattered.

Many of us have argued that The Gambia never fully recovered from the 81 coup d'etat, even though significant gains were made from the period of the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) period in 1985/86 to the period commonly referred to as the program for Sustained Development (PSD) period in 1992 until the Jammeh-led coup d'etat in 1994.  It must be noted that former was a World Bank/IMF-lead effort and the latter was a home-grown effort led by Gambians.

The Confederation between Senegal and The Gambia came about as a result of the 1981 coup d'etat, therefore borne out of security necessity and not economic, political, social and cultural necessities.  It is interesting that in spite of the damage done by the 1981 coup, the ERP was able to restore the economy to a level strong enough to compete toe-to-toe with our bigger neighbor.  In fact, the Gambian economy was better managed and far more efficient that Senegal's.  We became the "supermarket of the sub-region" because of better set of policies brought about by the liberalization of the economy.  The Banjul port became more efficient than the bigger Port Autonome de Dakar.

All of the comparative advantages built were lost during the 20 year dictatorship under Jammeh.  The institutions that were built and straightened under the Jawara regime have either been destroyed completely or sufficiently weakened to render The Gambia a sitting duck, unable to fend off any predatory or external threat, on the security side.  The security threat by rogue elements is a real threat now (as opposed to the Jawara era) because of the belligerent and high-risk foreign policy of a regime that toys with Hezbollah and other terror groups in the sub-region.  It warrants the concern of Gambian politicians.

On the economic front, Gambia's viability is threatened by its inability to compete with Senegal because of an economy that continues to be mismanaged by a group of incompetent supporters of the dictatorship.  The country has been emptied of its youthful population who have decided to vote with their feet to Europe in search of fortune and freedom, two commodities that are lacking in Jammeh's Gambia where the economy is contracting, thus cannot provide the much needed jobs for a growing and youthful population, and the State is becoming increasingly militarized.

Even tourists are fleeing the country because of the heavy presence of the military is tourist resorts and access to public beaches has been restricted to exclude ordinary Gambians, especially the young.  Not to be outdone, highly trained young Gambians have abandoned Gambia for their new homes in London, Paris, Geneva, New York and across the globe.  They will never come back to work for pittance in a highly insecure and hostile environment.  They may come to visit grandma and grandpa and few relatives still in the Gambia.  This is the reality and we can thank Yaya Jammeh.

The next government to succeed Jammeh will inherit an extremely weak, and essentially dysfunctional and bankrupt State.  Regardless of the type of a succession hand Gambians will be dealt, the policy toolbox must include the option of a more formal and comprehensive association with Senegal which must be put before the people in the form of a referendum.  Whether Gambians realize it or not, Jammeh is making a strong case for this scenario to be a very viable option.  We know the issue is a very emotional one, and thus prone to irrational thinking but Gambians must consider an association with Senegal as part of the debate.

A frank and open debate of the issue is necessary.  But to do so successfully, we must check our parochialism (some would say patriotism) at the door and look at the raw and hard facts.  Will the association be beneficial (economic, political, social, cultural) to Senegal, and thus entertained, and even encouraged?  It can no longer be business as usual.
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Gambia - Senegal Economic Forum ends in Dakar

                                                Mr. Muhammad Jagana, President GCCI

The first Gambia - Senegal Economic Forum concluded today in the Senegalese capital of Dakar that was attended by a strong Gambian delegation led by Her Excellency Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang, Vice President of the Republic of The Gambia.

The Forum brought together private sector operators from both countries to discuss prospects for closer economic ties that will lead to the integration of the two economies.  However, for this fete to be achieved, both The Gambia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) President, Muhammad Jagana and Senegal's Serigne Mboup, President of National Union of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture identified common obstacles namely excessive border controls that impede free movements of goods and people.

The lack of good road infrastructure which may partially explain the high cost of road, air and see transport between Banjul and Dakar.  It was pointed out that it cost as much to travel between the capital by air as it is between Dakar and Paris.  "To ship a container from the Port of Dakar to the Port of Banjul costs a lot more that to ship one destined for Europe" according to Serigne Mboup.  There is thus the need to review existing policies in both Senegal and The Gambia to remove some of these impediments that add to the cost of doing business which, in turn, slows down the process of integrating the two economies.

Harmonization of the telecommunication protocols, particularly as it relates to the mobile industry, must be a priority of the governments of the two countries and as a result the Gambian President of the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry president appealed to the two Heads of State to help make it a reality.

The Senegalese President of the National Union of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture urged his government and Senegalese business operators to try and replicate the single structure model that acts as an umbrella for all the business community that interface with the government.

Although the governments of the two countries are committed to strengthening of the bilateral relations to form a strong strategic partnership, the success of this new push will depend on how quickly the constraints that impede the process of achieving the economic integration of the two countries are removed.  The two governments were urged by both delegations to work to achieving this goal.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Illegal use of Social Security funds by Yaya Jammeh

On the 4th of March, 2014, we wrote this about the misuse of the Pensions, Provident and Housing Funds of the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation by committing illegally funds that belong to the Gambian workers and their employers who have been contributing to these Funds for their retirement.  The day of reckoning is finally here: 
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Yaya Jammeh and Edward Graham continue to abrogate the laws of the Gambia by using Social Security funds to invest in highly risky businesses and activities that tantamount to gambling with the heard-earned savings of Gambian workers.

Never mind that these criminals claim that the contract is between Youssou Ndoure and SSHFC Staff Association, the entire contract sum is coming from the coffers of the Corporation to which they will held accountable, together with Yaya Jammeh.

To pay Youssou Ndour $80,000 for a "string of concerts" billed as entertainment that will "make every Gambian happy because they all miss the icon."  The public relations officer of the SSHFC went to the extent of thanking both God and Yaya Jammeh for making the signing with the Senegalese singer possible.  The collective display of insanity at the SSHFC is one more sign that the regime of Yaya Jammeh is engaged in a form of extortion associated more with organized crime than a so-called head of state.

The act of paying a singer $80,000 at a time when the Gambia is experiencing its worst economic downturn in nearly four decades is both obscene and criminal.   If Youssou Ndoure and his ilk are blinded by money to see the horrible human right abuses that Gambians suffer at the hands of one of the worst dictator on the continent, Gambians like Edward Graham, Alahji Mohammed Sallah, Gibril and Lamin Sima all of SSHFC should have opposed the deal, even at the risk of losing their jobs.

Investing pensioner's funds recklessly is criminal enough because it is prohibited by the very law that established the SSHFC.  What is equally repulsive, and a sign of complete break-down of Gambia's public finance infrastructure and the entire budgetary process to go with it, is the perversion of a once clearly-delineated role of central government.

SSHFC officials claim that proceeds of the concerts is to be " used to support the development initiatives of Yaya Jammeh in key sectors such as security, education, agriculture and health."

Since when is public finance now the responsibility of SSHFC Staff Association?  What is the function of central government?  What are our taxes for?  If the central role of government of providing and finance the public goods for the public good, including but not limited to security, agriculture, health and education is now the function of a parastatal, then, where is Gambia headed?

SSHFC must realize that Yaya Jammeh is using the corporation's assets for his private use and benefit which is a criminal act and all those lending support to such acts will be held responsible.   As the adage goes:  ignorance of the law is no excuse.  To the staff of the corporation, in the event that you have never bothered to read the Act creating the SSHFC, we'd suggest that you get a copy and read it.  All of you, from Yaya Jammeh and Edward Graham to Alhaji Mohammed Salleh and Lamin Sima, are breaking the law and you will be held responsible.

Has Jammeh bankrupted Social Security?

On the 8th April 2015, we asked the question whether Jammeh was bankrupting the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation.  The Commission of Inquiry is providing tangible answers to our questions.  

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Edward Graham, MD - SSHFC
Disturbing news coming out of Banjul is that the finances of the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) are in such a precarious state that the Corporation has been unable, lately, to raise funds to pay contractors to complete works on the estates they sold plots to.

We have been critical of SSHFC in the past because of the risky investments it has been engaged in at the urging of the Gambian dictator who has financial interests in them, including the public transport sector, putting the Pension Fund at risk at the detriment of the thousands of private sector pensioners.  We have warned that such exposure that the Managing Director is subjecting the corporation that threatens both the organization and the economy as a whole.

The finances of SSHFC are reported to have been dwindled to D 100 million from D 600 million.  It is also being reported that the Office of he President - read Yaya Jammeh - is withdrawing about D 5 million per month.  The assault on the finances of this public corporation by Jammeh and his cronies appears to have intensified now that the Gambia Ports Authority, GAMTEL and NAWEC are financially insolvent, thanks to a level of corruption never seen before.

You will recall that the two ferries - 'Kansala' and 'Aljamdu' - where purchased from a Greek company named Gallia Holdings Ltd that was in a joint venture deal with Yaya Jammeh.  Curiously, the company is registered in the Marshall Islands, an offshore business destination.  The deal went sour when the two ferries arrived amidst a huge fanfare only to be deemed being of the wrong design.  Consequently, they have since been moored at the Banjul port awaiting possible legal litigation. 

Sources close to the regime are accusing Jammeh of working with foreign banks to siphon off Social Security funds/bonds days before they mature which has accrued losses to the corporation that runs into the millions of dollars.  The timing of the withdrawals by Jammeh is determined by information provided to him by insiders strategically planted in commercial banks with details of SSHFC investments portfolio.  Staff of the State House are then instructed to withdraw funds from the corporation's accounts abroad.

When we say that what we have in Banjul is a criminal syndicate headed by Jammeh who uses civil servants to act criminally, we are not engaging in a smear campaign or hyperbole but calling it as it is.   Every effort must, therefore, be made to get rid of the cancer in Gambia's body politic that is metastasizing.

Another bad investment by Social Security

On the 28th February, 2014, we wrote this about Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation's panache to bad and dubious use (or misuse) of pensioners' money.  Here is what we said as the Commission of Inquiry is delving into the corporation's investment activities.   
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Edward Graham, Managing Director

Edward Graham, Managing Director of Gambia's Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) is back to doing what he did that landed him in prison fairly recently, that is investing social security funds in a very callous and indiscriminate manner at the direction of Yaya Jammeh.

It was on the 15th February 2012 that the infamous Cameroon-born Special Criminal Court Judge Emmanuel Nkea - Jammeh's hanging judge who has himself absconded last month - sentenced him to a one-year mandatory prison term with hard labor for causing a D 73,000, equivalent to less than $2,000 (two thousand ) loss to the Home Finance Company, a subsidiary of SSHFC.  He served less than his mandatory sentence before he was strung from prison, by presidential pardon and returned to his position as head of the Agency legally entrusted with the Provident and Pension Funds.

We have been highly critical of the investment strategy of the SSHFC with a portfolio that includes investments in the tourism and transport sectors at a time when both sectors have been under performing. The corporation has also been involved in dubious partnerships with Yaya Jammeh and his business partners in the Gulf that seem to be directed by Zainab Jammeh.  Bad investments in the past have resulted in a weakened the financial integrity of SSHFC to the point that the corporation had to delay paying salaries.

The latest of these highly dubious joint venture partnerships is the United Arab Emirates' BPI Group based in Dubai and headed by one Dimitris Sophocleous.  This new venture is coming at the heels of another failed joint venture between Government/GPA and the Greek company Gallia Holdings which has left two inappropriately-built and ill-fitted ferries costing Gambian tax payers over $ 8 million sitting in the Banjul harbor when the present ferries plying Banjul - Barra are in dangerous disrepair.

It now appears that the same players who brought us the Aljandu and Kansala ferries are the very same people forcing Edward Graham to enter into yet another venture that is bound to fail.

Yaya Jammeh, Zainab Jammeh and their cronies in the Gulf with the Gambian middleman currently stuck in Banjul are responsible for this ill-advised housing venture named the BPI Social Security Housing.

This new partnership puts the social security contributions and, indeed, the pension funds of ordinary Gambian workers in jeopardy by exposing it to a housing market that is under-developed, and actually contracting because of recent government policy of bulldozing houses built by Gambian retirees and foreign investors that the regime consider to have been improperly permitted.

Mr. Graham is obviously following the directives of Yaya Jammeh who will most certainly blame the Managing Director should the venture fail, as it most certainly will, paving the way for him to be returned to Milee II, this time for a very, very long time.  We continue to see this movie over and over again; yet they do not seem to learn.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The plundering of Social Security Funds and suggested mitigating measures needed in response

Hon. Samba Jallow, MP Niamina Dankunku
The extent of the damage done to the social security scheme at the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation may not be known for sometime to come.

And perhaps not until the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of Yaya Jammeh has completed its work and a thorough assessment of the financial damage inflicted on the corporation by the former Gambian dictator who is currently in involuntary exile in Equatorial Guinea.

Based on what the Commission has revealed thus far, it is safe to say that the Barrow government needs to take immediate defensive measures to protect what's felt of a once financially viable corporation that was established to secure the financial well being of private sector employees during their retirement years.

The social safety net that took years to build as insurance for older workers during retirement has been destroyed by a handful of Gambians, led by Jammeh and his business partners who used the financial contributions of private sector workers into the Pension Fund, Provident Fund and the Industrial Injuries Compensation Fund.

The extent of the damage done to the Housing Finance Fund, the third Fund of the SSHFC is still unclear as the Commission continues its probe.  Pay special attention to the Kanilai Housing Scheme.

Commenting on my Facebook page, Hon. Samba Jallow, the NRP Member of the National Assembly for Niamina Dankunku finally connected the dots, as did many Gambians, when he said, "Sidi Sanneh, this is why when pensioners apply for their pensions and are asked to stay three months before payments is matured."

He expressed the serious nature of the pensioners' predicament and solicited my views on what can be done to mitigate "a very serious" challenge for our country and a serious threat to the welfare of current and future Gambian pensioners.

There are a few defensive measures that could be taken even before the conclusion of the Commission's work to protect what's left of the financial integrity of the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation :-

1.  Appoint an apolitical Management Team with proven managerial experience to replace the current team.  A new Board should also be appointed immediately.

2.  Restore the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs as the line Ministry to replace the Office of The President.

3.  Divest SSHFC of all of its 33% shareholdings in Trust Bank and any other commercial bank with the proceeds going towards replenishing the appropriate Funds of the corporation.  The same should apply to other SOEs with similar shareholdings in commercial banks.  Government should be out of the commercial banking business after divesting from the GCDB and closing its Agricultural Development Bank.

4.  Immediate action taken - legal or otherwise - to recover all outstanding loans due to SSHFC

5.   Bar Management from operating outside the Social Security and Housing Finance Act

6.  An oversight Committee needs to be established to ensure that SSHFC Management and Board are strictly adhering to the above until such time, and preferably at the end of the Commission of Inquiry's mandate and the submission of its Final Report and recommendations before remedial measures are taken to prevent this from ever happening again.

At the end of it all, the moral character of the person is as important as his competence and professionalism matters in such positions of responsibility.

Andrew Sylva comes to mind, who as Managing Director of SSHFC worked under Yaya Jammeh but refused to honor presidential directives that would have meant the inappropriate and illegal use of the finances of the corporation.  Mr. Sylva told his fiduciary responsibilities seriously and was dismissed as a result.  Jammeh initially refused him his pension dues only to reverse himself later.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

How M. L. Gibba and Ousman Jammeh stood up to Mohammed Bazzi, Amadou Samba and Jammeh

M. L. Gibba, former MD of G.P.A. 
Ousman Jammeh, a respected civil servant with a self-effacing personality who rose up the ranks to become Deputy Permanent Secretary during the Jawara era and was eventually tapped by Jammeh to be the Head of the Civil Service and Secretary General. was also known for quiet demeanor and his serious approach to being a public servant.

Mr. M. L. Gibba who is related to the Gambian dictator rose up the ranks at the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) to become its Managing Director.  He built a reputation as an incorruptible public servant - a reputation that was constantly being tested by one of Africa's most corrupt leaders.

Despite his familial ties to Jammeh - he mentored Jammeh - and his appetite for engaging in corrupt practices, much to the chagrin of  Mr. Gibba, he maintained his reputation at the risk of going to Mile II prisons.

Ousman Jammeh was Secretary general when the "Barajally" ferry was forcibly taken away from GPA and handed over to the Gam-Petroleum Corporation.  According to the public testimony of Mr. M. L. Gibba, the instructions came from State House  to hand over the ferry to Amadou Samba and Mohammed Bazzi after he refused to comply with their request.
Ousman Jammeh, former Secretary General
According to a source familiar with the case, when Mohammed Bazzi and Amadou Samba held a heated meeting with the Managing Director's office who refused to agree to the release of the ferry, the duo reported the matter to Jammeh who proceeded to direct his Secretary General, Ousman Jammeh, to verbally instruct Mr. Gibba to surrender the vessel to Messrs. Bazzi and Samba.

Secretary General Jammeh, recognizing the gravity of having to permanently withdraw the ferry from service, thus denying the people of CRR the use of a public asset, insisted that the instruction must be documented.  A letter was then drafted and signed on behalf of the Secretary General by one Ebrima J.T. Kujabi, a close aid to both the then Secretary General and Yaya Jammeh, a source said.  

Neither Jammeh nor his two close business associates liked the idea of a letter being issued to that effect documenting such a politically sensitive which would prevent them from plausibly denying they took such action.

We have seen Bazzi arguing before the Commission that the ferry was worthless, drawing, and rightfully so, the scorn of Mrs. Bensouda, Counsel to the Commission for blaming M. L. Gibba for all of Euro-Africa Group's troubles being experienced with their investments in both at Gamb-Petroleum and Banjul Milling Corporation.  We are glad that Mr. Gibba will be invited back to face the Commission to respond to Bazzi's claims that the ferry "Barajally" was worthless junk.

All is not lost, however.  There were, and still are, honorable men and women who did not allow themselves to be used by corrupt leaders like Yaya Jammeh and who stood up to the piranhas who preyed on a weak and vulnerable state that has been pushed to the boundaries of a failed state.

Mohammed Bazzi's request for an in-camera testimony should be denied

Mohammed Bazzi, CEO of Euro-Africa Group
Mohammed Bazzi's request to the Commission of Inquiry into Jammeh's illicit wealth for an in camera testimony was immediately met with a barrage of opposition voices and acute skepticism from Gambians.

We learned a couple of weeks ago that Jammeh's closest business associate  was going to formally make the request to members of the Commission through a Gambian lawyer engaged to represent him.

His lawyer, Ms. Farage, informed the Commission that her client was concerned about his safety.  According to her presentation, there are supporters of the previous regime who have made specific threats to Mr. Bazzi should he disclose certain information they obviously considered to put Jammeh and his regime in very bad light.

Responding to the Chairman's questions, Mr. Bazzi and his lawyer suggest that the threat on the Belgian businessman's life extends beyond him to include threats to those working for him and with him because of sensitive documents in his possession.  The details that will be revealed concerning the monthly payments made by his Euro-Africa Group into Yaya Jammeh's Trust Bank account from 30th June 2011 to January 2013 totaling D 240 million will also cause consternation among supporters of Jammeh and his regime.

According to a reliable source, Mr. Bazzi might also be worried that the revelations in the Commission might prove problematic to certain business interests and partners outside of territorial Gambia, particularly the monthly dalasi deposits by Euro-Africa into Jammeh's account.  The fact that Mr. Bazzi claimed to be unaware of these payments during his previous appearance suggests he had to tread carefully on the subject.

Reactions to Bazzi's request for an in-camera appearance were swift and categorical.  Jeggan Grey-Johnson calls the request a "ploy and a ruse" and if granted "a precedence will be set", sharing a view with the Commission's counsel who warned of the precedent-setting nature of the request should the Commissioners agree to his request.  "All the biggest crime big wigs and there are only two left to testify - one in Equatorial Guinea and the other...at Atlantic Road - can get in under that blanket and shroud themselves from public shame and in the process negotiate a deal to shield themselves from prosecution influencing the Commission's recommendation for prosecution."

General skepticism of the request was on display from the sample of comments on my Facebook page, supporting the view that the Commission's deliberations must be public for all - no exceptions, as summarized by MamaLinguere Sarr who said there 'can't be one rule for one and another for the rest."  Needless to say, we share the sentiments of the majority of Gambians who registered their views with us that the Commission of Inquiry must continue to hold their hearings in public.  To act otherwise will certainly invite doubts about the credibility of the Commission of Inquiry.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

National ID cards: It’s SEMLEX all over again!

Gambian Interior Minister, Mai Fatty 
The Interior Minister continues to bring the SEMLEX issue  into the forefront of the political discourse by, yet again, directing his press secretary to issue a press release designed, in our view, to confuse the public into thinking that the delay in the resumption of the issuance of ID cards is neither his fault nor that of his Ministry.  He's putting all the blame on Cabinet.

In other words, the problem in the delay in the resumption of national ID becomes government’s and not the minister's, who, we continue to maintain, created the mess in the first instance by trying to ram his earlier unilateral decision through Cabinet without calling for tenders and the rest of the procurement procedures that should follow.

This approach contravenes standard procurement rules and procedures. The Jammeh-era contract with Prestine Consulting - a Gambian-own company - must be resolved with the Touray brothers, one way or the other, BEFORE the national ID project is put out to tender

The second reason for this oddly-worded press release issued last week by his press officer - whose status within the civil service is unclear – appears to be a means of telegraphing to SEMLEX that everything is being done in the minister’s power to deliver.   

The press release further informed the public that the Interior Minister had "concurred with its own ministerial Task Force recommendation" to award the national ID card project to “an identified competent company” (read SEMLEX) and that his ministry has prepared a Cabinet Paper (CP) to this effect.

As soon as Cabinet arrives at a conclusion, his ministry will resume issuing national IDs to an anxious public, according to the release.  The problem with this method is this:  Cabinet cannot endorse the minister's recommendation without contravening every internationally acceptable procurement standards and procedures for goods and services.  We must start doing things the right way and stop the shenanigans.  

The beneficiary ministry – in this case, Interior – cannot form its own Technical Evaluation Committee, chair its own Task Force (performing the role reserved for the Major Tender Board) and then proceed to recommend that the contract be awarded to a company that the Hon. Minister had publicly and unabashedly supported and defended before television cameras.

In my view, the behavior of the minster alone is grounds for the disqualification of SEMLEX because even where they were to win the contract in a fair and square contest, the public impression will inevitably be that the company was favored.  In this business, perception is as important as reality.

A Task Force of the sort assembled by Interior cannot pass the smell test because it excludes all of the Ministries that matter in the procurement of goods and services. Such task forces are chaired by the Finance Ministry, the line ministry that is procuring goods or service (in this case, Interior),  Works and Infrastructure Ministry, Attorney General's Chambers and Accountant General to form a multi-disciplinary Task Force that will conduct the evaluation and selection of the best proposal prior to a joint CP is prepared to be subsequently referred to cabinet for approval.

In addition to adopting the wrong approach leading to the recommendation to award the contract to SEMLEX, the Interior Ministry compounded its problems by having the minister act as the lead spokesperson for the company thus posing serious conflict of interest and ethical issues.  Ministers must stay away from operational matters.  Procurement of goods and services fall under this category. Permanent Secretaries are the Accounting Officers of their respective ministries as the Lead Counsel to the Surahata Janneh Commission of Inquiry appears to keep reminding civil servants of this fact daily.  

We will repeat the call we’ve made early in the life of the new government that the new administration will have to decide very early in the transition period whether to continue maintaining a corrupt and backward system inherited from the 22-year dictatorship or to earnestly embark on the very difficult journey of adopting a new open, fair and transparent approach to governance including a public procurement process that meets international standards.

The New Gambia cannot afford to be perceived as a continuum of the old order that destroyed lives while staining the reputation of a once proud country with sterling reputation.  To embark on that journey, we must start by doing things openly, fairly and transparently.  If we need to be reminded of the virtues of following the General Orders (GO) and Financial Instructions (FI), please tune in on the sessions of the Commission of Inquiry looking into the abuse of power by Yaya Jammeh.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Is President Barrow beginning to flex his muscles?

Gambian President Adama Barrow 
"A leader takes people where they want to go.  A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be" is a quote attributable to Mrs. Rosalynn Carter, America's former First Lady is appropriate to reflect upon during this critical period of Gambia's political transition.

Under normal circumstances, when the government is majority-led, to be a great leader is extremely difficult, much less when the head of government is leading a multiparty coalition of 7 +1 political parties and an unaffiliated independent candidate with different manifestos, programs and agendas, each pulling in different directions requiring a strong-willed head of government to hold the center.

Unfortunately, holding the center alone will not suffice after what continental Africa's smallest country had to undergo over 22 years of our of the world's most violent and corrupt dictatorship the world has ever seen where the country's institutions were willfully dismantled to create a chaotic environment for the military to exercise extrajudicial powers and for corruption to thrive.   It created the perfect environment for both to grow exponentially.

Supporters and critics of the Barrow administration may differ in strategic approaches to solving the myriad of problems facing the country but they all agree of one thing: that solving the systemic and structural problems facing the country will take a generation or two because of the extent of the damage inflicted on the economy and to the national psychic by Jammeh that has shaken the confidence of Gambians to the core.  

The lack of governance experience of the leader only adds to the daunting task facing the new president.  Public and candid admission immediately following his unexpected electoral victory admitting his lack of governance experience served both as a warning and an appeal to Gambians for patience and understanding.  It also concurrently served as a means of managing public expectations.

President Barrow must be aware of criticisms of his government's lack of direction and its apparent lack of the wherewithal to solve the country's chronic electricity and water supply problems.  There are signs during his recent trip to New York to attend the 72nd United Nations General Assembly that the 'humble' president is beginning to flex his muscles by refusing to boycott attending a mosque led by a Gambian Imam considered to be supporter of the previous government of Yaya Jammeh.  

According to those present when he was being advised to select from a list of options, he refused to follow advise of party stalwarts by reasoning that he has prayed behind the Imam of Banjul who was a staunch supporter of Jammeh.  He opined that he was the leader of all Gambians and not of a certain section of the population.  Factionalism is not in Barrow's DNA and he has demonstrated it amply previously and again in New York.

Insignificant as it may seem, the fact that he stood his ground against overwhelming odds in the atmosphere he found himself in New York, is an important development in the evolutionary cycle of the leadership challenges facing President Barrow.  Although he was elected as the head of a coalition ticket of several political parties, he was legitimately elected as the sole and legitimate leader of the Republic of The Gambia.  He must start exerting himself to signal his independence.

We hope his New York trip is the beginning of an era of renewal and vigor in Barrow's leadership. For a start, Gambians are yearning for a leader and that leader is President Barrow to lead us where Gambians want to go.  Ultimately, we hope he'll be a great leader, as defined by Mrs. Rosalynn Carter, to lead us where we may not necessarily want to be, but ought to be.   Gambians who put GAMBIA FIRST will support you in that journey.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A clean break from the past is still possible

Sidi Sanneh 
The Barrow administration may be paving the way to disastrous failure if it does not start, immediately, to dismantle, brick by brick, the corrupt and incompetent governance system that was purposefully designed by Jammeh to personally enrich himself and a few of his favored friends by defrauding the Gambian while, concurrently, consolidating his power into the absolute and formidable dictator he had become.   If there were doubts when we made these claims years ago, the Commission of Inquiry into Jammeh’s illicit wealth is slowly etching a much more compelling picture of such claims on the public consciousness.

Signals abound that the Barrow administration is headed the wrong path, led by some of Jammeh’s most loyal and prolific old hands that can be measured in the number of trips they can make in a day to visit the Central Bank to escort bags full of millions of dollars back to their handlers at State House.  Populating the length and breadth of the civil service, these characters have moved quickly to become a formidable bulwark in a very short time to form Jammeh’s 5th column.  Trained to move only when instructed, they can easily be spotted for their lack of initiatives because they’ve been wired to take instructions and therefore cannot think independently and make individual judgments - the hallmark of a good manager.  To these people, the single person that mattered was His Excellency, Sheikh Professor Alhagie, Yaya Jammeh.  Gambians must never let them transform Adama Barrow into another BallilliMansa.

All indications are they are gaining ground.  You can feel it.  The most dreaded phrase invented by Jammeh “executive directive” is slowly creeping back into the administrative lingo.  Thanks to the hangers-on and hold-overs from Jammeh’s rotten regime who have infested the new government of Barrow.  Replicating a totally discredited and reviled system of governance poses a real existential threat to the new government.

More pointers abound that the threat is real.   For example, Foundations of the Jammeh era are being replicated under Barrow with the formation of a Foundation for the new First Lady, ostensibly to help the young, the vulnerable and less fortunate members of society.  As we are witnessing during the Commission hearings confirming our long-held view that these Foundations are vehicles designed to divert public funds and private donations solicited from rich Arab countries that are then diverted to private use.

Knowing what we know now about Foundations operated by the First Family, whoever advised President Adama Barrow to agree to the setting up of a Foundation for the First Lady made the wrong and inappropriate call for the First Lady.   To emulate Zeinab Suma Jammeh is not a good idea. It is a very dumb idea if you ask me.  First Ladies in dirt poor countries like ours can still engage in ‘good works’ in support of the weak and vulnerable in society by being their Advocate-in-Chief and a formidable one at that, in and outside government without creating a Foundation and the attendant administrative structures associated with such ventures that usually end up relying on government for budget support.

These are just a few of the examples that can be cited as disturbing trend that is both unsettling and unnerving because it threatens to roll back the gains the ferocious opposition achieved against the tyrannical and corrupt rule that forced Yaya Jammeh into involuntary exile.  The Gambian people must never allow the Coalition Government to take this destructive path.  We must not allow it to happen.  What we need is a clean break from one of Africa’s most violent and corrupt regime, ever.

The revelations to date at the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of Yaya Jammeh should serve as a warning that embracing the Jammeh’s corrupt system of governance will be suicidal to a new government that is already losing its gloss and luster barely eight months into a 3- to 5-year transition period.  It’s time to make a mid course correction while there is still time.