Friday, December 28, 2018

Eulogy for December 30th heroes

Cherno M. Njie 


Eulogy for December 30th Heroes
by
Cherno M. Njie

If I must die in the forest, let it be a lion which kills me
(Su ma dee chi alla, gayndee ma rey)[1]

The circumstances under which I met these men – and I am speaking of the late Captain Njaga  Jagne, Colonel Lamin Sanneh, and Alagie Jaja Nyass, all men of the military either in The Gambia or abroad– were difficult. Those circumstances—well, a political and social situation in the Gambia, in our country, that was intolerable to us. Maybe it is regrettable that we all could not have come together simply as friends and fellow Gambians, unrelated to any sense of urgency that we all felt about four and a half years ago at our first meetings. Regrettable—maybe, yes—that the horrors committed against the body of the Gambian people for something like twenty-two years were what brought me to meet Captain Jagne, Colonel Sanneh, and Alagie Nyass. But still, the fact is that I came to meet these men as Gambians, with an intense and common concern for the evils Gambians were everyday experiencing as we watched apprehensively from the outside. I think the more important question is whether or not we regret our actions, which is a really a question of whether or not these men, who paid the ultimate price, died in vain. Of whether or not our actions, at the head of which was the failed coup attempt of December 30th of 2014, was a senseless action and just another hopeful expectation, or an act of great meaning and heroism.

The situation in The Gambia weighed heavily upon them—the pressure did not let up with time, because there was always news of some other atrocity from friends and family, if not in the newspapers: disappearances, torturing, jailings, intimidation, paranoia… All of us are familiar with the immense difficulty of managing such a weight when there is no obvious way to relieve it. It weighs, weighs and weighs more seemingly every day—and it may even be that the weight is not more, only that under it, day to day, one weakens ever so slowly.
           
In the United States we of the Diaspora have always agitated from afar, through advocacy groups, appeals to international human rights organizations, the United Nations, African Union, and ECOWAS, and pressuring the US State Department to act against Jammeh in some substantial way. The urgent need for change, and the lack of its coming was frustrating—the apparently slow movement of advocacy did not satisfy Njaga, Sanneh, or Nyass.
           
I spoke a moment ago about weight, a weight that, quite literally, pushes one into particular decisions, into specific ultimatums. The load on top of you has, in a certain sense, trapped you, forcing you to move slowly and with utmost exertion. Meanwhile, it often feels that you must keep up the veneer of peace while you are being almost literally crushed. If the weight does not let up, the  regular rules of common sense naturally give way to another sort of instinct, but, still, the shift is a reasonable one. From one point of view, the so-called normal point of view –I mean that view that has the privilege of clarity, safety, security, and plenty of time to think– the decision of these men may seem to be the result of a unique irrationality, that understandingly, but with error, yields to a route of action that is misguided, though perhaps justifiable. But that is, we have to say, unfair—not to mention that these rationalizations are entirely unsatisfactory for those who loved these men, and always had some clue to their inner turmoil.  It is horrible for one who loved Captain Jagne, or loved Colonel Sanneh, or loved Alagie Nyass in any sort of way to think that these men were acting irrationally up to the moment of their deaths. No—the thought does not settle well. Such a privileged rationalization leaves one with an ambiguous uncertainty that relates more to a sense of misunderstanding, or of incomprehensibility than to any fault in the decision-making of our loved ones. That incomprehensibility I think comes from the situation itself, the circumstances that in the first place pushed these and other men into a radical decision. The behavior of Jammeh and the state of things in The Gambia were always more surreal to us than our decision to act against him. It was always very natural for us to recognize that forceful removal was our only option. Those of us involved in the decision were looking at a set of unusual circumstances that called for a different sort of consideration. We must not blame these men if we are to call them heroes—we may lament their deaths, but we must blame, above all, the situation in The Gambia at the time, we must blame a regime that was repulsive to these men, and the fact that evil had taken root in our homeland. Their deaths in the line of fighting betray a passionate commitment to the routing of that evil, an attempt to wrest free the government of The Gambia, its institutions, and above all its people from a repressive state of affairs that at every point made impossible a safe, healthy living and the basic freedoms to make that living. The attempt was a selfless act, and we have also come here to commemorate that act, even while we grieve their loss.

It is not fair that I stand here speaking rather than one or all of these men. It is not fair that the world that we know, that The Gambia, the country that we know had, at the time, come to such a state that pushed these men to a drastic action. It was not fair that the body of the Gambian people should endure terror while these men at a distance felt a nagging and impenetrable sense of guilt— that they, because of that distance, were out of the way of Jammeh’s violence. They were, are men, who then, in 2014, saw that the world, our country, could be another way, so they declared “no.” At the bottom of their actions, which many may still have a difficult time understanding, was a fundamental decision to utter “no” and to begin to practice the meaning of that “no.”

The act of resistance led to their deaths. We know the list of deaths at the hands of Jammeh is a very long one. We all gather here as, in some way, victims of his terror of twenty-two years. I stand here with a heavy heart, because I have lost three great friends. My heart is heavy because these men, like so many Gambians, tragically paid with their lives in their attempt to stop the Jammeh regime from reducing human beings to victims. Their humanity would not permit them to stand idly by and watch Gambians denied their humanity.  It burdens my heart that their lives were claimed by an arbitrary and irrational evil that wished only to maintain its hold on power. Nevertheless, we are here today to remember that these men with great effort and purpose challenged that evil. But, exactly because they were men of the good, it should not be forgotten that these men throughout their lives were good men. They developed a sense of purpose and principle early in their lives, and carried these through to the end of their lives. Sadly they did not see Jammeh finally forced from power; as we, collectively, carry on the project of rebuilding The Gambia so that such evil can never again claim the lives of good men, we remember Captain Njaga  Jagne, Colonel Lamin Sanneh, and Alagie Jaja Nyass. It is they who still live with us, propelling in some way the mission of reconstruction, recuperation, and repair in our homeland. We grieve their loss—they will not come back to us. Still, we must remind ourselves that their deaths did not come to pass in vain, for they contributed to the long struggle against evil that eventually prevailed upon Jammeh. I remember each with a heavy heart—but it is uplifted when I look up and see, everywhere, their legacy in this country.


[1] This is an abridged version of what I read  at a memorial service and news conference held by D30 at the University of The Gambia the 13th of January 2018, as a belated eulogy for my friends and comrades Lamin Sanneh, Njaga Jagne, and Alagie Nyass, who died at State House in Banjul, in the early hours of December 30th, 2014.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The supplementary budget fiasco

Mamburry Njie, Finance Minister 
Last week, Gambia's National Assembly went out on a limb by voting down a supplementary budget request from the finance minister in the amount of D1.2 billion.  The request came approximately three weeks before the end of the 2018 fiscal year which, in addition to the large amount of the request, is estimated to be in the region of 6% of the current 2018 budget, drew the attention of a number of parliamentarians. 

The combination of these factors riled up members of parliament, resulted in the defeat of the motion to approve the Supplementary Appropriation Bill which, according to sources, was a historic first, a rarity that could have contributed to the frustration as well as the animated agitation the finance minister. 

The decision to vote down the request, hailed as a courageous act of defiance from the norm, was short-lived and subsequently reversed a few days later through a parliamentary maneuver engineered, according to sources, at the State House and employed by the Finance Minister.  The move was tacitly endorsed by the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker - both members of the UDP and both nominated by President Barrow - and a collection of rogue parliamentarians from the majority party and nominated members from other parties. 

Although no evidence exists to confirm that parliamentarians who changed their positions and voted for the motion the second time around were in cahoots with State House, it did not deter some from making such allegation.  The closeness of the vote - 16 parliamentarians for and 16 against - required a tie-breaker from the Speaker for the motion to pass - a vote that activists deemed unconstitutional and who publicly promised to challenge it in court. 

The dramatic reversal of a short-lived victory by parliamentarians, who thought they had succeeded in holding the line on runaway spending, sent shockwaves across the National Assembly and, among social media activists.  Tempers rose and passions erupted, resulting in some parliamentarians demanding the resignation of the finance minister who furiously declined to accede to the parliamentarian's demand.

Supplementary budget requests are an integral part of the budget process and a very useful tool at that.  However, during the 22-year dictatorial regime of Yaya Jammeh, the procedure has been abused, facilitated in part for lack of a strong and independent legislative arm of government.  The National Assembly under Jammeh was referred to as the "rubber stamp parliament"- a well-earned label.  Members approved whatever was brought before them.  That era appears to have elapsed. 

Supplementary appropriations were routinely submitted on multiple occasions in a single fiscal year with the Office of the President and the Defense Ministry of which the president is the minister were the main beneficiaries at the expense of social sector ministries and agriculture.  The practise helped fuel the domestic borrowing, contributing in no small measure to the overall debt to GDP ratio that has risen from 120% under Jammeh to 130% since the transition government under Adama Barrow took charge of the affairs of the state. 

Fiscal discipline has become the mantra of the government but most of its actions point in the wrong direction and the Gambian people are expecting the National Assembly to play the role of the adult in the room.  Members tried playing that role and almost succeeded by forcing government to reduce its initial request by approximately half - a reduction in both the amount and line items (or sub-heads) - suggesting that the initial request of D1.2 billion was a highly questionable sum, to put it mildly.  The experience also will serve as a warning to the executive branch that the National Assembly is ready and willing to take its oversight responsibility seriously. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

National Assembly imposes an involuntary and inadvertent austerity program on government

National Assembly Building
By a single act of defiance, The Gambia's National Assembly has imposed an involuntary austerity measure on the Transition Government led by Adama Barrow, after successive years of deficit spending that dates back to the dictatorship of Yaya Jammeh whose government was defeated in the December 2016 presidential elections.

In  an apparent response to the shock decision by a National Assembly that appeared to be responding to popular opposition to the D 1.2 billion Supplementary Appropriations, the Minister of Finance appealed to the parliamentary body for reconsideration of the vote that fell on deaf ears. 

The voices of frustration echoed around the National Assembly, from one member of parliament to the next, with historical references to the habitual and unsustainable budget deficits that received  automatic endorsements from all quarters.  Members of the National Assembly decided to stand firm in their decision to hold down public spending to manageable levels.

The Supplementary Appropriation Bill before the National Assembly was for a D1.2 billion spending authorization with less than three weeks before the end of the fiscal year on December 31 "of which an additional D 60 million is for the State House", according to Mr. Sal Taal, an Initiator of the civil society group named #GambiaHasDecided.  The Finance Minister's rationale for the request was considered cosmetic as the emphasis on the desirability of cleaning up the deficit mess that he inherited from his predecessors was largely ignored by the National Assembly.

The Minister of Finance was also unable to convince the National Assembly that government was committed to fiscal prudence when additional resources was being demanded from the public treasury.  In fact, an Assembly Member reminded the Minister and colleagues that during the 2017 Fiscal year, the newly sworn parliamentarians were able to revise the fait accompli budget that was passed by the outgoing National Assembly resulting in a deficit reduction from D 4.7 billion to D 921  million.  It is evident that the National Assembly is determined to maintain the same trajectory moving into the next fiscal year and beyond.

The decision to deny the request - the first time, ever - places both the government and the National Assembly on uncharted territory.  It therefore requires some thought in moving forward to avoid making matters worse.  There appears to be a sequencing problem already.  Because the Budget Speech scheduled for tomorrow (Friday), there is no time for the government representatives and the National Assemble to huddle around the problem to decide what the next steps should be - a necessary and important intermediary step. 

The National Assembly's decision is a genuine attempt to break away from a pattern of deficit financing that is deemed unconstitutional because the amount requested is approximately 6% of the initial budget figure which exceeds the 1% prescribed by law.

The problem posed by the D1.2 billion that has already been spent or committed to the end of the fiscal year on December 31st, 2018 and for which there is no parliamentary authorization and thus constitute an illegal/unconstitutional expenditure.  This is a legal matter that requires the attention of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

One obvious and highly desirable option that addresses the D 1.2 billion budget deficit is for the Ministry of Finance to quote savings of similar amount from the 2018 Approved Budget.  We have suggested in a Facebook post that candidates for further pruning include but not limited to the Office of the President (including Office of the First Lady), Ministry of Defense, Meet the People's Tour, presidential and other official travels and so on.  The challenge posed by this option is to save D 1.2 billion and still be within budget i.e. with no supplementary budget request for the entire fiscal year 2019. 

The decision of the National Assembly to deny approval of the Supplementary Appropriation Bill has effectively imposed an involuntarily austerity program for a government that has displayed reluctance to change a system inherited from Jammeh's 22-year dictatorship. 

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Yaya Jammeh, Zainab and two of their children have been barred from entering the U.S. for corruption and gross human rights violation charges

Mr and Mrs. Yahya Jammeh 
The United States Department of State has today announced a 'public designation' of former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh, his wife and two of his children which bars them from entering the United States.

The U.S. Secretary of State under the Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriation Act of 2018 is empowered, where credible information exits that foreign officials have been involved in significant corruption or a gross violation of human rights, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible to enter the United States.

The State Department's Notice reiterated the U.S. government's continued commitment to combating corruption, increasing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and promoting good governance globally. 

The Notice continued "[T]he United States stands with the government of Gambia, its people and civil society in support of the Gambia's transition towards greater transparency, accountability, and democratic governance for the benefit of all Gambians." 

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Lebanese businessman, Kassim Tajideen, tied by the US Treasury Department to Hezbollah pleads guilty to money laundering conspiracy in US District Court

Kassim Tajideen *
Kassim Tajideen, a Lebanese businessman who operate businesses in Lebanon and Africa, including The Gambia, has been found guilty of money laundering conspiracy charge brought against him in March of last year.

He was designated by the US Department of The Treasury as an important financial supporter to the Hezbollah terror organization.

Kassim Tajideen, 63, of Beirut, Lebanon, pleaded guilty before US District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, to launder monetary instruments.

According to the statement of facts signed by Mr. Tajideen in conjunction with his plea, he conspired with at least five other persons to conduct over $50 million in transactions with US businesses that violated these prohibitions.  In addition, he and his co-conspirators knowing engaged in transactions of as much as $1 billion through the United States financial system from places outside the United States.

The plea, which must be approved by the judge, calls for a 60 months in prison and for Tajideen to pay $50 million in advance of his sentencing which is scheduled for January 18, 2019.   Since his extradition to the United  State following his arrest overseas, Mr. Tajideen has been in detention since March 2017.

When we first reported Mr. Tajideen's indictment in March of 2017, we warned the then newly installed Barrow administration about Mr. Tajideen who was being investigated at the time by the United State authorities in connection with his business relations with the Kansas-based giant food producer, Seaboard Corporation.

The Kansas company was at the time partnering with Mohamed Bazzi and Fadi Mazziggi in the establishment of the Gambia Milling Corporation in The Gambia. We further advised that to foster a free market atmosphere, the new government must encourage legitimate foreign businesses and investors to do business in The Gambia.  You can access the relevant blog post here.
                                           
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* A reader pointed out that the initial photo that accompanied this blog post was not the image of Kassim Tajideen.  I hope this is the right photo.  Thanks reader.

Monday, December 3, 2018

ECOMIG is not to be used as an instrument of personal power

Adama Barrow :  A dictator in the making? 
President Adama Barrow has been known to commit unforced political errors with such frequency that even some of the egregious ones have been excused, normalized and ultimately attributed to his lack of requisite experience to lead.

Mr. Barrow came to be elected president through the accident of history.  He was the presidential nominee of a coalition of seven political parties plus an independent candidate to contest the 2016 December presidential elections which he ended up winning, unexpectedly.

And when Jammeh, a dictator of 22 years standing threatened to nullify the election results and, ultimately refused to vacate State House, the international community stepped in to enforce the will of the Gambian people by despatching a contingent of ECOWAS mission in The Gambia - otherwise referred to as ECOMIG - with a specific and unambiguous mission of ensuring the security and protection of the Gambian population.  Eventually, Jammeh was forced to step down and forced into exile allowing Barrow to return to The Gambia from Dakar where he sought sanctuary during the political impasse.

The initial mission was to restore democracy which was later extended to include helping the Barrow government initial reform measures.  In a press interview held in Banjul on the occasion of last year's visit of Jean Claude Brou, president of the ECOWAS Commission, to announce the extension of the ECOMIG mandate was quoted thus " I think the security situation has improved but if does not mean that the challenges are not there.  And that is why the ECOMIG and the Gambian forces are here to ensure the safety of the population."

The United Nations Secretary General's representative in West Africa, Mr. Ibn Chambers who accompanied Mr. Brou on the mission revealed that in addition to regional security issues, their mission engaged the Gambian authorities on how the government plans to make good on the pledges made at the May 2018 Donors' Conference in Brussels.

Mr. Barrow's attention since he assumed the presidency in January 2017 has been focussed on how to perpetuate himself beyond the 3-year mandate imposed on him by a Memorandum of Understanding signed by members of the Coalition of 7 + 1 opposition political parties, in his capacity as president.

Barrow's thirst for power and his determination to retain it at all cost, including the risk of putting the entire security of the country in peril, has led him to focus more on political campaign antics than governing a country emerging from 22-years of one of Africa's longest and most brutal dictatorship; an experience that has weakened the country's institutions and has institutionalized a culture of corruption that is well ingrained in the fabric of Gambian society.

The reforms promised, such as the civil service, state-owned enterprises and security sector - to name a few - have fallen victim of the deliberate and calculated decision of President Barrow to focus on his 're-election' bid at the expense of governing.  The pledges Barrow made in Brussels on behalf of his government have also fallen victim because the policy frameworks, including the additional reform measures that will necessarily accompany the programs and projects proposals submitted during the Brussels Donors' Conference will fall short of expectations.

President Barrow's transgressions as a transitional president has reached such alarming proportions that we must stop and take stock of the political and security situation that threatens the peace and stability of a country.  The Mission of the ECOMIG has not changed since it was last modified to include helping government reform its security forces.

Addressing a group of his supporters purportedly from the West Coast Region at State House over the weekend in mandinka, President Barrow boasted of being in full charge of the army, the police, the state intelligence agencies AND ECOMIG and therefore more powerful than Jammeh ever was.

To use Jammeh's name and system as reference, after the suffering his regime inflicted on a defenseless population, is repugnant and an inappropriate system to use as guidance.  And mission and purpose of the state institutions that President Barrow cited i.e the army, police and intelligence agencies being the protection and their institutions is disquieting to see them projected as instruments of personal power. 

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Friday, November 23, 2018

SSHFC staff loan schemes explained

Sidi Sanneh 
Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation's staff loan schemes are known to have been notoriously mismanaged in the past because they lacked stringent and observable terms and conditions.

The laxity in applying standard loan rules appears to have been deliberate to favor the borrower at the expense of the corporation, and by extension its clients i.e. Gambian pensioners and contributors to its allied Funds.

For the schemes to be viable and sustainable, they must be restructured, including the liquidation, in one form or another, the non-performing loans contracted by former staff who have retired or are no longer in the service of the corporation for whatever reason.

During a recent interview, the Managing Director revealed that the total amount of staff loans outstanding stands at D130 million or approx. $2.6 million.  This amount, according to the MD, is probably more that the combined total of the outstanding staff loans of all the commercial banks. There are about a dozen commercial banks i n The Gambia.

There are three loan categories at SSHFC, Building loan which carries an interest of 3%, Car and Personal both carry a 5% interest.

The car loan scheme for senior staff is subsidized with the cost shared at 50/50 with the corporation after every 5 years, but according to sources, this facility is generally abused.  Senior level staff were accessing the scheme every 3 years instead of 5 years and buying significantly less than the value they claim.

For example, one will take a D400,000 car for which the corporation adds D400,000 for an D800,000 but the staff will instead buy a D300,000 and pocket the half a million dalasi difference knowing that in about 3 years another loan request will be made.

A condition of the housing loan is insurance - fire, allied perils and life - but staff was not taking our cover for any of these.  These were issues that the Managing Director and the Board of Directors were starting to correct which resulted in staff resistance from a handful of them.

There is also what is known as "free deduction months".  These are months when no loan deduction is made such as "Tabaski", "Koriteh", Christmas and other religious or traditional occasions which amounts to 5 to 6 months of the year, the impact of which is the automatic extension of the repayment period.

As consequence of these free deduction months, loan repayment periods are automatically extended by up to 10 years instead of the 5 years the laos was originally contracted.  Effectively, the extension means 10 extra years of low interest benefiting the staff and 10 years of lost interest to the corporation.  Whenever interest is waived, interest is also deliberately or inadvertently waived, in either way, it is the corporation that must absorb a tremendous loss.

There is no commercial bank that will loan amounts of the magnitude and at such liberal terms and condition and still expect to remain in business.  The outstanding loan amounts and the laxity of the rules governing these loans are unsustainable and must be addressed urgently.

The abuse will have to stop if SSHFC is to be saved.  And the micromanagement of the corporation from State House and/or the Ministry of Finance must cease.  The current financial trajectory of the corporation is unsustainable.  A few of the staff, especially those who have been benefited the most in the past would want to maintain the status quo despite the threat posed by the current state of the corporation's financial profile.  We say, the party, using pensioners' money, is over.     

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Monday, November 19, 2018

State House did not seek legal advice before signing the airport/border security tax contract with SECURIPORT and no exit clause in the contract.

The contract signed by the Interior Minister with the Washington-based airport security firm, SECURIPORT, and co-signed by the Director General of Immigration and the Secretary to Cabinet of the Office of The President that became effective on the 21st September, 2018 is already posing additional challenges for the Barrow government.

The $20.00 airport security tax for each airline passenger traveling to and from Banjul International Airport - or $40.00 for each return ticket holder - proposed by government to go into effect next January was immediately opposed by airlines and tour operators alike.  FTI, the German tour operator's letter of October 30th, 2018 addressed to the Secretary General informed government that proposed tax comes with added hidden costs of $15.00 due to VAT and rental commissions to be paid in the destination of origin, increasing the total figure to $55.00 instead of $40.00.

FTI's further informed the government that if it is serious in creating a conducive investment climate, authorities must guarantee that additional costs similar to those currently being contemplated will not be implemented because it will have dire consequences.  In fact, the Board of the FTI has directed that should the tax be implemented, any and all investment will be put on hold, including the $100 million the company plans on investing in The Gambia in the next 5 years.  Its summer plans are also being put on hold until an amicable resolution is found.

The TUI Group has also put the government on notice.  For many years, they have been operating to Banjul and have increased the number of flights substantially since. They operate 5 flights per week from Amsterdam and 2 flights from Brussels which means that over 21,000 seats are allocated to The Gambia this winter.  TUI also plans to operate in the summer, all of which will inevitably cause a reduction in tourism spending and therefore negatively impact the local economy should the proposed tax be allowed to take effect. 

Among the reasons advanced by IATA, the international air transport association, on behalf of member airlines was the lack of consultations with airlines prior to implementation.

The setting of airport and air navigation charges falls under the purview of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)'s policies on charges (Document 9082) and taxation (Document 8632) and the manner in which the proposed airport/border security tax was handled by the government seemed to have contravened these regulations.  Tour operators such as FTI, the German tour operator, hotel resorts and others in the business followed suit in objecting to the proposed tax.

In addition to the stiff opposition from airlines and tour operators to the new tax because of the threat it poses to the tourism sector that generates 20% of of the country's GDP as well as the second foreign exchange earner, the contract between the government and SECURIPORT was negotiated and signed without the benefit of any legal advice from the Attorney General Chambers.

And as far as it can be ascertained, the project was neither subjected to rigorous appraisal nor publicly tendered  to attract other eligible companies, making the entire transaction susceptible to standard financial and ethical scrutiny. 

To further compound the problems of the government of Adama Barrow, the contract, according to our sources, doesn't have an exit clause that would allow for the contract to be terminated under certain circumstances specified in the clause.  A standard clause in a government contract gives the government the right to unilaterally terminate a contract with or without giving reason or reasons.  The contractor in certain cases is entitled to a negotiated settlement.

In the case of the SECURIPORT contract, the government can only extricate itself from the contract if it is willing to pay the contractor the full amount of the projected profit the company is projected to earn during the entire contract period of 5 years.  Insufficient due diligence was conducted on the company, otherwise it would have shown that the company's Sierra Leone experience would have been a red flag based on local reporting by Standard Times Press of a US$16M that was allegedly fraudulently billed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

It goes without saying that such a contract clause is as disadvantageous to the government as it is callous disregard of a fundamental norm of making use of a team of lawyers as an integral part of any contract negotiations for the singular purpose of providing legal advice.

In this case the lawyers were conspicuously absent and so where the ministry of Finance responsible for all fiscal affairs of the government, the Gambia Tourism Board and the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority responsible for managing the Banjul International Airport. 

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Border security tax is bad for Gambia's economy, bad for tourism and bad for Barrow's government

Sidi Sanneh 
The persistent and flagrant violations of the open tender process, otherwise designed to encourage and promote competition among prospective bidders, is proving to be the bane of the Barrow administration.

We have seen recently such tender violations in the SEMLEX case, the CHINA BRIDGE AND ROAD CORPORATION and now with the SECURIPORT contract for the provision of border security services at will impose a $20 security tax on arriving as well as departing airline passengers passing through Banjul International Airport.  This means that every tourist visiting The Gambia will see an additional cost of $40 every time they visit the Gambia.

There is no evidence that the award of the contract to SECURIPORT was tendered.  And if exempted, no proof exists that the rationale for the exemption.  The lack of transparency in the tender process almost always results in the wrong company being selected at greater cost to the public treasury than when the project is tendered in an open and transparent fashion.

The impact of the proposed tax is devastating because the demand for air travel is highly sensitive to air ticket prices as well as incomes.  For instance, a 10% increase in the ticket price can result in a 10% reduction in the demand for travel for international long haul leisure flight (elasticity -1.0).  It is therefore important for government to plan well in advance for a series of consultations and to engage an air travel consultant, if necessary, with stakeholders, airlines, tour operators, hotel owners and local tourism-based enterprises.

Obviously, the process that the government adopted lacked transparency and was deliberately exclusionary.  Not only were tour operators excluded from the process that resulted in the border security tax, even government departments such as the Ministry of Finance responsible for all fiscal matter of the Government, the Ministry of Works which is the line ministry of the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority responsible for managing Banjul International Airport and as far as be ascertained, the Tourism Board.

As we have reported recently, the contract was negotiated and signed by the Minister of Interior, Director General of Immigration and the Cabinet Secretary for Government and The General Manager of SECURIPORT (Gambia).  Conspicuously absent from the tender award and negotiations process were the Ministry of Finance responsible for all fiscal matters of the Government, the Ministry of Transportation, Works and Infrastructure,  Gambia Tourism Board and the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority.  It is evident that government's preferred process lacked transparency and was deliberately exclusionary.

The Head of Operations of Meeting Point, The Gambia, a subsidiary of Germany's FTI one of the world's largest tour operators regrets to confirm that there was no consultations and as far as he can ascertain no one from the industry was involved in the process of assessing the new tax.  According to Meeting Point, "not even Gambia Tourism Board and the Gambia Hotel Association were consulted prior to publishing this [meaning the tax] and as far as I am informed, are adamantly opposed to this border tax."

The subsidiary of FTI believes that the border tax will probably discourage many from travelling to The Gambia for the following reasons: (i) the demand for air travel is price sensitive (ii) for many tourists, especially from new markets, Gambia is often not the first choice and when the price is high, prospective visitors will choose another destination  and (iii) the very existence of what is labeled as a "security tax" gives the feeling of insecurity i.e. the feeling that The Gambia is an insecure place; its a bad PR job.

FTI finds the introduction of such a huge tax increase in the middle of the season is something unheard of in any of the markets they operate in. Although FTI has not altered its plans for the Gambia, the same cannot be said of some of its partners where the Gambia is a new product.  In such markets, they are seriously considering withdrawing because the manner in which the tax was being introduced suggests that the Gambian market is unpredictable and cost planning difficult.

Imposing such a tax will  affects FTI's plan to promote summer tourism because, unlike winter months, there are many destinations Europeans can select from at that time of the year.   

The mere fact that government is thinking of implementing a security tax "may deter foreign investments because it shows how unpredictable the government can be and gives the impression they focus on short-term potential gain instead of long-term sustainable growth for the benefit of the Gambian economy and its people," the Head of Operations opined. 

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

French aid to Gambia comprises entirely of grants, says Gambia's Finance Minister

Mamburry Njie -  Gambia's Finance Minister 
The international press reported last week that France's aid package to The Gambia signed last week in the Gambian capital may have gone against IMF warnings to the government that 50% or future financial aid package must be in the form of grants. 

The claim implies that the Euro 50 million French aid package - significantly more than the Euro 30 million press reports - did not meet this criteria and thus will not meet the approval of the IMF.**

Ignoring the Fund's warnings may result, not only in the derailment of the country's Staff Monitored Program but may also affect its standing with other development finance institutions such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank. 

The Gambian Minister of Finance in an email to us confirmed that the French aid package signed recently in the amount of Euro 50 million was the pledge made by France soon after the conclusion of the 2-day Donors Conference on the National Development Plan held last May in Brussels. 

He also confirmed that the entire package, contrary to current reports, is in the form of grant and therefore does not contravene any agreement and its is within the IMF guidelines as it relates to the proportion of grants to loans in any future aid package the country will be contracting.

The Euro 50 million French aid will go towards the financing of access to water in the urban areas to improve and develop sustainable public services and agriculture with the objective to increase food self-sufficiency and develop commercial crops.

Additional financing from the aid package will go towards budget support, the financing of the special audits of state-owned enterprises, support negotiations with external creditors to help the country restore debt sustainability and also to help government ensure that specific health expenditures voted in the 2018 budget are committed and spent before the end of 2019.

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**The difference between the reported figure (Euro 30M) and actual grant figure (Euro 50M) remains unexplained.  As soon as we receive clarification either from government or the French Development Aid Agency (ADF), we will be happy to report back.     

Monday, November 12, 2018

Airport/border security tax contract signed with SECURIPORT

The decision by the Barrow administration to impose a $20 airport/border security tax on passengers going through Banjul International Airport has attracted immediate negative response from IATA and the tourist operators. 

The fact that negotiations have already been concluded and a contract signed with SECURIPORT, a Washington-based security firm has further complicated matters and has posed a real threat to the country's tourist industry.

The contract between Government and SECURIPORT was signed on 21st September, 2018 with the Minister of Interior, Mr. Ibrahim Mballow,  Director General of Immigration, Mr. Buba A. Sagnia and Cabinet Secretary - Office of The President, Mr. Ebrima Ceesay, all three signing on behalf of the Government of The Gambia and General Manager, Securiport Gambia, Mr. Luc Keppens, as the sole signatory for SECURIPORT. 

The contract is for a period of 5 years, according to sources. The profit sharing formula or any financial aspect of the contract, for now, remains unknown. 

Under Addendum IV, the contract is for the provision of Civil Aviation and Immigration Security services and E-Visa Management System services for the Government of The Republic of The Gambia under the Build-Maintain-Transfer modality.

 In view of the threats posed by international terrorist groups in the sub region and in order to identify other dangerous individuals such as drug traffickers and other criminals that would use the Banjul International Airport, the government decided to upgrade its system for the screening of arriving and departing passengers to ensure the safety of the air transportation industry. 

To pay for the cost of the system upgrade, "government has decided to request the airlines to charge a fee to the direct beneficiaries of the system which are all the air passengers arriving and departing the national territory through the international airports."   

The border control fee will be $20 for each arriving and each departing passenger which shall be collected directly by all the airlines operating in The Gambia.  The Addendum made reference to ICAO's Doc 9082 which provides the framework within which charges and taxation to aid in the decision making process for government and airlines to arrive at mutually acceptable conclusions based on the four principles of non-discrimination, transparency, cost relatedness and consultation with users.

Effective 15th January, 2019, the scheme is expected to be operational with "airlines being 100% responsible for fee collection and its payments made monthly to the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA). A late payment fee of 5% will be levied against airlines that will include the impoundment of aircraft and/or the cancellation of landing rights.

Airline crew and staff, children 0 - 2, passengers whose transit time does not exceed 24 hours and passengers whose flights are diverted to the Banjul International Airport re exempt from paying the border security tax. 

As we noted previously, tour operators and IATA are all opposed to the border security tax based on the principles outlined in ICAO's Docs 9082 and 8632 (on taxation) which would require extensive consultations with stakeholders.  The airlines are also demanding the cost bases of the tax, supported by breakdown of costs and revenues as well as traffic forecasts and airport activities, documentation that has been absent up to this point.

This is a developing story.... 
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In subsequent blog post, we will take an in depth look at SECURIPORT, its track record, the manner in which the contract award was handled and why only the Interior Ministry and the Office of The President appears to have been the only one involved in the procurement process, if there was one.  What legal advice was provided, why the Finance Ministry appears to have been left out of the process when the project has huge fiscal implications.  What of the Tourism Ministry?  What about GCAA that runs the airport? Does the threat warrant the huge cost to the economy, to tourism.  This issue is more than a security problem.  

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Airport/border security tax will result in D167m decline in GDP and approximately 2,000 job losses, says IATA

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association of the world's airlines has issued a stern warning to the Government of The Gambia against its decision to introduce what the Barrow administration labeled as border security tax, if levied as is, will have a devastating impact on tourism and air travel into the country. 

It is a $20 tax schedule to take effect on the 15th January, 2019.  Initially, the proposal was for a $40 tax  subsequently halved to its current level which will still going to impact both the economy and tourism negatively, according to industry experts.

Based on industry figures, the introduction of the border security tax will result in 8,500 fewer passengers departing from Banjul International Airport.  The impact will be shared between those travelling within Africa (- 4,200) and those travelling to/from Europe (- 4,000).

The impact to the economy will be equally devastating.  Based on the UN's World Travel Organization (WTO) estimates, 35% of visitors to The Gambia arrive by air and the percentage of those coming from outside West Africa is assumed to be 100%.  The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) on the other hand estimates that total travel and tourism account for 20.1% of Gambia's GDP, generating D9.8 billion and supporting 107,500 jobs.

Consequently, a 5% reduction in demand would lead to a reduction of D167 million in GDP and a reduction of 1,835 in the number of jobs supported by aviation.

IATA's warning to the Barrow administration was accompanied with a reminder to its international obligation as member of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) whose regulatory functions include policies on charges and taxation for decision-making processes, based on these four principles namely: (i) non-discrimination (ii) transparency (iii) cost relatedness and (iv) consultation with users.

As regards to cost relatedness, IATA is yet to be convinced that adequate consultations took place between government and airlines.  They are, therefore requesting that airlines operating in the Gambia be provided with information on the cost bases of the tax, supported with a breakdown of revenues and costs as well as traffic forecasts and airport activities.

In the absence of user consultation and transparent financial information, IATA and its member airlines will not be in a position to evaluate and appreciate the cost relation of the immigration/security services that will be provided and the level and structure of the related user charges.  IATA is thus requesting that a proper consultation mechanism be established so the requested information can be jointly analyzed.

IATA's letter to the Hon. Lamin Jobe, Minister of Transport, Works and Infrastructure dated 6th November, 2018, is recommending the suspension of the border security tax based on the issues raised therein that includes what is referred to as "a meaningful consultation and proper discussions with the airlines."

As regards the introduction of the new immigration/security measures, performance indicators - such as waiting time in security queues, passenger satisfaction, number of security staff, number of passengers screened per hour etc. - must be put in place to measure the quality of service, productivity and cost effectiveness of the new measures.

Government has yet to respond to the IATA letter and the threats by local tour operators to withdraw from the Gambian market or scale back their operations.  The Government has suddenly find itself in yet another dilemma that threatens the country second biggest foreign exchange earner - tourism.  It appears that the government has committed yet another infraction of standard procurement rules and procedures by entering into a contract with SECURIPORT without inviting proposals from other companies that could provide the same service. * 

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* The subsequent blog posts we intend to take a closer look at the SECURIPORT contract, the procurement process and related issues. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Gambian economy expected to grow at 6.6% this year, Finance Minister informs cabinet colleagues

Sidi Sanneh 
The Gambian Finance Minister reveals that the Gambian economy is expected to grow at 6.6% in 2018, which is 2 percentage points higher than the growth registered in 2017.

The convening of the cabinet session was part of the 2019 budget preparation process to prepare cabinet ministers for, what will likely be, the introduction of stringent belt tightening measures designed to lift the economy from its anemic state.

The Finance Minister stated intention, according to the official release, is to instill the ever illusive fiscal that has been promised to our development partners over the years with little success.  As part of the new austerity policy, a temporary freeze has been placed on recruitment into the civil service "unless extremely necessary".

We particularly welcome the rationalization of Gambia's representation abroad.  We have too many missions and embassies in far-flung countries that must be downgraded or closed.  In fact, this should have been implemented by the Jammeh regime back in 2016 as part of the Staff Monitored Program.  We hope that this time, the government will garner enough courage to bite the bullet for once.

Other austerity measures include strict adherence to the travel budget limits imposed on sector ministries.  The release is silent on presidential travel and we hope during the budget exercise, the overall budget of the Office of the President and the Office of The First Lady will be subject to the same prudent allocation and management going forward.

On the government revenue side,  effective January 2019 no physical cash disbursement will be allowed at service points as government initiate the digitization of the payment system to reduce level of cash transactions in the system.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Gambia Government wins a one year temporary reprieve from paying Carnegie Minerals $23 million

The contract dispute between the Australian mining company Carnegie Minerals and the Government of The Gambia in 2008 that resulted in a judgement in favor of Australian company is back in the news.

The arbitration at the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) resulted in an award worth $22 million plus interest and arbitration costs. 

According to African Intelligence newsletter, the ICSID has decided to grant the Government of The Gambia a one year reprieve.  Government, represented by the law firm of Mayer Brown, sought to have the judgement annulled via arbitration and has stalled on its payment to Carnegie in the hope that the court will rule in its favor.

The ICSID's three arbitrators, Canadian lawyer Donald M. McCrea, Nigerian Dorothy Udeme Ufot and Spanish national Bernado Cremades, agreed to stay enforcement of the award against the Gambia for a period of one year on the strength of the argument that for the government to pay the $23 million award could further jeopardize the country's fragile economy.   

Gambia to pay Carnegie Minerals over US$ 22 million for breach of contract

This is a re-publication of a blog post first published in July 2015
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Astron/Carnegie, the Australian mining giant has, in a company news release announced that the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) has awarded damages in its favor.  Carnegie (Gambia) Ltd took The Gambia government to arbitration in 2008 for breach of contract.

For background information leading up to the decision by the ICSID, check hereand here.  You may also want to check this blog, as well, for a complete picture of the story which will end up costing The Gambia several more million before it is all over with.

Total damages awarded to Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd, a subsidiary of Astron/Carnegie of Australia is in the region of US $ 22 million of which about $ 18 million is for breach of the mining licence by Yaya Jammeh, plus interest and arbitration costs of roughly US$ 1.5 million.

According to the Astron/Carnegie release, there is an expiry date by which a party must lodge an appeal.  It is uncertain how long the Jammeh regime has to lodge an appeal, if the government will pursue the option.  If not, the execution of the ICSID judgement which will certainly bankrupt an already financially distressed regime.

As regards Astron/Carnegie, it says in its release that "Astron will consider its options for enforcing the judgement against the Gambian government,"

One more reason why the Jammeh regime MUST GO and NOW.

Carnegie Minerals falls victim of the Gambian dictator



This blog post was first published in 20th January, 2014
Uranium mining in Niger


Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd, a subsidiary of the Australian mining giant, expelled from The Gambia by the dictatorship in 2008 has been found guilty and fined over U.S. $ 200,000,000 by the Special Criminal Court presided by a Cameroonian mercenary judge who is, himself, reportedly under arrest for unknown reason.

It could be recalled that in 2008, security forces raided the offices of Carnegie Minerals in Sanyang village and arrested its Managing Director, Charles Northfield, and accused the company of illegally mining for titanium, iron ore and uranium which was outside the contract which allowed for only zircon, silicon and ilmenite.  Mr. Northfield was later smuggled out of the country by a private British security firm to save their client from certain torment at the hands of a megalomaniac dictator.

In October 2008, following the accusations by the government, Carnegie Minerals(Gambia) Ltd filed for arbitration with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Dispute (ICSI) which is a World Bank body established in the mid 60s for this very purpose.  A tribunal has been established comprising of two Americans and a French national, with both parties engaging the services of legal counsel with Jammeh retaining the services of Mayar Brown Rowe & Maw, Paris, France.  Both parties have already filed a post hearing brief on the 19th September 2012 which signals that final decision of the arbitrators couldn't be too far off after almost six years into the process.

Questions being raised now is why would Judge Nkea proceed with the judgement while arbitration tribunal in Washington is still deliberating.  Is it that Jammeh smelt the rat?  Is it a preemptive move in anticipation of an unfavorable ruling from the ICSI tribunal?  Jammeh's record of honoring binding contracts has been anything but good.  He's walked off contracts, seized private investor's property and has deported investors who end up forfeiting investments left behind in The Gambia.  And as a South African online paper at the time Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd ran afoul of Jammeh aptly put it " Being dispossessed is turning into a common occurrence to those that dare venture into Gambia, and as African countries clamor for investors, the list of countries being forced to leave the West African nation seems to be growing."

Accusing the company of malfeasance and breach of contract in 2008, after operating in the country for almost a decade was suspect.  More puzzling and illogical was the accusation that Carnegie Minerals was mining uranium, iron ore and ilmenite in the sandy beaches of Sanyang village, contrary to the mining concession. Granted, ilmenite was mined in the general area in the late 1950s but, as far as records go, there's no record of discoveries of uranium or iron ore deposits in the village of Sanyang or any part of The Gambia.

According to mining experts, the geology of the area doesn't seem to support Jammeh's claim.  It is seen rather as a ploy to get rid of Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd. in an attempt to seek out a more favorable deal for himself.  After all, the entire petroleum and mining concessions in the Gambia have been negotiated exclusively by the Office of the President with few officials having access to details of contracts signed with foreign entities, including the Carnegie deal.  Since they are not tendered internationally, they remain the exclusive domain of the dictator and few of his officials which explains why those who even worked in the Ministry of Petroleum and officials handling the mining concessions are either in jail or they have their travel documents seized and thus prevented from travelling abroad.  It is an industry shrouded in secrecy and for good reason, as we begin to uncover more of the corruption that permeates the Jammeh regime.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Gambians feel less safe in their own homes, fearful of political violence but confident of the armed forces to protect the territorial integrity of the country


The Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies has released its inaugural national survey conducted under the AFROBAROMETER banner described as a pan-African research network of researchers that conducts opinion surveys on wide-ranging topics such as democracy, governance, economic conditions and related issues. 

The survey methodology includes a sample of the survey that involved 1,200 adult Gambians who were interviewed last July and August that yielded a margin of error +/-3 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.

The survey is as refreshing as it is revealing, covering a wide range of issues that the government is currently grappling with.  On whether ECOMIG should stay or leave, the survey found that Gambians are split on this very vexing issue.  If you are young and between the ages of 18 and 35 or you live in West Coast and Upper River Region who have been identified as men, educated citizens and urban residents are somewhat more likely for ECOMIG to leave Gambia than women, the uneducated and those who live in the rural area.

The respondents, although split on ECOMIG, were certain of their views on the Gambia Armed Forces (GFA).  A majority - 60% - say the GFA "often" or "always" will protect the country from security threats and half (50%) say they are respectful to citizens.  However, only 37% say they get the necessary resources required to be an effective force.

At the personal security level, Gambians feel less secure.  In the past year alone, 40% of Gambians say they have something stolen from their homes, 36% feel unsafe just walking in their neighborhood, 25% fear crime in their homes and one in every fourteen Gambians (7%) claimed to have been physically attacked.

On political violence, the numbers aren't very reassuring either.  For instance, in the last two years, 49% of half of respondents have feared violence during public protest while 53% fear neighborhood violence.  56% of Gambians expect violence at political events and one in six or 17% actually experienced violence in the neighborhood or at political events. 

Public expectations and trust of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) established, among things, to investigate human rights abuses under Jammeh, was found to be low among Gambians.  When Gambians were asked the two most important outcomes of the TRRC, 34% cited national peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and healing, 30% hope for a proper and accurate record of human rights abuses under Jammeh and 28% expects those found guilty of crime to be prosecuted.

On the specific remedies and reparations for victims, they registered the lowest.  However, when taken together i.e. supporting victims and families (16%), returning seized property (12%), offering monetary compensation (8%), offering non-monetary compensation like free education for victims and/or their children and medical care (5%) and offering proper burial for victims (2%), 43% of those surveyed expects the TRRC to extend these remedies to victims and their families.

On the issue of trust, 46% of Gambians trust the TRRC and the CRC "a lot" or "somewhat", 29% trust the commissions or refuse to answer the question.  The TRRC and CRC are the least trusted even though they have barely commenced work in earnest, signalling a rough road ahead for both Commissions.

Among the other key institutions, political parties are among the least trusted with 38% and the highest on the question of trust are religious leaders with 85%  and traditional leaders 71% and the president 67%.

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The Afrobarometer project manager for the Center for Policy, Research and Strategic Studies is Mr. Sait Matty Jaw who heads a ten of ten researchers from the Political Science, Journalism, Sociology and the Development Studies Departments of the University of The Gambia.   

   

Saturday, October 27, 2018

"In search of The Gambian character" by Cherno Njie

Cherno M. Njie
Cherno M. Njie,  Guest Blogger
Austin, Texas. 
October 27, 2018
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From where I sit, the acceptance of an anonymous donation of fifty-seven pickup trucks by members of the National Assembly, channeled through President Barrow, was a troubling sign of the lack of judgment of our elected officials, with few exceptions. It was also an early indication of the latent corruption in the executive branch. The recent furor over the payment of a ten thousand dalasis monthly stipend to some UDP members confirmed, if anything, that a compromised legislature – the branch of government closest to the people – cannot adequately protect our liberty and ensure democratic accountability.

That President Barrow and the legislators have been able to get away with this behavior thus far is a sad reflection of, as it stands, the Gambian character, or lack thereof. Excuse my moral scolding. But I must continue: has not the leader of the UDP and his supporters vociferously defended, excused and justified Barrow’s vehicle “donation?” Stunningly, those same partisans now decry Barrow’s cash payments. What, may I ask, is different ethically between the two incidents to provoke such varied reactions? Hypocrisy, goes the saying, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. To make matters worse, Honorable Darboe, in a fit of misguided loyalty, encouraged Barrow to jettison the coalition agreement’s three-year transition term. He acted dismissively, as if the authors of the accord were unaware of the five-year presidential term in the Constitution. The Vice-President doubled down and threatened to take legal action if President Barrow was held to a three- year term. Thus, the guardrails erected to ensure a disciplined and effective transition were greatly weakened.

When asked by the journalist Omar Wally how he could reconcile his recent proclamation of a food emergency for the country with the profligate travel expenditure of President Barrow, the Vice-President responded that he would need to inquire if the private jet was leased by Barrow himself or the government. While I understand the political jockeying by the two UDP protagonists, and the Vice-President’s momentary tactical disadvantage, these are uncharacteristic political and moral lapses of immense proportions and reason enough that the truth and the national interests – which should be focused on reform and renewal -- must not become a casualty of this internecine tussle. To say that I was deeply disappointed is to admit that I held the Vice-President to much higher ethical standards than the President. He has sacrificed much professionally and personally in a long and honorable struggle for freedom. But his actions have consequences.

Is it any wonder that an emboldened President Barrow, buoyed by his political “godfather’s” blessing, would now want to ride roughshod over anyone who dares to contest his nomination as the UDP candidate in the next presidential election? Unfazed by public outcry for answers, he stayed mum over the large sum of money remitted to the account of the First Lady’s Foundation. And this is only what we have public knowledge of. The belated attempt by the Minister of Information to explain the source of these funds is a fairy tale, only one less credible than the Saudi Arabian fairy tale on the disappearance of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. At least that tale has a Prince. It is tempting to regard Barrow’s behavior as UDP’s just reward, but that would be shortsighted. For this goes further than intra-party politics, and strikes at the heart of our nascent democracy, with implications for national institutions and our fragile political culture. A President disinclined to follow his own party’s rules, and whose ethical lapses are boundless, cannot be expected to be scrupulous in abiding by the Constitution and the nation’s laws. We all now have a stake in restraining this naked power grab run amok.

With our zeal for the New Gambia, we seemed to have forgotten what it was that got us here in the first place. To watch the daily parade of Gambia’s leaders and political elite appear before the Janneh Commission is to witness a procession of alibis and abdications. Surely, these are not all bad people. Yet I cannot help but feel that something has gone awry in our public comportment; something inside has dissolved, succumbed to cynicism and a habit we have developed for indulging helplessness. There is scant moral fortitude. Only look around. The nations that we admire, that we seek to emulate are not perfect, but never are they built upon cultural decay and maintained through moral faint-heartedness. A nation that holds Imam Baba Leigh in equal esteem with the Imams of the Supreme Islamic Council – who gave succor and legitimacy to Jammeh – or regards them as interchangeable, lacks moral depth or self-reflection. A well-functioning society, besides the law, employs moral reproach to sustain, encourage, and elevate what is good in all of us over what is corrupting. When, on the other hand, unsavory fixers of the Jammeh regime sit at the right hand of Barrow, the President may speak with little moral authority.

In case you think these lapses of character are a recent phenomenon, I would remind you that President Jawara, after three decades in power, was persuaded from resigning (if he meant to do so), by PPP stalwarts based on the quaint idea that he was indispensable to the nation. The graveyards, De Gaulle remarked, are full of indispensable people. The failure of leadership has been the rule at pivotal moments in our history, those moments precisely when we needed leaders who were high-minded. It appears, that in discharging the duties of high public office, we tend towards personal gain and the absence of moral courage -- the courage to do what is right for the country.

As a small, close-knit community, the theory goes, we are conditioned to “maslaha,” to want to get along and avoid tension. After all, how can one be disagreeable or judgmental with a fellow citizen if he is a friend, relative, acquaintance, or neighbor you may encounter or socialize with? If we accept the premise, it should too work the other way around. We should be restrained from the misuse of public resources, incentivized to further the national interest or inhibited in flaunting ill-gotten gains. But we know this is not the case. So, we practice a distorted situational ethics by excusing behaviors in some that we condemn in others. We remember an African proverb, that the gorgeous dress of a thief is not a garment of honor. In Gambia, such garments are worn with considerable flourish, eliciting not scorn, but adulation. There is an apt Wolof proverb for this :Nit ku amul jomm, amul dara (A person without honor does not have anything).

I have a long-held fantasy that one day, I will wake up to the news that a prominent public official has resigned on a matter of principle. Perhaps -- just perhaps -- that will begin a cultural shift towards a new ethos of public service infused with radical truthfulness. So, as we inaugurate the TRRC and CRC, let us reflect on what it means to be a Gambian. What values do we want to carry with us? A constitution is only as good as the cultural and societal values of the people it is meant to serve. It does not work in the opposite direction. As the American Justice Scalia once said: every banana republic has a Bill of Rights. To build the Gambia we want, we must be true to ourselves. There are no shortcuts. Character, Integrity, Principle, Courage: they all matter!

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'Stena Drillmax' arrives in offshore Banjul

FAR's Blocks A2 and A5
Stena Drillmax Offshore Banjul 
The Gambia''s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy issued a press release announcing the arrival of the UK-registered drillship 'Stena Drillmax' and onsite to commence the drilling of exploration well in Block A2.

An Australian Security Exchange listed oil and gas exploration and development company known in the industry as FAR is in venture partnership with Malaysia's PETRONAS to eventually develop Blocks A2 and A5 that cover 2,862 sq km located within the Mauritania - Senegal - Guinea Bissau (MSGB) Basin.  The area lies about 30 km offshore in 50 - 1,500m water depth identified by FAR to contain an estimated 1.1 billion barrels of crude.

According to the release, Stena Drillmax arrived on site on Monday, 22nd November and after standard pre-drill operations, the well was successfully spudded on the day, signalling the start of the drilling of the test well.

Mindfully of recent criticisms leveled against the government, the Ministry issued an assurance that periodic progress reports will be provided to the general public "as and when necessary and available."

In a separate release, the Petroleum Ministry stressed the fact that the current operation is an exploration exercise to determine whether commercially exploitable resources exists in the area or not. The exploration well will be "drilled through 1,000 meters of sea water depth to a planned depth of approximately 3,100 meters...an extremely expensive financial undertaken", the second press release concludes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Consultants recommend retrenchment of 79 SSHFC staff is reason for staff protests and unruly behavior

Momodou Camara, President Barrow, MD Manjang 
Addressing a letter to the Director General of the State's Intelligence Service (SIS), inviting him to intervene in a civil/staff matter is the latest act of insubordination by one Kebba Touray, staff of SSHFC, that borders on a threat to the national security. 

This same group of staff organized a demonstration, on company time, and marched to State House demanding the dismissal of the Managing Director who had been in office for less than a year and a half. 

When they didn't get what they wanted, they decided to occupy the headquarters premises of the corporation, padlocked the gates to the offices thus denying public access to a public building, an illegal act committed in full view of Gambia's Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), the Director General of the State Intelligence Services and the Inspector General of Police.

The campaign to have Mr. Manajang's services terminated resulting in open defiance led to President Barrow's decision to appoint a Panel led by Mr. Lamin Samateh, a retired civil servant who, during his three decade of service, had served served as Permanent Secretary, Personnel Management Office and at the Health Ministry among other key positions.  Other members of the panel include prominent Gambians with distinguished service both within the national and international civil services. including the United Nations and the African Development Bank. 

In presenting the Report of the fact finding Panel, Mr. Samateh's statement hinted at several outcomes of their investigations, suggesting the exoneration of Mr. Manjang as Managing Director among other outcomes that would not appear to be favorable to a small band of disgruntled staff who have sustained a well coordinated campaign to sully the reputation of a Gambian who has proven to be a competent and honest professional with a sterling investment banking career.  When the state-owned and -controlled television ran a banner that the Panel has exonerated the Managing Director, it sent the campaigners into a frenzy.

The SSHFC-sanctioned consultancy conducted earlier had reached similar conclusion about Mr. Manajang's competence to lead the corporation when it its draft report to the Board of Directors said "The consultants and authors of this draft report, as a result of observations and discussions, believe that such leadership does exist within the SSHFC", in managing the impending redundancy.  Of course, the far-reaching restructuring the consultants were recommending requires a strong, competent and decisive leadership and they found it among some members of the Senior Management Team (SMT) at SSHFC.

Among the consultants' recommendations were the retrenchment of 79 staff of the corporation, reclassification of other job titles, retraining of remaining staff and, of course, a severance package of affected staff.  Management was presented with two options of either retaining affected staff until the end of their contract or terminating the contracts with an accompanying generous redundancy package that will include notice pay, separation pay and other inducements. 

The financial mismanagement of the corporation that lasted for two decades, except at intermittent intervals when Jammeh experienced some resistance from senior management, "needs a makeover", to borrow the phrase of the consultants.  "This will involve continuous training, focused IT system, separation of investment and the financial management system, organizational and process restructuring, cultural change, new compensation and a new approach to performance management."

The extent of the "makeover" would require not only a cohesive and competent management team to lead the charge but it would require a strong and determined stewardship at the apex of the organizational chart.  And according to the consultants who have had extensive interactions and discussions with Mr. Manjang and senior management, the current MD fits the bill - a view, by our assessment, shared by the fact finding Panel led by the former Permanent Secretary of the Personnel Management Office. 

These findings and conclusions by a team of consultants and a group of eminent Gambians with extensive national and international experience have validated the widely held view that he current Managing Director must be allowed to continue his mission unhindered to implement the reform program of the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation.

Government must urgently endorse the Panel's recommendation and allow Mr. Mohammed Manjang, staff and his Board of Directors to resume work so that they can, together start putting in place the reforms necessary to protect the interest of their clients - pensioners, prospective pensioners and the employers who are contributing to the corporation. 

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