Thursday, September 20, 2018

An education tax of D30,000 to take effect January 1, 2015

Honey bee as GRA's logo
Acting Head of GRA - Y. Darboe 

Hon. Halifa Sallah lamented about the "Education Tax" and asked the question about the utilization of the proceeds when prospective teachers found themselves unable to gain entry into Gambia College to be trained because they lack the D7,000 required to be admitted.

His intervention was during debate of the State Opening of the National Assembly speech by President Barrow.

On 28th December, 2014, we raised the "Education Tax" issue and asked similar questions about its origins, rationale and utilization.   It is an issue that must be addressed in a systematic manner as part of the national debate in the development of our education sector.  We have the pleasure of republishing the blog post.  We've added the year "2015" to the title.  The post was written a few days before the tax was to take effect. 
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The business community found a present it did not wish for under their Christmas tree from Yaya Jammeh -  a new education tax of D30,000 annually - as part of the regime's revenue proposal for 2015. Interestingly, this tax measure was not in the Finance Minister's Budget Speech.

The annual levy is for every business establishment to pay.
It is so sudden a measure, even of a tax of this magnitude, that notices started going out a day after Christmas - a present the business community least expected after the Finance Minister's Budget Speech which made no mention of an education tax.

When the question was posed as to why the education tax was not mentioned in the Finance Minister's Budget Speech which he delivered before the National Assembly last week, the response was this is a regime that practices what he termed "street administration."  When I ask him to elaborate he said "these GRA officials meet at 'Attaya Vous' and what ever comes to their head, they agree to propose to Jammeh who, in turn, give directives for implementation."

A similar tax existed a few years ago which was dropped for reasons only known to the regime.  It is now being quietly reinstated without a fanfare and not being featured in the Minister's Budget Speech.  It is no coincidence that Jammeh promised "free education by 2020" when he had already promised Gambians that Grade 1 - Grade 12 will be free in 2014.  It was as recently as last September that the Education Minister reiterated the promise.

Gambian parents have been posing questions to Headmasters about the "free education" claim by the regime because they still pay upward of D 1,400 in book bills and other charges.  It is perhaps as a result of Gambians beginning to see through the falsehoods that the regime is trying to recalibrate by shifting the date of free education to 2020 and to levy an education tax that was abandoned.

To reinstate the education tax without public debate and scrutiny and being completely omitted from the Minister's Budget Speech is one more indication of the type of a regime we are dealing with.  It is an opaque and sinister regime that is being managed by a group of functional illiterates who'd rather serve a tyrant and a criminal than to serve and protect the interest of the Gambian people.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Gambia's petroleum sector is opaque for a reason

The re-publication of this blog post - first published on 2nd April, 2017 - is meant to serve as a backdrop to what we hope will be a lively national debate before the drilling of Samo 1 well, in the words of Managing Director of FAR, Cath Norman, is creating a lot of buzz because its an 825 million barrel prospect.

We will be following developments and reporting on it to keep our readership abreast of developments, especially at the local level.
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The announcement by ERIN Energy (formerly CAMAC) that it has reached an agreement with FAR Ltd. to farm-out Blocks 2 and 5 kick starts a petroleum exploration concession awarded to the Texas-based, Nigerian controlled company by Yaya Jammeh in May of 2012.

FAR is an Australian oil exploration company that is currently operating in Senegal.  In fact the two Blocks (2 and 5) are next to FAR's 2014 SNE-1 oil field one discovery considered the largest offshore oil discovery of the industry that year.

The Agreement between Erin and FAR, FAR will pay a purchase price of $ 5.18 and take over $ 8 million of the company's shares in exploration costs of a well that is expected go be drilled in 2018, according to industry sources.  By contrast, $ 400 million was paid in the case of the adjacent blocks in Senegal, making these figures appear minuscule, even when the size of the blocks in the adjacent areas in Senegal cover larger areas.

According to FAR's own estimates, Blocks 2 and 5 have the potential of producing in excess of one billion barrels of oil.  Block 2 as indicated earlier, is adjacent to Senegal offshore block in which FAR already has an interest as junior partner of the Scottish Cairn Energy that operates the SNE world class oil and gas field,

Since the Erin-FAR deal is subject to government approval, the Barrow government must revisit this particular contract Agreement i.e. between Erin (formally CAMAC) and Yaya Jammeh.  Pertinent issues must be raised with Erin ( for Blocks 2 and 5) and African Petroleum Corporation (for Blocks 1 and 4) including the amount paid for the two licenses and to whom the monies were paid.

The circumstances that led African Petroleum Corporation's (APC) withdrawal of its arbitration request with the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes after its license for Blocks 1 and 4 were terminated by Jammeh only to be reinstated without explanation must also be explained. Were the terms and conditions maintained as previously or were they varied? Obviously, more questions must be raised by the Barrow administration about all of these contracts and satisfactory answers provided by both APC and Erin.  

Gambia's energy/petroleum sector is opaque for a reason.  It allowed Jammeh to negotiate these deals personally with a select number of civil servants being privy to the details of the Agreement when these concessions should have been publicly tendered for transparency.

We need not remind readers that the Jammeh style of governance is unsustainable because it is inefficient and corrupt, depriving the public treasury much needed financial resources at the expense of Gambians who, on average, are living in abject poverty. The new government must reverse the trend by adopting best public procurement practices in the petroleum, energy and other public sectors.
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CORRECTION :  The $ 400 M referenced in this blog was paid by Kosmos to Petrotim for the Deep Sea - St. Louis Block and not the adjacent blocks as initially reported.       

Friday, September 14, 2018

An e-Procurement system is an appropriate response to Gambia's increasing corruption problem


Corruption has become an endemic problem in The Gambia's new political dispensation. 

The problems has also become growing concern among foreign investors who'd otherwise like to do business with The Gambia but a effectively locked because of it. 

Indigenous businesses and locally-registered ones would prefer competing in a low-cost business environment that a level playing field provides for themselves and their prospective foreign business partners. 

In fact, it is believed that one of the reasons some world class companies, once active in the 1970s and 80s but are now absent in the economic and financial life of the country, is because of the high cost of doing business in a previously business-friendly environment, partially because of the unacceptable levels of corruption.  Other factors driving the cost of doing business to non competitive levels are bureaucratic red tape, the tax burden, monetary and personal freedoms.

As a corruption-deducing measure, a number of countries have adopted electronic procurement system, also known as e-GP system.  Rwanda is the first country in Africa to adopt the system nationally in its effort to improve transparency in an effort to minimize potential among bidders. 

Rwanda's system, known locally as UMUCYO which means "transparency", is an adaptation from the South Korean version of a web-based e-Procurement  system designed as an online portal with modules for advertisements, e-bidding, evaluation, contract management, inspection and acceptance, framework, catalogue, where suppliers can register and submit bids online.  This method eliminates the need for government officials to come in direct contact with prospective bidders when most of the shenanigans take place. 

We hope that the Barrow-led coalition government will start addressing the corruption problem that has tarnished the image of a transition government by introducing a procurement system similar to Rwanda's web-based e-Procurement system. 

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

In loving memory of Kasim Kanji - Re-publication

Thank you Coach Pasamba Jow for reminding me through your Twitter account of the brutal murder of Kasim Kanyi at the hands of Jammeh's brutal killing machine.  Today marks the 5th anniversary of this young man's death which must serve as a reminder to the governors and the governed of the tremendous sacrifices the country had endured over 22 years of one of Africa's most brutal and corrupt regime. 

The blog post below was published 5 years ago today. It is being re-published in loving memory of Kasim Kanji.  Unfortunately, we didn't have his photo to add to the narrative.  It would be nice if we can have his photo to accompany the piece.  Thanks

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Kasim Kanji died at the hands of Jammeh's rag-tag but brutal security apparatus. The young hotel worker underwent severe torture sessions before his neck was broken, and his lifeless body returned to where he was initially picked up.  From this point on, it was the job of the Abuko police to complete the sinister job of concealing what happened, fabricating stories and terrorizing any one who dared to report what they saw. Unconfirmed reports say the parents and other family members have since been picked up by the police for speaking about the death of their son.

Gambians must resist being intimidated.  We are not naive or callous enough to pretend that there are no risks and/or severe consequences associated with speaking out.  There are;  but speak, we must.  Indeed, if it weren't for, at least, one eyewitness, and the brave uncle of Kasim who contacted the online papers, the story would never have been told.  The world would not have known, and Kasim's life would have been one more on a long list of disappearances, unexplained deaths - all of which had gone unpunished.

There were many more gruesome incidences like the one Kasim encountered last Saturday that had gone unreported because of fear of reprisals from the security forces.  Potential eyewitnesses have been traumatized in the past for stepping forward.  They are afraid to come forward.   Even if they do want to come forward, where will they report these acts of terror against a civilian population - the internet-based online papers.  We encourage potential witnesses to go to them with what you know about this case or any other similar case involving human rights abuses of Gambians.

The petition drive on behalf of Kasim Kanji is progressing well.  Thanks to the publicity given to it by the online press and others.  Inquiries from the international press is beginning to trickle in.  Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, I understand, are already asking for details of the case. www.change.org will be sending periodic updates to the American Embassy and the European Delegation Offices in Banjul of our campaign to end terror against the Gambian population and impunity from punishment of those responsible for these hinous acts.

Given the brutal nature of the Yaya Jammeh regime, we do understand the reluctance on the part of the citizens to speak to this particular gruesome act, and to others.  But without the public's help, the terror against the Gambian population will continue, and the problem that is the regime of Yaya Jammeh will prevail.  19 years of this nightmare is enough.

We are, therefore, appealing and encouraging Gambians who have information leading to the identity or identities of the police officers and members of security forces who were responsible for the murder of Kasim Kanji to come forward.  We want to prevent another Kasim Kanji from being murdered in the name of the personal security and safety of one man - Yaya Jammeh.   Do it for Kasim.

Please continue to encourage friends and colleagues to sign the petition at :
http://www.change.org/petitions/president-yahya-jammeh-president-of-the-republic-of-the-gambia-bring-to-justice-the-killers-of-kasim-kanji-of-lamin-village?share_id=IfSltoUiJt&utm_campaign=share_button_action_box&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

Thank you.

It is time to govern; going it alone, however, is unwise

Barrow, Bojang and Darboe
Although this editorial was penned barely four months ago (April 13th, 2018), imploring the victorious UDP executive and its rank and file to be magnanimous in victory and urging Adama Barrow not to go it alone, both counsels appeared to have been disregarded. 

UDP supporters went on a rampage, insulting anyone who dared question the direction of the party - most of which they wish they can take back -  and President Barrow, determined not to be outdone decided that he is sufficiently comfortable, politically and financially speaking, to go it alone with the support of a bunch of opportunistic bureaucrats and hangers-on who are driven more by greed than political acumen. 

The combination of these developments have plunged the country in uncharted territory thus exposing the country to great danger by increasing the likelihood of political instability which the IMF did not rule out in its June 2018 mission report.  So it is, therefore, not the wild and irresponsible machinations of a wide-eyed blogger. 

It is real and Gambians must sit back and take notice that the political transition is more perilous than we all bargained for when we embarked on our journey along the path of our new political dispensation.  The period we are in represents an inflection point in our history.  We must, therefore, take what is happening seriously.

Sidi Sanneh

Read on   
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The United Democratic Party (UDP) has swept the municipal elections after a short but gruelling and divisive campaign, peppered with tribal altercations that was on full display across various social media platforms.

The win allows the UDP to control all but one of the seven municipal governments across the country in its quest to consolidate its political power.

The party now controls the presidency (executive) and the National Assembly.  As sweeping as UDP's political victories appear, on paper the arithmetic, on aggregate, is not spectacular to write home about because of the under of political parties and independent candidates who contested the parliamentary and municipal elections.

A cursory glance at the results reveal as much as they mask which will, most certainly, occupy the attention of analysts into the foreseeable future     

Regarding the third branch, although the process of identifying and, subsequently, appointing the Chief Justice, Supreme Court judges and the staffing of subordinate Courts is controlled by the Executive, it is expected that the judiciary will be free from political interference.

Recent government decision not to renew the contracts of some foreign judges is an encouraging development that suggests the passage of an era in our history when the judiciary was weaponized by the dictatorship, using foreign judges and magistrates to punish political enemies, real and imagined.  The decision also signals government commitment to Gambianizing the judiciary.

We join others in congratulating the entire UDP membership and urge the leadership, and particularly he rank and file, to be magnanimous in victory.  And to the vanquished, we say be gracious in defeat.  Violence has never been a proper response to losing an election and neither is using the law to coerce political opponents after winning a very good idea.

The country is in a state of trauma, characterized by anemic economy, coupled with extremely weak and ineffectual institutions, rendering it ill-prepared to respond to emergencies of any kind.  What is needed now, more than ever, is a calm, peaceful and reconciliatory environment to help dampen an emotionally-and politically-charged post-electoral atmosphere that must start with the leadership of all political parties and independent candidates.

When all the campaign paraphernalia have been discarded and reconciliation engagements done with, it will be the moment to pull ourselves together, as a country and not a supporter of a political party, to commence addressing the numerous and now all-too-familiar problems facing us as a country; such as constitutional and electoral law reviews, a properly constituted economic management team, restructuring of the civil service as well as the security services etc. etc.  UDP alone cannot do it and neither can any single party.  It is time for all parties to pull together - as the only governing option likely to succeed.  Going it alone is unwise.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

President Barrow must step down in 2019, unless...

The Coalition of 7+1 
We are republishing our February 24th, 2018 blog post on the MOU as it becomes more topical with each passing day to pave the way for the national conversation to commence.

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The adage that a person is as good as his or her word will be tested in the coming months as President Barrow presidency approaches the halfway mark of the three-year MOU-specified tenure in office, which, in our view, must be respected.

For Barrow to serve beyond December 2019, the Coalition Partners comprising of the seven opposition parties and the independent presidential candidate must reconvene, in a convention-style forum, to agree to extend the mandate prescribed in the MOU beyond the 3-year limit.

During normal times, the issue would find an easy solution by simply referencing the MOU which created the Coalition under certain terms and conditions.  Unfortunately, these are not normal times.  The country is beginning to emerge from twenty-two years of one of Africa's most repressive regimes, the trauma of which is debilitating to both the democratic institutions as well as the human spirit.

The dictatorship also weakened the political parties to the point of rendering them impotent.   The former regime succeeded, as well, in blurring the lines that distinguished one political party from the other.  The resultant effect is a symbiotic relationships between them, driven partially by expediency and political opportunism rather than by shared values and principles.

The blurring of the boundaries occurred among opposition political parties, as well as among political parties' interests and, the personal interests of individual party members that were beginning to converge after the electoral victory of Adama Barrow.  It immediately resulted in the trading of party membership for positions in the civil service.

Recently, we cited the various sentiments expressed across the political divide regarding whether President Barrow should stick with the provisions or principles set out in the Coalition's MOU that requires the Coalition President to vacate the seat after three years or to follow the stipulated constitutional presidential term of 5 years.

The matter may have been a topic of discussion during the negotiations that led to the selection of Adama Barrow as the Coalition's flag bearer.  Whereas there are some who feel that the Coalition partners should stay true to the MOU, there are other voices that favor the stipulated presidential term of 5 years.

Because the National Assembly Members were elected to serve the full 5-year term, it becomes necessary to realigned the president's term with that of the NAMs.  The shortening the term of the NAMs to 3 years would be an unlikely option because it is already consistent and in line with the constitutional provisions.

That leaves open the options of formally extending the term of the Coalition president for an additional two years or not extending the president's MOU-mandated 3-year term which automatically allows the Vice President to assume the presidency for two years.

A convention of the Coalition partners must reconvened sooner than later so as to determine the length of term of the transitional president created by an MOU that is still operational, independent of the standard constitutional provisions and, only if to confirm maintaining the current status quo.  The MOU created the current political dispensation.

The MOU should form the basis for untangling the untidy mess created as a matter of necessity.  It is therefore an absolute and necessary imperative to untangle the mess to allow The Gambia to start the recalibration of the term of office of the President of The Republic with that of Members of the National Assembly.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Can Gambia endure a China "debt trap" scenario?

Barrow with Xi 
With a struggling economy and a political transition program on life-support, the Barrow-led transition government finds itself adding to its long list of self-inflicted problems, leaving  a trail of lingering questions in search of answers to the potential dangers a debt overhang poses if The Gambia goes all in, head first, with Chinese President Xi's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Gambian delegation to the 2018 edition of the Heads of State Summit of the Forum on China - Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) returned home yesterday but nit before they signed three BRI Cooperation Agreements on infrastructure, economic cooperation and culture, according to a press release from State House.

President Barrow used the occasion of the signing to outline his transition government's priorities of "making electricity affordable and accessible, the expansion of the seaport of Banjul, road networks, mechanization of agriculture amongst others", the press release elaborates.

Serving as backdrop to this year's FOCAC Summit were numerous stories on financially-distressed economies in middle and low income countries aggravated by, if not the result of, what had been characterized as China's "debt trap diplomacy" that deliberately entices this category of countries to sign loans beyond their capacity to service, leading to defaults with dire consequences.

We wrote in our August 10th, 2018 blog post, which you can find here, that increasing number of countries are falling prey to what a bipartisan members of the US Senate referred to as predatory lending practices resulting in applications for bail-out loans from the IMF to repay loan arrears to China.   Sri Lanka was the first in line to seek a bail-out loan of $1.5 billion from the IMF to repay  China.

Pakistan's recently-installed Prime Minister is contemplating a similar move.  Djibouti strategic location has attracted Chinese interests to the point of ceding control of the country's only container terminal to Pekin.  We can now add Zambia to a growing list of loan defaulters leading to the surrender of the country's power utility company (ZESCO) to China as a result.

The heightened criticism of China's aggressive push into Africa and its "debt-trap" strategy has caused the Chinese president Xi Jinping to deny that its bilateral cooperation strategy is not to finance "vanity projects" using predatory lending practices as claimed in Western capitals but to help Africa remove main barriers to development, namely inadequate economic infrastructure.

Returning from the China Summit, the president of Botswana announced that the Chinese have extended a loan for rail and road infrastructure as well as writing off some debt which may suggest that they - the Chinese - are becoming increasingly sensitive to the rising international criticism about their policy towards African. 

Vanity projects are not limited to an African Head of State immortalizing himself in a statue built with an Ex-Im Bank of China loan but are equally applicable to an infrastructure project that will only add to the public debt that has already been declared unsustainable as is the case of The Gambia.

The Finance Ministry under Amadou Sanneh had made this very clear and documented that the Port Development Project, as initially proposed and estimated to cost $177 million, is not a financially viable proposition.  As the debt-to-GDP figures in 2016 and 2017 will show later, it would be a fiscally irresponsible act to proceed with the project as is.  We hope, therefore, that Mambury Njie, the current Finance Minister, will equally display fiscal responsibility. 

In addition to the high debt sustainability levels, the procurement rules were flouted by State House and the Minister of Works by awarding  all components of what would be the biggest project ever to a single company.  The decision to sole source the entire project constitutes a procurement malpractice and should neither be approved nor tolerated.  Government should have invited two or three other Chinese companies - since it will financed entirely by the Ex-Im Bank of China -  to submit bids.

Resisting the pressure from the Minister of Works, Bai Lamin Jobe and Office of the President will be the challenge facing not only the Finance Minister but the entire GPA Board that will probably meet the same fate as the NAWEC Board that was summarily dissolved last week.  The GPA Managing Director who provided the effective stewardship of ports operations that resulted a net after tax profit of D198 million in 2017 from D13 million in 2016 was unceremoniously and without notice transferred to the Public Procurement Agency, an ineffectual behemoth of an agency that deserves dissolution more than the other victims purged to pave the way for the impending Chinese wave.  You can find our last June blog post on the persistent lack of transparency in Gambia's public procurement system here. 

The IMF has told the transition government of Adama Barrow in June that Gambia's  debt vulnerabilities have risen since January - February 2017 with the debt-to-GDP ratio reaching nearly 130 percent of GDP from 120 percent the previous year under Jammeh.  The transition government in one short year has added 10 percent to the debt-to-GDP ratio.

With figures like these, a government in transition with no governance experience to speak of and, emerging from 22 years of brutal dictatorship that has left the economy in tatters, the question of whether the country can withstand the consequences of a Chinese loan default becomes academic.  The Gambia cannot endure a Chinese "debt trap" and therefore the need to navigate these treacherous waters soberly with the national interest above personal interest in mind.

Recommending that we move with caution and fiscal prudence as guide is not a statement against building strong and mutually beneficial ties with China.  We have used these pages in the past to support severing ties with Taiwan in favor of China in furtherance of a One China Policy.  However, supporting the One China Policy was not meant to be at the expense of the economic, political, social and cultural viability of the smallest country on the African continent. 

The national character of the country must be maintained at all cost.  And when the national security including the country's independence and sovereignty are put at risk - for whatever reason or reasons - Gambians must stand up and voice their opposition.

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Saturday, September 8, 2018

SSHFC pensioners transmit demands to executive Board of Directors for presentation to Government

SSHFC Pensioners/Employers' meeting 
Following their inaugural meeting held at TANGO Headquarters, the SSHFC pensioners convened a follow-up General Meeting this week (Saturday) at the Semega-Janneh Hall in SerreKunda.

Representatives of the pensioners who attended the meeting with the Vice President at State House last Monday presented their report of the meeting to the General Meeting, followed by useful exchange among the membership.   

The membership agreed to formally write and reiterate their stance on the role of the Board in accordance and consistent with the SSHFC Act. 

The membership also urged the Board to "stand firm...against government interference" and to conduct itself in a manner that similar interference from external forces do not undermine the powers of the Board.  Usurpation of the Board's powers under the operational Act of Parliament should neither be encouraged nor tolerated.

The Resolution of the 1st September, 2018 meeting - that included specific demands - was reviewed and other pertinent issues included to form the overall demands of the members. 

The membership called upon the Board to convene a general membership meeting after the conclusion of consultations with Government for the purpose of reporting on the outcome of such consultations.

Friday, September 7, 2018

FAR announces preparations for first well

We are re-post this block post initially posted in 13th December, 2018 on FAR's plans to exploit the two wells at Blocks A5 and A2. 
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FAR, the Australian Securities Exchange listed oil and gas exploration and development company has completed geotechnical studies and a resource assessment over offshore Blocks A2 and A5 and is looking to drilling its first well in 2018.

Last month the company announced an estimate of 1.1 billion barrels of resources in the two blocks.

Blocks A2 and A5 cover 2,682 sq km and are adjacent to and on trend with SNE discovery offshore Senegal and thus hold great promise.  Both concessions are also within the Mauritania-Senegal-Guinea-Bissau basin.

The two drillable prospects named "Samo" and "Bambo" are very similar to the shelf edge explored off Senegal.

The Managing Director of FAR was quoted last month saying : " The Gambia represents a huge prize, if successful" and that the geological chance of success is high for a frontier exploration well.

1.1 billion barrels estimated by FAR in Blocks A2 and A5 in The Gambia, offshore

We are re-publishing this blog post to refresh our memory as FAR embarks on the exploitation of Samo and Bambo wells before the end of 2018. 

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An Australian Securities Exchange listed oil and gas exploration and development company known in the industry as FAR Limited says that it has identified 1.1 barrels of resources in its two blocks offshore The Gambia i.e. blocks A2 and A5.

The resources are in the two prospects known as "Bambo" and "Samo".  According to company sources, operations are already underway to prepare for drilling in late 2018.   Industry sources also observed that it will be the first time that drilling is done in offshore Gambia since the adminsitration of Sir Dawda K. Jawara in 1979.

Blocks A2 and A5 cover 2,862 sq km within the Mauritania-Senegal-Guinea Bissau (MSGB) Basin and lie about 30 km offshore in 50 - 1,500m water depth.

From the 3D seismic data, FAR was able to identify the Bambo and Samo prospects.  Despite the quality of the seismic data available, FAR opined that more work needs to be done to improve its understand what's at stake and to further reduce the risk.

According to FAR, the opportunities in Blocks A2 and A5 "represent a huge prize, if successful."  And based on FAR's experience in its drilling operations in neighboring Senegal, the geological chance of success in the key reservoirs in the Samo prospects is "high for a frontier exploration well".   Success in the Samo well would be "truly transformational" for The Gambia and FAR, the firm says.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Current and prospective SSHFC pensioners meeting with Vice President Darboe at State House

The Concerned Active and Pension Members of SSHFC
Vice President Ousainou Darboe, early this week, invited members of the Board of Directors of the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) and some members of the Concerned Active and Pension Members of SSHFC to a meeting at State House. 

The invitation, a getsure appreciated by the group of pensioners and Board members, was to start a dialogue in the wake of recent staff upheaval that has rocked the corporation and inconvenienced pensioners and the general public. 

The inaugural meeting of pensioners and contributors held last weekend at the TANGO offices discussed the challenges facing the SSHFC before endorsing a series of draft resolutions aimed at protecting their pension contributions and benefits in the wake of the recent developments at corporate headquarters. 

The meeting with the Vice President was characterized as "fruitful" by delegation members which signals what, we hope, will be the end of the stalemate that will make it possible for the Managing Director to resume his duties and allow the Board under a new Chairman to perform their respective duties under the Act of Parliament establishing the SSHFC.

Current and prospective SSHFC pensioners will be convening a second General Meeting in two weeks to report on the outcome of their meeting with V.P. Darboe among other matters of importance affecting employers, prospective and current pensioners.  The venue will be at Semega-Janneh Hall at the SerreKunda East Football Field.  All are encourage to attend and bring along a family member and friend.  New members are particularly encouraged to attend as well.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The military and state intelligence services must stay out of politics and the public service

Chief of Defense Staff, SIS and IGP at SSHFC
The maintenance of public order through effective law enforcement is the exclusive purview of the Gambia Police Force including the paramilitary forces. 

The military's mission is to ensure that our national borders remain invaluable by protecting the population against external aggression. 

The state intelligence services, on the other hand, are to service the intelligence needs of the executive branch (including the law enforcement agencies) and to supplement, if necessary, the intelligence needs of the military intelligence. 

These lines are clearly delineated and it is extremely important that these services stay within their designated lanes.  Unfortunately, both the military and the intelligence service stepped outside their lanes and into what was a purely law enforcement matter involving in a disgruntled group of Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) staff agitating against the new Managing Director of the corporation.   

SSHFC registered an operating profit of D82 million in 2017 which is a significant improvement from a D1.5 million loss in 2016 - a turn around achieved despite a strong income headwinds.  Investment income i.e. recurring income in 2017 was D23 million better than in 2016 while costs in 2017 were down D88 million as a result of an aggressive implementation of cost management measures in 2017. 

While the necessary measures have resulted in improvements in the financial profile of the corporation, they had also caused some consternation and distress among some staff members, resulting in a public demonstration from corporate headquarters to State House during official hours - a serious infraction of staff rules that should have resulted in disciplinary action against the leader and those who took part.  Staff on the other hand is accusing the Managing Director of corruption and favoring a certain staff for further studies abroad over other more deserving members of staff.

The stalemate escalated last week when a handful of disgruntled staff took the law into their own hands, once again, by padlocking the gates to the corporate headquarters thus denying staff the staff and the public access to the  premises which is a serious breach of the law. 

The presence of the Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), Inspector General of Police and the Director General of the State Intelligence Service at the premises of the SSHFC to beg and plead with a group of lawbreakers to stop breaking the law further instead of arresting them for disturbing the peace by blocking public access to a public building.   The least the police could have done was to reprimand.

The CDS and the Director General of the SIS should not have taken part in any dispute resolution for reasons cited previously and also because the origin of the dispute was a personnel management matter allowed to degenerate into the chaos that engulfed the corporation.  In the future, Boards of Directors of parastatals must be allowed to perform their duties in accordance with law and the relevant Acts establishing them.               

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Abdoulie Tambadou's record at GPA in figures

Just as we have done in the case of Muhammed Manjang, Managing Director of the Social Security Housing and Finance Corporation (SSHFC), encapsulating his one and half short tenure at the helm, we will try to do likewise for Abdoulie Tambadou, the Managing Director of Gambia Ports Authority until this morning when he was redeployed to the Gambia Public Procurement Agency.  His new position at GPPA or the name of his replacement at GPA were both unknown at the time of going to press.

Mr. Abdoulie Tambedou held the post of Managing Director of the Gambia Ports Authority from 7th March 2017 to 29th August 2018.  Prior to his stint, he served the GPA from Accounts Clerk in 1989 and rose through the ranks  to the position of Managing Director from April 2011 to August 2012.

In the intervening period, Mr. Tambedou served as Finance Analyst in the UNDP Gambia Country Office from March 2016 to March 2017 and Deputy Controller of Senegambia Beach Hotel from November to March 2016.  He also served as Financial Management Specialist as part of the Canada Pacific Consultancy Services Limited team in a World Bank Port Sector Reform Project at the Liberia Port Authority, Monrovia.

Mr. Tambadou graduated as a Member of the Chartered Accountants (ACCA) in 1994 and an Masters in Business Administration in Strategic Management and Finance from the University of Wales, Cardiff Business School in 1997. He graduated also from the Institute of Chartered Bankers of Nigeria in 2016 where he awarded the highest mark as the Best Student in Banking Law. Regulation and Corporate Governance.  Mr. Tambadou has also undergone various courses in Procurement, Strategy and Risk Management among others.  He is currently serving on the Boards of the GPA, Gamtel/GAmcel and the Gam Petroleum Storage Company Limited.

Like Muhammed Manjang who have since been sent on a one-month leave for returning the SSHFC into profitability, Abdoulie Tambadou record at GPA was even more phenomenal.  In 2015, GPA's registered a loss after tax of negative D805,000 from a pretax profit of D before tax was D38 million. In 2016, the profit before tax was  D53 million for an operating profit after tax of D13 million.   In 2017, profit before tax was D271 million and a profit after tax was D198 million.

Net cash flows in 2015 was D327 million, in 2016 the figure was D353 million and in 2017 the figure increased to D455 million. 

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Pensioners and contributing employers are victims of a mismanaged SSHFC and not the staff

Mohammed Manjang, Managing Director SSHFC
For the past several months, while the government allowed what was a purely  personnel matter has been allowed to morph into an industrial dispute, threatening the financial integrity of the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) and, by extension, the welfare of pensioners and employers who contributors to the Provident and Consolidated Pensions Funds.

Pensioners who have worked for 30 - 40 years with employers contributing towards their retirement have been experiencing hardships not of their own making.  Proceeds from employers' contribution were misapplied, misused and abused by the previous regime with the active participation of some past and current members of staff. 

Some of these very same staff currently engaged in illegal acts of public disorder by blocking access to a public building are now feigning victimhood.  What about those pensioners who cannot access their monthly benefits because the kitty is empty.  They have to wait for months so that their funds committed to short-term instruments yield dividends for the corporation to meet their monthly obligations to pensioners. 

Pensioners are the real victims and not a bunch of privileged staff oozing with the aura of self entitlement.  These disgruntled staff would like to continue enjoying more housing loans and other facilities and perks on the backs of hard working Gambians that have proven to be bad investments that threatens the solvency for the corporation.

The Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation was built with the sweat and tears of pensioners, prospective pensioners and particularly private sector employers, with little or zero financial stake from central government.  It is time that these unheralded and forgotten Gambians take a more active role in the management of the SSHFC by organizing themselves to protect what belongs to them. 

These category of Gambians are beginning to organize themselves to protect their interests and their pension benefits - both actual and anticipated - since the government appears to be interested in the welfare of a handful of disgruntled staff members with obvious support from State House and the Ministry of Finance. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Managing Director of SSHFC, management, staff and Board deserve the full support of the Barrow government

Staff of the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) were denied access to the office premises by padlocking the gates to the building - an illegal act for which disciplinary action must be taken. 

The group of disgruntled staff led by one Mr. Camara has been agitating for months now to have the new Managing Director removed from office because of reasons that could only be characterized as flimsy when compared to the myriad of problems facing the near-insolvent state owned enterprise. 

Gambians are treated, nearly daily, to the financial malpractices - including abuse of pensioner's funds - by the former dictator, his business partners and senior officials that threatened the financial integrity of the corporation.  It is such abuses that the new Managing Director, the new Board Chairman and his colleagues on the Board are set to arrest so that the finances of the corporation can be restored to good health and profitability.

Managing Director Manjang has been on the job for approximately two year and some of his achievement, however modest, can be found here; a subject we covered in our penultimate blog post.  He was able to turn a D1.6 million loss in 2016 into a D82 million profit which was achieved despite very strong income headwinds.  [The D83.5 million was a misstatement on our part.] When last year's operating profit figure is compared to profits in 2013 [D26M], 2014 [D13M] and 2015 [D15M], one begins to appreciate even more the efforts that Board, Management and staff of the SSHFC have put in.

We will reiterate here what we've stated on our Facebook page and that is these favorable numbers are a far cry from what obtained before the new Managing Director came onboard.  It is these favorable figures that the noise-makers and those urging them on are trying to obscure - to divert our attention away from the new management team at the SSHFC. 

Needless to say that there is still a lot of work to be done and new milestones to reach.  It is evident from the cost management measures implemented in 2017 have yielded dividends because total costs were down by D88 million in 2017 - a figure that is expected to improve further and significantly at the end of 2018.

The Government of Adama Barrow must not let a few disgruntled staffers who are obviously trying to maintain the old system that benefits them at the expense of the over 130,000 (one hundred and thirty thousand) individual accounts operated and managed by SSHFC comprising of pensioners and active employees who currently contribute to the National Provident Fund and the Federated Pensions Funds.  The government must lend full and unequivocal support to the Managing Director, management, Board and staff who are committed to ushering in a new era and a new management culture at the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation.

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First Lady's Foundation may, or may not, share the results of the Board's investigation of the missing $752,544, says a FaBB Board member

Gambia's First Lady, Mrs. Fatoumatta Bah-Barrow
The recent case of a mysterious bank transaction amounting to a little over $750,000 that originated from Hong Kong via the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Chinese to Guaranty Trust Bank, London Branch to Novo Banko in Lisbon before being lodged into the account of the First Lady's Fatoumata Bah Barrow's Foundation (FaBB) at the Guaranty Trust Bank in Banjul.

Although the transaction took place last December, it was not until last week that the public became aware.  It has since raised more questions than the officials of the Foundations can provide answers to an increasingly frustrated public that should be a cause for concern, not only to Gambia's First Lady and officials of the FaBB but to the Barrow government.

A Board member of the Foundation recently provided a glimpse at what their strategy will be.  The Foundation representative immediately claimed ignorance of who deposited the money and for what purpose the over $750,000 was meant for.  In fact, the representative while denying that the money belongs to the First Lady's Foundation, she announced that the matter will be investigated, not by an outside independent arbiter but by members of the Board of the Foundation.

Further inquiries by the online press further revealed that when the monies were deposited at the Guaranty Bank, the amount was transferred to an account operated by White Airways, a Portuguese charter airline company but was returned soon thereafter to the Foundations account with the Guaranty Trust Bank in Banjul. 

Speaking to a local newspaper, the Foundation representative revealed that FaBB reserves the right to share the finding of the investigations by members of the Foundation with the public because they are a private and not a public entity that is entirely funded by private donations.  Of course this sweeping claim fails to take cognisance of the fact that the First Lady is the First Lady of The Gambia with a fully-funded Office of The First Lady, serviced by Gambian civil servants, all paid by Gambian civil servants.  Her ability to raise all those humongous sums is not by being citizen Fatoumata Bah Barrow but as the wife of the President of The Republic.   

However, since the announcement more details came to light as revealed by the FatuNetwork, an online online television outlet that the transfer was made by a Chinese energy company named TBEA that is currently bidding, and has been declared a leading contender, for a transmission and distribution project under NAWEC, Gambia's public utility company.  It just so happens that the Foundation representative who assured Gambians that the Foundation will get to the bottom of the mysterious transfer also happens to be a member of the Board of NAWEC.

As at the time of writing this blog post, the entire (and precise) amount of $752,544.42 is still unaccounted for.  Of course, Gambians are asking the same questions as any reasonable person would:  Where's the money, who was it transferred to and for what purpose?  It must be noted that this transfer occurred last December but it was not until last week when the matter became public that the Fatoumata Bah Barrow Foundation officials offered to investigate the matter, the results of which they will not necessarily share with Gambians. 

We will not do justice to this story without bringing in sharper focus the role the Guaranty Trust Bank has played during the Jammeh era and they continue to play in the financial sector of The Gambia's economy.  In the banking business, the initials KYC stands for Know Your Customer - a mantra that GTBank appears to ignore, if not flout regularly as evidenced by the revelations in the Commission of Inquiry looking into the financial affairs of the former dictator. 

One would have thought with the vigilance of the international financial authorities and national treasuries across the world regarding illicit transfers, money laundering activities of traffickers in drugs, humans and small arms, banks operating in The Gambia, including Guaranty Trust Bank would be more hawk-eyed by conducting extra vigilant due diligence.  We hope more care will be taken in future.  We intend to examine this and related matters relating to the banking sector in subsequent posts.


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Monday, August 27, 2018

Social Security in figures: Is SSHFC turning the corner?

SSHFC MD, Manjang
Many Gambians were introduced to Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) through intermittent sessions of the Commission of Inquiry into the financial dealings of former president Jammeh that has been sitting for well over a year now. 

While many Gambians were introduced to what amounted to financial horror stories, SSHC has, under new leadership, including a Chairman of the Board, a retired international civil servant and a former employee of NAWEC, have started to make some progress.

While it might be a little too early to be excited about turn of events, there are a couple of signs to indicate the corporation is turning the corner.  The preliminary audited 2017 results show material improvement over 2016.  According to audited figures, 2017 Operating Profit is D83.5 million compared to 2016's loss of D26 million.

The Operating Profit of D83.5 million is higher than the total sum of corporation's Operating Profits of the previous four years 2013 - 2016.  This result was achieved despite strong income headwinds.

Investment income or recurring income in 2017 is D23 million better than in 2016.  The corporation cost management strategy implemented in 2017 seems to be working with total cost down by D88 million.  It is anticipated that the cost containment strategy will continue to the implemented in the years ahead, according to management sources.

What is satisfying also, according to management, is that "every single fund was profitable in 2017 compared to 2016 when only the Pension and Injuries Fund were profitable." 

The prospects for a complete turnaround are bright provided that the management strategies and policies already in place and in the pipeline are implemented with minimal distractions designed to impede progress in one of the country's most important institution.

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

R2K welcomes Minister of Justice's promise to investigate the pardoning of Mr. Sandaker


The Right to Know (R2K) Gambia welcomes the commitment made to the country, by the Minister of Justice,  Tambadou, to investigate the pardoning of Mr. Sandaker.  In a statement released 25th August, 2018, the Minister pledged to clear up the controversial decision by the President to pardon Mr. Svein Sandaker, a Norwegian, who was convicted by Gambian courts for paedophilia.

Minister Tambadou said: "I will to the bottom of the matter and find out how the MoJ came to be associated with the purported conflicting statements released on our twitter page."    

Although the statement of the Minister is a positive undertaking, R2K still remains gravely concerned about this unfortunate incident.  We demand answers to fundamental questions, as to how any person could be pardoned without the knowledge of the Justice Minister who chairs the Prerogative of Mercy Committee.

We find it curious that the announcement of the pardons were done through the twitter handle of the MoJ, yet the Minister has vehemently denied having any prior knowledge of these developments.  We find this to be very concerning, as it does not bode well for the principles of law and good governance in our new found democracy.

We look forward to receiving further information as to when this investigation will commence, who will be leading it, and whether it will be an open and transparent process. 

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Justice Minister must step down or be dismissed

Ba Tambadou, Attorney General and Minister of Justice 

Paradise TV, an online television station, is reporting that the Justice Ministry is investigating the circumstance that led to the pardoning of one Svein Aage Sandaker, a Norwegian national and a convicted pedophile.  

He was serving a prison sentence at Mile II for sexually assaulting young Gambian children (both boys and girls) including a young male child aged 4.  The convicted pedophile is also wanted in Norway for similar offenses, according to sources.

In a Facebook posting, Paradise TV is quoting a source in the Justice Ministry who prefers to remain anonymous that the “ministry has not been aware of the decision to grant Svein Aage Sandaker a presidential pardon as part of the observance of the Muslim feast of Tabaski.”

If the news as reported is true, it makes no sense whatsoever because on Monday 20th August 2018, the Ministry of Justice, under the hand of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, issued a public notice informing Gambians that President Barrow, in exercising his constitutional powers of prerogative of mercy has decided to grant pardon to seven convicted felons.

Among the seven who benefited was notorious Norwegian pedophile who was first sentenced to 3 years in prison and fined D600,000 in 2012 in default to serve an additional 3 years.  It is reported that he was in default back in 2015 and had to serve an additional 3 years to be due for release this year – when specifically, we cannot determine for lack of information.  

The news that he was to receive presidential pardon immediately kicked up a dust storm, both in social media, on the ground and in the diaspora so loud and furious that the ministry found the need to offer a clarification that government intention was not to release Svein Aage Sandaker but to extradite him to Norway – a clarification that was immediately dispelled for being a highly implausible occurrence because it contradicted the official government announcement that clearly states that the seven prisoners were being granted a presidential pardon and not an extradition.  

It was also unclear if there is an extradition treaty between The Gambia and Norway, and if there is, there appears to have been no discernable signs of bilateral negotiations between the two countries.  Either the Gambia or Norway or both would have made public pronouncements to that effect.

According to reports, including from sources close to the Justice Minister, who is currently in Mecca, was totally unaware that the Norwegian was on the list.  Regardless of who was responsible for inserting Svein Aage Sandaker’s name in the  list, if that’s what happened – which raises even more damning issues – the legal kerfuffle demonstrates, once more, that the Justice Minister lacks the competence and wherewithal to perform his functions in a non-partisan and impartial manner. 

In a nutshell, Ba Tambadou lacks the professional (courtroom) experience to be an effective Attorney General and too conflicted and partisan to be impartial in his role as the chief legal adviser to the President of the Republic.

With these facts before the Gambian people, his mishandling of the SEMLEX affair - which is now being investigated by a Parliamentary Committee and simultaneously being litigated in the courts -  and the eyebrow-raising case that involved the minister’s brother and the wife of the former Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (renamed the State Intelligence Agency) that can only be interpreted as interfering in an ongoing case he was involved that led to his recusal, the Justice Minister must take full responsibility and resign honorably or be dismissed summarily.  

Gambians have been treated recently by this government with one disastrous and confidence shattering scandals after another, accompanied in each case with implausible and clumsy explanations and clarification that succeeded only in exposing the lack of candor and downright subterfuge.   These reverifications have shaken the confidence Gambians to the core.

Mr. Jeggan Grey-Johnson of the Open Society Foundation based in Johannesburg on a phone interview to solicit his views on recent developments concluded that “the system has broken – as principles of governance and rule of law were flouted in totality,” referring to the case of the convicted pedophile whose presidential pardon is now in limbo.

The fact that the Ministry was unaware of Mr. Svein Aage Sandaker being on the list of felons to be pardoned was equally perplexing to Jeggan Grey-Johnson for a ministry that “is an integral part of the prerogative of mercy process, precisely because this is a case of legality and justice.”     

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Let Mr. Sanna Camara go, the problem is elsewhere - REPUBLICATION

Journalist - Sanna Camara
Here's a July 2nd 2014 blog post about one of Gambia's premier reporter, especially in the areas of human trafficking and the out migration.  He reported extensively on the Back Way and has collaborated with international news agencies.  He has been one of 'my go' journalists. 

Mr. Camara has since joined a host of other Gambian journalists who have opted to join the State House press corps which is a loss to Gambian journalism at the critical juncture of the country's political transition.  We wish him and his other colleagues, including MK, in their new positions. 
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Sanna Camara, a local journalist working for a Banjul newspaper called The Standard, was detained by the police for accurately quoting the Police Public Relations Officer (PRO).  He was detained overnight in police cells when he refused to prepare and signed a cautionary statement in the absence of his lawyer in exercise of his right under law.

PRO - David Kujabi
Sanna Camara's problems started when he interviewed PRO David Kujabi about the problems of human trafficking that has become a topic of concern for Gambian parents, as it is for the United States Department of State.

In the 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, the US government  singled out Thailand, Malaysia, Venezuela and The Gambia for taking insufficient action against human trafficking.

The United States State department downgraded the four countries to Tier 3, the lowest ranking it gives to countries with the lowest level of responses to the scourge of what tantamount to modern day slavery.

Sanna Camara's story appeared on the Friday edition that quoted PRO David Kujabi as saying 'police admits problems with human trafficking', a byline sufficient to send the young reporter to jail in a country that is increasingly becoming controlling, not only of the physical movements of its citizens but what they think and how they think.

There is no mention anywhere in the reporting that the police PRO disputes the quote ascribed to him by the reporter.  In the absence of such a contention on the part of the police why hold an innocent man for doing his job as a reporter.  Instead, Mr, Camara has been charged with "publishing false information and broadcasting" for accurately quoting an authorized and office police source who has not disputed any portion of the reporting.

Buried in the current fuss over the arrest is the admission of officer David Kujabi that "isolated cases of human trafficking are often brought to their attention," he denied that there are "organized rings" in The Gambia, implying that that may be organized rings operating outside the Gambia.

The police and higher authorities are aware of the existence of a ring that operates out of Lebanon that is engaged in the trafficking of Gambian women using the Gambia-Qatar Employment Agreement ratified into law in June of 2010 as cover to traffic in young Gambian girls in the Gulf.  The TIP cites the laxity in enforcement of human trafficking laws as reason for the downgrade.  The Gambian Ambassador to Qatar in brother to Jammeh with many other family members occupying less conspicuous positions within the enterprise to exploit Gambian women.  It, therefore, makes sense to look the other way because the Jammeh family is involved.

PRO made reference to the plight of Gambian women sold as prostitutes in Lebanon who recently pleaded for help.  He's now blaming the families in The Gambia for refusing to come forward with their complaints or asking the police to drop them altogether.  These people have lost credibility and the trust of Gambians to be taken seriously.  The regime is a criminal enterprise, and the sooner the rest of the world catches up with the majority of Gambians, the better.

Editorial: We prefer civility and goodwill to acrimony and vengeance

Sidi Sanneh 
On 26th December, 2016, we penned this editorial, appealing to the good senses of Gambians everywhere not to give cause for Jammeh to act foolishly.  Thankfully, we transitioned the  political impasse uneventfully, made possible, in part, by the presence of the ECOMIG forces to re-enforce the security cover provided by the Gambian military.

The appeal made a year and a half ago, we believe, is very relevant today as we embark on a national debate about the future of the coalition government of President Adama Barrow - or what's left of it, if anything.  Will it be three as per MOU or five years as per constitution?
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At this critical point in our politics, persons wishing to join the progressive forces of positive political change must be encouraged.  In particular, former APRC officials, supporters and ordinary citizens ready and willing to add their voices to those of us asking Jammeh to step down must be embraced.  We must bring as many of them into the fold as we possibly can prior to the 18th January deadline.  Jammeh's refusal will inevitably lead to the loss of life, as well as destruction of property which we must try to avoid.

Our immediate goal as a country, therefore, should be to do everything humanly possible to avert military intervention that can only set us back even further than necessary.

The 22-year record the Jammeh regime will be bequeathing the next generation of Gambians is a challenge of herculean proportion that will require a conducive business and political environment to successfully address these difficult challenges.  Peaceful and orderly transfer of power must, therefore, be the main preoccupation of not only the incoming administration but of every Gambian.  And Jammeh is the main obstacle to achieving this goal.

We can only measure up to the challenges confronting us in these consequential moments if our parochial and/or partisan instincts are in check to prevent them from clouding our judgment. Jammeh's 22-year presidency has so negatively and profoundly transformed Gambian society that nearly every aspect of the social fabric holding our communities together is fractured and can disentangle, threatening the social cohesion Jammeh inherited when he seized power in 1994.

If we fail, it will be catastrophic for a country that once prides itself of having pulled itself by the bootstrap from the status of an "improbable nation" to one that held great hope and promise among the community of nations.  We must restore our lost national pride by first coming to terms with the magnitude of the problem we will be inheriting from the 22-year dictatorship of Yaya Jammeh.

In moving forward, we must do so in civility and goodwill and not in acrimony and vengeance.  We fought Yaya Jammeh to return the rule of law and the reestablishment of our civil liberties guaranteed under law.  These guaranteed rights etched in our Constitution apply to every Gambian and non-Gambian alike, without exemption,

While appealing to our compassionate senses of fair play, we want to make clear that we are not advocating immunity from the law for anyone because no one is above the law and that applies to Amadou Samba and any other Gambian businessman or businesswoman who've had business dealings with Yaya Jammeh.  In an environment where the rule of law prevails, every Gambian is entitled to his or her day in a regular court of law and Mr. Samba is no exception.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

US$ 900M is no '"chicken change", Amadou Samba owes Gambians an explanation

AMASA Holding Ltd. registered in China 
In August 21, 2017 we published this blog post.  We are republishing it here with the same questions we raised then, which we will pursue until answers are provided and justice is done on behalf of the Gambian people. 

The Gambian economy was destroyed and public resources wantonly squandered through illicit transfers using various means, including offshore accounts, by corrupt partners of the former regime.  The new political dispensation deserves better. 
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The Panama Papers listed $ 900 million against the name of a company named AMASA Holding Ltd. owned by Amadou Samba.  Two addresses were shown to be the home of the company -  78 Atlantic Road, Fajara, The Gambia and  No. 103 Ezian, Wanxin Village, Waxi City, in Wuxi City, Jiang Su Province, People's Republic of China.

$ 900 million, almost $1 billion is no 'chicken change' (a favorite Jammeh lingo) by any standard, including American.  By Gambian standard, the amount is obscenely humongous for a country as dirt poor as ours.

Rather than making threatening phone calls, spewing insults and renting "journalists" to defend the indefensible, Amadou Samba owe it to Gambians to explain the origins of the nearly $ 1 billion that pass through his Panama-operated off-shore account , how and to whom were these sums disbursed to.   Renovating and selling properties in Kensington and peddling fishing licenses cannot account for a million dollar, much less a billion.

What we do know, up to this point, that we are in a position to disclose is that both Amasa Holdings Ltd. and the off-shore accounts in Panama are non-operational but not before almost $ 1 billion of bank transactions went through the account in Panama.
Amadou Samba and the man he 'managed' 

What Gambians and authorities around the world would like to know is the origins of these funds and to whom were they disbursed.  All of it cannot be proceeds from companies owned by Amadou Samba.  He never owned and operated companies that generated a billion dollar revenue stream.

We have seen, very early in the Commission sittings, the numerous schemes hatched by Yaya Jammeh and his enablers with the primary aim of siphoning off public funds meant for development assistance.  These funds, once schemed off the top, find their way into local commercial banks and other destinations.

Until the alarm bells were sounded by the former Senegalese Minister of the Environment, Ali El Haidar, Yaya Jammeh was illegally exploiting Senegalese timber from the Casamance region at a rate that, according to experts, Senegalese forest cover may be depleted in two years because of the unsustainable rate of exploitation.  According to estimate,  The Gambia earned $ 238.5 million in timber exports mainly to the People's Republic of China.  Gambia was second only to Nigeria in redwood timber exports when Gambia has approximate 2% of forest cover confirming that these timbers were coming from Casamance.

Gambians demand to know who benefited from these operations and where's the money?  Westwood Company Ltd. has been prominently featured by some Senegalese authorities and identified as an active partner of Jammeh in the exploitation of the redwood.   The petroleum sub-sector demand special attention that requires external (legal) assistance in piecing together the numerous contracts entered into with African Petroleum and others to protect the interest of the Gambian people against unscrupulous con-artists who pose as legitimate businessmen.

There are other known international illicit trade in arms and ammunition, drugs (mainly cocaine) and human trafficking.  The Gambia had become the hub for these illicit trade during Jammeh's 22-year dictatorship.  Illicit and private mining conducted under the cloak of secrecy provides the Commission with a wide range of possibilities to uncover more of Jammeh's secrets that could not have been possible without the active participation of civil servants and businessmen and women of all hue and nationalities.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Shut the Foundations down, Mr. President


Republished August 20th, 2018

Foundations, by definition, are generally nonprofit legal entities, created, typically, to support a good cause by donating funds and support to other organizations or provide the source of funding for its own charitable purposes.

Foundations can also be for wealthy individuals seeking permanence with the preservation of a family legacy. Henry Ford and Bill and Melinda Gates come to mind.  Highly successful businessmen and women, politicians and mega-rich individuals set up foundations, using their own resources exclusively as seed money, or use supplementary funding from various sources to promote a cause.

As the saying goes, the easiest way to fund a cause is to write a personal check.  Setting up of a legal entity requires a structured framework to qualify as a non-profit organization that must conform to the laws, including the tax laws, of the country of incorporation.

The foundation must be appropriately and adequately staffed just like any for-profit entity with executive officers to manage the financial and human resources of the foundation. A foundation and a business enterprise are markedly different in only that the former is a non-profit entity and the latter is not.

Because the foundation requires permanent staff and other recurrent costs, managing it require huge investment outlays in recruitment and retention of professional experts in numerous fields.  In short, to run a foundation is a full time job and thus not an appropriate vocation, especially for a sitting president who is charged with managing an entire country.

If history is a reliable guide, then the country's experience with foundations run by the occupant of State House must serve as a warning to his successors.  The experience has been abysmal, at best, because they served the previous president as a conduit that funnel funds solicited from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries for the private use of the ex-dictator.

It is this sort of abuse that foundations of the kind being proposed by president Barrow are frown upon because they are subject to abuse.  Foundations in Africa have been used by politicians to divert public funds for private use and to launder money.

President Barrow is head of a transition government elected to serve for a period of three years.  It is our view that he should focus the next two years addressing the structural problems created by the previous regime that impede economic growth and development and not managing foundations at the risk of using public funds to run them.  He should also address the problems posed by an inefficient civil service among other institutional bottlenecks.  You can find a detail list of priority areas in this blog post with the review of our Constitution and electoral law reform being among the most urgent.

In conclusion, the CEO of The Gambia and guardian of the State Constitution that declares The Gambia a Secular State should not be seen promoting a religion by building mosques across the country and not propagating one religion over another.  In either case, it would be unconstitutional.  Allow religious leaders to perform their religious leaders to propagate their respective religions while political leaders tend to the affairs of State.

Friday, August 10, 2018

China's debt-trap diplomacy and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) under scrutiny in U.S. Senate

Chinese plant flag in Gunjur beach 
A powerful bipartisan group of United States senators has written a letter to the Secretaries of the Treasury and State accusing China of weaponizing capital by luring unsuspecting debt distressed African and Asian countries into contracting infrastructure loans that are, in the eyes of the US lawmakers, predatory.

The alarm bells sounded in the halls of the US Congress when loan bailout requests to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where the US is the single largest shareholder, started to mount. And the senators would like to know how the Treasury Secretary plans to address the dangers of the Chinese infrastructure financing issue with the IMF, among a host of other concerns that have national security implications. 

Sri Lanka became the first victim of China's predatory lending practices that led to unsustainable levels of debt for the country requiring a $1.5 billion bailout loan from the IMF.

The incoming Pakistan government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is reportedly poised to also request a bailout loan from the IMF because of mounting current account deficit and external debt obligations caused, primarily, by the China - Pakistan Economic Corridor.  It is the expressed view of the sixteen Republican and Democratic senators who signed a letter addressed to the Treasury and State Secretaries that the financial predicament of these countries is as a result of,  what they refer to as "China's debt-trap diplomacy" and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to developing countries in Asia and Africa.

As countries find themselves trapped in debt at unsustainable levels, and in their attempt to extricate themselves from the burden, the letter states, China always extract "onerous concessions, including equity in strategically important assets."

In country after country, from Djibouti with its increased dependence on China, strategically located on the Horn of Africa, has increased the likelihood of China controlling the country's only Container Terminal in addition to a Chinese military base already in operation, to Sri Lanka where the government's inability to repay over $1 billion of Chinese debt for the construction of the Hambantota Port, granted a Chinese state company a 99-year lease on the facility. 

The aggressive foreign policy posture of the Chinese, coupled with a development assistance program that ignores a country's debt exposure, makes African countries like the Gambia highly susceptible to China's debt-trap diplomacy. 

In the specific case of the Gambia Port Authority's (GPA) Port Expansion Project, given the pattern emerging elsewhere what would prevent the Chinese from demanding equity in the Gambia Ports Authority facilities similar to what they were able to extract from Sri Lanka should GPA finds itself unable to service the Chinese loan, reported to be in the region of $177 million - a country that is already staring in the face of a debt to GDP ratio of 130%.   Some food for thought.

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