Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Government agrees to 'restore' SEMLEX contract, throwing in voter's card as sweetener

Semlex HQ in Brussels 
The Interior Ministry has written a letter, dated 25th January 2018 and addressed to the the Chief Executive of Semlex, the family-owned company registered and headquartered in Brussels, conveying the decision of the administration of president Adama Barrow to "restore the June 2016 contract."

The proposed restoration of the contract is "subject to re-negotiations on certain terms of the contract that appear to be unconscionable including the percentage sharing," the letter concluded.

The revenue sharing ratio in the old contract calls for a 70 - 30 revenue sharing formula with Semlex retaining 70% to Gambia Government's 30%.

The letter also expressed government's desire "to explore with Semlex the possibility of expanding the contract to include the production of a combined ID and voter's card."  The duration of the contract will also an issue that government would like to discuss with Semlex "in view of the delay in implementation. 

Semlex has 7 days from the date of receipt of the letter to indicate acceptance or otherwise of the government's proposal.  There is no indication that Semlex has responded to Barrow's proposal.

The letter also, in our view, inappropriately informed Semlex, the composition of government's technical committee that will be involved in the review of the June 2016 contract as well as in the negotiations of related aspects of the contract.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is part of the technical committee but our source has informed us that the Chairman, when contacted by Interior and requested to take part in preliminary meetings, firmly turned down the request, presumably to maintain the independence of the IEC.

The legal ramifications of the decision to "restore" a contract that was terminated by the ex-dictator will reverberate sooner than expected in light of the fact that  both Semlex's offices and the CEO's residence in Brussels were raided earlier this month, according to Reuters, in search of evidence in a bribery and corruption scandals involving the company's operations in Africa.

We reached out to the State House Press Director four days ago to comment on the status of the RSP which had a closing date of Thursday, 4th January reopening the tender for Semlex and Prestine.  We are yet to receive a response.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Barrow's first anniversary as Gambia's President - Part II

Adama Barrow in Dubai with SG and prospective investors
Part I can be found here.

If Adama Barrow's  decision to seek refuge in Dakar during the political impasse raised eyebrows, his unannounced and bizarre visit to Brazzaville soon after the assumed office in Banjul left the diplomatic community scratching their heads.

The choice of Congo-Brazzaville as Barrow's first official visit outside as Head of State was naive as it was incomprehensible because the newly-elected president planned and eventually traveled to a foreign land without the knowledge of his Foreign Minister or accompanied by any cabinet minister. 

Gambians had just defeated a dictator of 22 years in an open and fair election and sent him packing to Equatorial Guinea on involuntary exile only to have his successor decide to pay an official visit to another African dictator who has been in power for a total of 33 years with no historical ties.  As a result, the trip was open to wild and unconfirmed speculations.

The one year anniversary of the Barrow administration is not marked only by some diplomatic faux pas.  Perhaps the biggest failure of the new government is in the field of institutional reform.  A transition government's top priority, after 22-years of dictatorship, is to start the process of restructuring institutions that have been weakened or completely destroyed.

Civil Service restructuring was paid lip-service but nothing was done except a casual staff audit that purportedly identified ghost workers.  It is unclear whether action  taken to expunge the names from the employment rolls.

Of course, the oft-promised Think Tank which was officially launched last June amidst great fanfare never quite got off the ground.  The 16-member body was structured to provide expert advise in various fields to the new government.

A Blueprint to held guide the transition to democratic rule was also expected to be developed, either by this body or a different body which never materialized contributing to the lethargic and directionless approach to addressing the urgent issues facing a country that is obviously struggling to emerge from the shadows of Yaya Jammeh.

Not only are the administrative structures built by the dictatorship still intact, the transition government has managed to retain most of the key personnel responsible for directing the affairs of state and had manned the ex-dictator's torture chambers.  The pilferers of the state treasury and looters of the Central Bank still play a prominent role in the Barrow administration despite public outcry and open criticism.

The first year was marked by controversies about procurement issues which seems to be a major preoccupation of the Barrow administration.  In fact, at the risk of duplicating ministerial functions, a unit was created at the Office of the President in charge of foreign investment and headed by a Permanent Secretary that effectively threatens to render both the Investment and Export Promotion Agency at the Ministry of Trade as well as the Public Procurement Agency redundant.

That said, all is not lost as the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of the ex-dictator is providing a window into one of Africa's most prolific kleptocratic regime where known members of the international criminal syndicates effectively ran the economy at a steep cost of the economic welfare of the Gambian people.

Although, there are valuable revelations emanating from the sessions of the Commission of Inquiry, the eventual outcome, as to whether the culprits will face justice in the end, is doubtful because most of them are still operating their businesses  in the country and some are actively supporting the new government. 

The recently passed law establishing the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) holds great promise for the victims who suffered death, torture, false imprisonment, sexual violence, forced disappearance and forced exile.  It is hoped that the TRRC will be concluded successfully so that justice is done in the interest of Jammeh's victims and victims' families.

Dictator Obiang Cannot “Protect” Yahya Jammeh From Justice Equatorial Guinea Legally Bound to “Prosecute or Extradite” Exiled Gambian Dictator

Jammeh with Obiang in Equatorial Guinea 
by Jammeh2Justice Campaign 

(Banjul, The Gambia, January 29, 2018) - Victims of the former Gambian government of Yahya Jammeh and their supporters reacted with indignation to a declaration by the president of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema that he would “protect” the exiled leader from justice.

“By what right can one dictator protect another from justice?” asked Baba Hydara, son of Deyda Hydara, editor of The Point newspaper who was murdered in 2004. “Those of us whose relatives were killed, who were tortured or raped in prison, who were shot for peacefully demonstrating, who were forced into Jammeh’s phony HIV ‘treatment’ program, have a right to justice that will not be denied, and we will fight however long it takes.”

Jammeh fled The Gambia in January 2017 for exile in Equatorial Guinea after losing December 2016 presidential elections to current president Adama Barrow.

In the meantime, President Barrow of The Gambia said in several press interviews on January 25 that he was “more than willing” to open discussions about Jammeh’s extradition if that course was recommended by Gambia’s Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission which has been established by legislation.

Presidents Obiang and Condé have no right to usurp the decision of the Gambian people as to whether Jammeh’s alleged crimes should be prosecuted,“ said Madi Jobarteh,  Program Manager for the Association of NGOs in the Gambia (TANGO). ”The African Union and ECOWAS should support our demands for justice, as they did in the Hissène Habré case, and not stand in our way.”

The Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice, which brings together Gambian victims and national and international rights groups, noted thatthat the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Equatorial Guinea ratified in 2002, obliges states to either prosecute or extradite alleged torturers who enter its territory. On July 20, 2012, in a unanimous decision, the International Court of Justice ruled that, because of this “no safe haven” provision in the torture convention, Senegal was obliged to prosecute or extradite Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré, who was put on trial shortly thereafter.

“By suggesting that once you have been a head of state you can never be prosecuted no matter what crimes you commit against your people, Obiang and Condé want to give rulers a blank check to murder and torture with complete impunity,” said Ayeesha Jammeh, whose father Haruna Jammeh, and his sister Marcie, cousins of Yahya Jammeh, were murdered  in 2005 after criticizing the former leader. “We Gambian victims won’t accept that and I’m sure no one in Africa will.” 

Ironically, in his farewell speech as African Union president two days later, Alpha Condé announced that “we are no longer a trade union of heads of state who protect each other.”

In 22 years of autocratic rule, Jammeh’s government used killings, enforced disappearances, torture, intimidation, sexual violence, and arbitrary arrests to suppress dissent and preserve its grip on power. In one 2005 incident, over 50 migrants, including 44 from Ghana, were massacred by Jammeh’s security forces. Jammeh coerced some 9000 Gambians—the great majority of whom were living with HIV—into receiving his herbal remedies through a sham “Presidential Alternative Treatment Program.”

The Campaign said that it was seeking Jammeh’s extradition for trial in The Gambia, but understood that this could take several years as political, security and institutional concerns need to be addressed before Jammeh could get a fair trial that would help promote the rule of law in The Gambia.

“President Obiang, whose government continues to use torture, arbitrary arrests and extra judicial killings against its critics, cannot be allowed to hide behind the mantle of ‘African solidarity’ to deprive the people of The Gambia of justice,” said Tutu Alicante, head of EG Justice, the leading organization campaigning for human rights in Equatorial Guinea. 

groups participating in the Campaign include: The Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations, the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, Article 19 West Africa, Coalition for Change in Gambia, TANGO, EG Justice (Equatorial Guinea), TRIAL International (Switzerland), Human Rights Watch,  Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers,   Aids-Free World and La Fondation pour l'égalité des chances en Afrique.   The Campaign’s Facebook page is

For more information, please contact:
Campaign spokesperson Fatoumatta Sandeng  + 220 381 4633  (WhatsApp only)
Human Rights Watch: Reed Brody    + 1 917 388 6745
TANGO – Madi Jobarteh +220 999 5093
The Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations:  Priscilla Ciesay +220 717 9684

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The surprise return of the generals and the national security implications

Arriving in the early morning hours of last Sunday, and by all indications unhindered and unquestioned by immigration officers, at Banjul International Airport from Equatorial Guinea via Morocco on Royal Air Maroc flight, were army generals Umpa Mendy and Ansumana Tamba who were part of  Jammeh's entourage that fled to Equatorial Guinea on involuntary exile. 

The two military officers apparently were processed through immigration and customs without any problems as they left the airport for their respective homes.  They were arrested between noon and 1PM or 12 hours after they arrived in the country and are now in military custody, according to the Chief of Defense Staff, Masanneh Kinteh.

Like the others in the Jammeh entourage, these two are among Jammeh's most trusted lieutenants and close confidantes.  They have spent an entire year living in involuntary exile with the ex-dictator's wife, children and mother until they decided that living in Malabo has become unbearable and thus decided to return to The Gambia.

According to the CDS, the military authorities are investigating the circumstances surrounding the arrests which will also look into the motives of the two generals.  When asked whether they had any subversive materials in their persons, the CDS was unable to disclose anything of substance while the investigations are in progress.

The return of the two generals is not the first time members of Jammeh's entourage have abandoned him and returned home, that included ex-ministers, parliamentarians and senior civil servants of the Jammeh regime.  This is however the first time that senior military officers have parted company with Jammeh who is left with the Republican Guard Commander Gen. Saul Badgie, Jammeh's ADC Capt. Wandifa Barrow and Lt. Col. Amadou Joof.   Jammeh's mother and a few household staff are still in Equatorial Guinea.

Perplexed by the nonchalant demeanor of CDS Kinteh during his radio interview, considering the seriousness of the obvious security breach that occurred last Sunday morning at the Banjul International Airport, we reached out to our sources who expressed not only the serious nature of the breach but its implication to national security.

How can two prominent and highly visible military officers performed all airport formalities without being held for questioning,, one source asked?  Didn't they recognize them? Why did it take over 12 hours, based on the timeline provided by the CDS, before they were arrested and held in custody?  What happened within the 12-hour window?  Were any seditious materials or arms and ammunition found in their persons?

Do you know the chilling effect this will have on present and prospective investors?   The entire episode makes no sense.  There's a high degree of complicity and it is the duty of the Barrow administration to get to the bottom of the matter and let the chips fall where they may.

There are so many questions that deserve answers from both the military and the national security agencies, but also from the government of Adama Barrow.  The peace is threatened now more than ever before.

The frustration of the current security and political trend in the country is summed up by Gambian activist when he said in a Facebook entry and we quote : No political party that backed a despot ever had a seat in gov.  None.  But in Gambia, they make up the majority of of all appointments including thieves that oversee the protocol of a whole...president.  So why can't perpetrators come home? unquote.  Could Yaya Jammeh's grand entry be far behind?


Monday, January 22, 2018

Barrow's first anniversary as Gambia's President - Part I

Adama Barrow in Dubai with SG and prospective investors
When Adama Barrow, a little known 51-year old real estate agent was tapped by a Coalition of political parties as its flag-bearer, in the December 2016 presidential elections, the political odds were stacked against him to succeed in dislodging an entrenched dictatorship that was on its 22nd year.

National, and well as international political pundits, were all caught flat-footed when the Independent Electoral Commission announced that Mr. Barrow had won the elections by 43% of the votes to 40% for the sitting dictator with 17% shared by the rest of the opposition. 

The strategy for the opposition had always been to ramp-up the international campaign against one of Africa's most brutal dictatorship - a campaign that had gained appreciable traction in the previous couple of years, in anticipation of a rigged election that will declare Jammeh the winner. 

Thus when the unanticipated happened on December 1st, with the announcement of the election results, the scramble started.  It became evident then, as now, that the Coalition of 7 +1  parties were unprepared to assume the mantle of political leadership.  The new president-elect lacked the prerequisite governance experience for the huge task of leading a country, especially one that is emerging from two decades of dictatorship that emptied the public treasury, destroyed the economy while leaving a trail of hallowed-out and dysfunctional public institutions in its wake.   

The political impasse that followed the refusal of the defeated dictator to vacate State House only compounded the problems of the incoming government of Adama Barrow.  Concerned about his personal security, the president-elect decided to seek temporary refuge in Dakar instead of returning to Banjul after attending the Francois Hollande's Franco-Africa Farewell Summit in Bamako - a move considered by many as Barrow's first political and diplomatic blunder. 

Accompanied by a handful of political neophytes with neither diplomatic nor national security experience to their name, the president-elect Dakar sojourn engineered by a couple of African heads of state was ill-advised.  It is public knowledge that some members of the transition team were not in favor of Barrow taking refuge in Dakar where he's likely to be exposed to the diplomatic elements that were not necessarily favorable to Gambia's national interest. 

"Macky (Sall) had him all to himself from Bamako to Dakar and only God knows what transpired in those critical days", lamented a key player in the coalition, who was worried that Barrow would sell all of what's left of the family jewels to Senegal before returning to Banjul to his coalition partners.

This sentiment was generally shared by Gambians who thought he should have returned home directly from Bamako to be with the rest of his coalition partners to provide the leadership necessary to face the belligerent dictator who'd refused to step down following his electoral defeat..  After all, the ECOMIG forces had already taken positions in key strategic points of the country to protect the incoming government and to flush Yaya Jammeh out of State House, if necessary. 

Seeking refuge in Dakar, ostensibly to the physical safety of president-elect Barrow, was considered the first misstep of the new government that may have lasting repercussions, including but not limited to what is increasingly looking like a win for the Senegalese leader for successfully extracting a most favored nation status for Senegal when The Gambia was at its most vulnerable state.


Part II will look at other aspects of Year One of the Barrow administration and the way forward 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

SEMLEX offices in Brussels raided by police searching for money laundering evidence

Semlex CEO, Albert Karaziwan
Belgian police today Wednesday raided the offices of SEMLEX, a Belgian-registered biometric company that prints passports for African countries in search of evidence.

According to Reuters, a dozen police officers arrived at the offices of Mr. Albert Karaziwan, the CEO of SEMLEX, and at his home in Brussels in the early hours of the morning. 

Reports have it that the Belgian authorities are searching for evidence that could lead them to money laundering scheme for which the company has been suspected of for sometime now.

Last May, we reported that the company is under investigation by the Belgian authorities - a claim SEMLEX vehemently denied at the time, and proceeded to shrugged it off as malicious reporting in an attempt to tarnish their corporate image.

Reuters is quoting the spokesperson for the Belgian federal authorities that they "are carrying out those searches in a case of possible money laundering and corruption.

Semlex's business record on the continent is abysmal that has stretched from Guinea-Bissau to the Comoros where, in both cases, the contract for the printing of passports have ended in endless litigation and accusations leveled at the company for selling passports to non-citizens, including, it is alleged, to terrorists, inviting many African governments to distance themselves from SEMLEX.

In the Gambia where SEMLEX have tried to hold on a contract initially granted during the regime of ex-dictator Yaya Jammeh.  The contract was subsequently cancelled on the orders of Jammeh.  When Adama Barrow assumed office a year ago, SEMLEX reappeared and demanded the reinstatement of the contract.

As a result of the current investigations into the business affairs of SEMLEX, it is advisable for the Gambia to disqualify it from further consideration of the current and future contracts in The Gambia until a conclusive outcome is reached in the investigations. 

Meanwhile, civil society organizations in The Gambia are encouraged to request the Belgian authorities to share with them any of their findings that relate to SEMLEX's operations in the Gambia.  The government of Adama Barrow is also encourage to formally approach the Kingdom of Belgium to offer its cooperation by providing any information that will help them in their investigations.             

Saturday, January 13, 2018

SEMLEX refuses to participate in the re-tendering of the biometric ID/Passport project

SEMLEX Headquarters, Brussels 
According to our sources, Semlex, the Belgian family-owned biometric company,  has refused to honor government's invitation to submit its bid proposal following government decision to re-tender the National ID/Passport project after a contentious bidding process that favored the Belgian company. 

Pristine Consulting, a wholly-owned Gambian company, by contrast, submitted its proposal to government before the deadline.

Semlex refused to honor government's invitation because they felt entitled to being re-awarded the contract without competing for it. 

The company is adamant that the Barrow administration should ignore all procurement protocols and award the contract to them.  Semlex's insistence is perplexing as it is an arrogant display of chutzpah by a company with such poor record that stretches from Guinea Bissau to The Comoros.   

Their rationale is they were awarded the contract under Jammeh which, it so happens, was terminated few months before Jammeh lost the December 2016 elections.  An attempt to re-award the contract to them failed which led to the decision to re-tender the contract.

As at Noon, Thursday 4th January, 2018 when was the closing date for the submission of tenders, only Pristine submitted a proposal. According to our sources, Semlex representatives visited Banjul a few days before the closing date and met with government officials.  The reason for the visit cannot be ascertained at this time. 

Based on well sourced information and by every known procurement rule and procedure, if there is only one responsive bid, as it is the case here, the government is obligated under the procure rules to negotiate with the bidder that substantially complied with the invitation to bid.  Government cannot award a contract to a bidder that refuses to honor its invitation to submit a bid proposal.   

President Barrow speech at the "Stake in the Nation" Consultative Dialogue meeting at Kairaba Hotel

President Adama Barrow 

Consultative Dialogue on the
Stake in the Nation:
Attaining Progress in the New Gambia
Date:13th January 2018

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, it is a blessing indeed that I stand before you today to deliver the first Stake in the Nation address. I speak with you about the challenges, opportunities and the actions that we must all take, whether we are at home and abroad. We all have stake in ensuring we attain progress in our beloved country, the New Gambia. For nearly a generation, our time, resources and efforts were spent to oppose, counter and defeat the dictatorship and the brutality it represented.

One year after our victory, I proclaim to the nation that never again shall we suffer the brutality, humiliation and the injustice of dictatorship or accept the victimization of our people.  We should now fight for the best course of actions. We have a National Development Plan (NDP) and we must focus on the having operational excellence to succeed its implementation.

We must be vigilant against the fundamental development challenges we face; and be vigilant for the new opportunities we have created for ourselves. We all fought to give us the freedom and human rights stolen from us for too long. Therefore, let us be humble, honest and open in our reflections; and accept our shortcomings and learn the appropriate lessons. As I said in my statement to the Gambian diaspora in New York last September, “a government that listens and learns is a government that improves and succeeds”.

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, we must be vigilant against the problem of a dysfunctional public sector. As President of the Republic, I urge all ministries and all citizens to embrace nation building, with dignity for the Gambian people. Those of us elected or appointed to public office are obliged to safeguard the human, civil and development rights of citizens, and to provide quality services to the citizens.  This is an obligation in our political, social and legal contracts. My administration believes that fundamental and enlightened change is needed in the public sector.

The anniversary of the formation of the coalition government is an occasion for reflection. We will continue to pursue the public sector reform programme for comprehensive change to entrench public interest in the services.

The Gambia needs a modern, professional, credible and well-motivated civil and public service who would live up to their oath to serve without fear, favour or ill will.  Our reforms will attract and retain the best skilled and most experienced. Competence and performance will be rewarded, whilst support and incentives will be provided to stimulate professional development. Incompetence, unfairness and indifference have no place in the public sector of the New Gambia.

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, we must be vigilant against the problem of corrupt practices. My administration declares intolerance to all forms of corrupt and fraudulent practices. Misappropriation of funds, bribery and corruption in public office are illegal, disgraceful as well as breed mis-trust, and negative acts.

In the New Gambia, public office is a means for noble service for the good of the people. My administration is working to create a vibrant social economy, facilitating legitimate wealth creation through provision of socially beneficial goods and services.

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, we must be vigilant for the opportunity of          infrastructure-led development. We need good roads and other social amenities, such as water, energy and sewerage systems to complement the development of private citizens and communities. If we have appropriate and world class infrastructure in place, that can trigger the medium and long term transformation of The Gambia from a country with high levels of unemployment and poverty, to medium income status. We have the opportunity to create a growing and inclusive economy that provides well-paid and sustainable jobs for all levels of skills.

Infrastructure and energy investments will fuel our economy, sustained by merit-based career, enterprise and wealth creation opportunities maximally utilising Gambia’s human resources.

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, we must be vigilant for the opportunity of              diaspora-development. The enormous capacity, capabilities and potentials of the diaspora are not fully utilised by The Gambia. This is a loss to our country.  My administration recognises the Gambian Diaspora as the Eighth Region of The Gambia.

In September 2017, I declared that 15 December to 14 January as Gambia Diaspora Month, for Gambians across the world to come home, meet family, network amongst themselves, meet government officials, explore projects and ventures, and generally find ways to enhance their practical engagement in Gambian development.  I am glad that hundreds of Gambians have responded positively.  They have spent millions of dollars in the real economy, engaging with existent and new partners, and generally exploring and enjoying their productive engagement in their motherland.

My administration, through the new Gambia Diaspora Directorate and other mechanisms, will seek to remove unnecessary bureaucratic barriers; assist diaspora individuals and organisations to implement their projects; in order to enhance diaspora interventions to create jobs and improve development outcomes. We need to protect irregular, young and vulnerable migrants, and when necessary, facilitate their safe and voluntary return home, in line with human rights provisions. Most importantly, we strive to realise the United Nations vision that, ‘migration should be a choice, not a desperate necessity’.  To that end, my administration, through inter-ministerial cooperation is taking meaningful steps to create opportunities and options for education, employment and training for young Gambians and returnees.

Through the Migration and Sustainable Development in The Gambia Project (MSDG), we have already demonstrated the benefits of a well-coordinated approach to working with the diaspora. One of the leading experts in the world on international development and global migration is the Director of GK Partners, a Gambian diaspora, Professor Gibril Faal. We recognise his efforts in having a fully funded progamme, providing induction, training, technical briefings and guidance to the government to make the best out of migration. My administration was pleased to sign a Technical Cooperation Project agreement with GK Partners to ensure that the best experts in the field, who happen to be Gambian, are working for Gambia. We also expect to work with all experts on the public sector reform and other urgent and important priorities. 

On behalf of the MSDG Project, I express my thanks specifically to the government of Switzerland and the European Union for their support and cooperation. 

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, on the occasion of the First Stake in the Nation Forum, you will have the chance to discuss specific and technical matters. I am sure that you will have productive and focused deliberations.

I would like to congratulate Professor Faal of GK Partners and the entire MSDG team. I also take this opportunity to thank all government ministries, departments and agencies that have been supporting the MSDG initiative. 

It is now my honour and delight to launch the following:
  1. The Gambia Diaspora Strategy
  2. The Gambia Diaspora Directorate
  3. The government report on ‘Curbing Irregular Migration through Sustainable Livelihoods’.
I wish you all a good day as we look forward to the Second Stake in the Nation Forum in 2019.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Any government vehicle/transport policy must be an integral part of a comprehensive civil service reform

Government television (GRTS) viewers were surprised by the one-sentence announcement from the Finance Ministry informing the audience that the new vehicle policy that was approved by the National Assemble as part of the 2018 Budget was being suspended before it is implemented.

The terse statement left open the reason for the decision which invited speculation from various quarters as to what led to the abrupt about face.  It becomes even more puzzling to those unfamiliar with the structure of the civil service and the importance of access - not misuse - to official transport can be difference between losing a senior officer to the private sector or an international organization and retaining him or her in the service.

During the 2018 budget process, we learned that Gambian taxpayers are saddled with an annual vehicle maintenance bill of D 300 million which is approximately $ 6 million that works out to D 150 every year for every man. woman and child in The Gambia.  And this figure is just to fuel an ever growing fleet that comprises of some of the world's most expensive car and four-wheel drives. 

Expenditures on the purchase of new cars are treated under separate account which, in our view should be zero.  Government should not spend a dime for the purchase of new vehicles.  The moratorium on new car purchases should be on place for as long as the situation demands it.  In fact, some luxury cars should be be put on the auctioned block to reduce the size of the fleets.

As we have said earlier, the use of an official car has implicitly become an earned employee privilege and an important component of the package as one of the 'perks'  that attracts talent in the same way that fresh graduates in the 60s and early 70s were assured a government loan to buy a car to go along with their newly acquired 'senior service' status. 

The reintroduction of a car loan scheme for civil servants is an important component of  the government's attempt to shift some of the financial burden away from the budget into the persona finances of civil servants but that is only part of the story which may explain why there's stiff resistance from the bureaucrats, and perhaps from President Barrow. 

The bigger picture entails a comprehensive reform of the civil service which will review not only the size and professional and non-professional mix of the service but the schemes of service of the various classifications of staff.  Salary increases - to be financed from savings realized from the restructuring - and other entitlements, should be an integral part of the exercise. 

Limiting access to official an official vehicle without increasing salaries and allowances, thus effectively reducing the civil servants' benefits package will be an unwelcome policy initiative as the Finance Minister was quick to realize.  In short, because the problems facing the civil service are intertwined, the problem must be handled holistically.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

ECOMIG reportedly on high alert as Jammeh's herds of cattle are being readied for confiscation

The ECOMIG forces who entered The Gambia last January to secure the peace while the ex-dictator Jammeh was being forced into involuntary exile after losing the December 2016 presidential election, is reportedly on high alert in the Kanilai area of the Foni.

The reason for the move is to prepare for the evacuation of Jammeh's herds of cattle are being readied for evacuation and confiscation, an issue that was the subject of investigation by the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of the former dictator.

Kanilai residence and those living in the general vicinity have been asked by the ECOMIG Senegalese Commander to either stay indoors or outside the area while the operation is underway.  According to a source in the area, the order has caused villagers to panic resulting in some fleeing to satellite villages.

An observer of the political scene in the Fonis also pointed out the fact that the APRC caravan led by Fabakary Tombong Jatta who were on a nation-wide tour are scheduled to pass through the Foni shortly and he is worried that this might create unnecessary and avoidable tension.

Southern Senegalese forest 
Regional security concerns have been further heightened by the fact that thirteen Senegalese youth who were out collecting wood in the Bayotte forest were killed by armed band, seven others wounder and two escaped.   The incident occured 12 miles from the regional capital of Ziquinchor located in the southern region of Senegal.

According to the Senegalese Press Agency (APS), " the attackers would have passed the buffer zone separating the positions of the Senegalese army from those of the MFDC rebels."   A Senegalese army inquiry has been launched to determine whether the MFDC rebels were responsible for the attack which is a worrying development regardless who carried out the attack.

Although the ECOMIG high alert around the Kanilai area appears unrelated, it is  nonetheless a matter for concern given the proximity of the native village of Yaya Jammeh to the Casamance border.   

Monday, January 8, 2018

Panama Papers: Over $ 500 million recovered by tax authorities worldwide

Sidi Sanneh 
More than $ 500 million has been recouped by tax authorities worldwide after the Panama Papers revelations, first published in April 2016, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Spain alone has collected $ 122 million after investigation into the affairs of those who have been stashing money offshore.   

Among the countries represented in the Panama Papers data, a total of 15 – on three continents - have publicly commented on the amount of taxes recovered by tax authorities.  

Of equal importance is the tax authorities have been able to identify, in many instances, the sources of the proceeds deposited in these accounts.

This number, according to ICIJ, could keep growing with several countries still conducting audits on the basis of the Panama Papers information.  In Canada, 123 audits are underway and several criminal investigations are ongoing, according to the Canadian Revenue Agency.  South Korea also reported having recouped $ 1.2 billion in taxes this year, although it is not clear what percentage is directly connected to the Panama Papers.

Last July, the German federal police agency announced it had bought the Panama Papers data.   The agency conducted raids and has so far frozen two million euros.  Danish tax authorities also acquired portion of the Panama Papers data and are investigating 320 companies and 500 to 600 individual linked through the data to Denmark.

Arrests related to the Panama Papers are taking place in Panama as part of investigations into Brazil’s largest ever bribery scandal known as Lava Jota.   

Meanwhile, ICIJ’s partners continue to explore the Panama Papers data for new leads.  In Bolivia, ICIJ partners unveiled last October the use of Panamanian company by American businessman Jacob Ostreicher to do business in Bolivia.  Ostreicher was arrested in 2011 on suspicion of money laundering.   His business partner was subsequently jailed while he fled Bolivia, according to ICIJ, thanks to the help of the American actor Sean Penn, who helped get him transferred from prison to house arrest, which he then left behind.

One of the most remarkable development s of the Panama Papers in 2017 unfolded in Pakistan last July when the Supreme Court, in an unanimous vote, removed the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from office.    
With the exception of few details, the entire blog post is based on the reporting of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.  

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Over a hundred Gambian migrants sent home from Libya; UK's DFID sends an audit team to Banjul

Gambian migrants returning home from Libya 
Euronews is reporting that over one hundred illegal immigrants from Libya have been sent home by the United Nations International Organization for Migrants (IOM). 

According to Euronews, " the Gambian migrants left Misrata airport on a one-way flight back to The Gambia in a bid to ease severe overcrowding in Libya's detention centers."

The population in the detention centers has risen dramatically this year as a result of the increase in banditry and roving armed militia resulting in the effective shutting down the boat route to Italy.

IOM has stepped up its evacuation of migrants evacuating over 1,500 migrants in the final months of 2017. 

It is believed that the Libyan authorities decided to step of the deportation of migrants as a result of the recent CNN report of African migrants being sold as slaves in slave markets around the country that is under the control of numerous armed factions.

In a related development, we've come to learn that The British aid agency, DFID,  has sent a team to Banjul to conduct an audit of the programs they are funding there.   We are told that the outcome of the audit exercise will be shared across agencies, including the European Union.


Monday, January 1, 2018

President Adama Barrow's New Year Statement

Fellow Gambians

Let me start by thanking almighty Allah (SWT) for making us all witness the end of this eventful year, and beginning of the New Year with high hopes and aspirations for a better future.
 As I extend the traditional national New Year greetings of goodwill and prosperity to you, I wish to take this opportunity to share some of the highlights of the passing year. It is also a time for reflections and analysis of the coming year and beyond.
 In twenty days’ time, it will be exactly one year when I was sworn in as the President of this country following my election on December 1st 2016. The refusal of the former president to accept the outcome of those results, set into motion sequence of events with far reaching political, socio-economic and security implications, which has greatly affected smooth functioning of the state machinery. 
Indeed, when you elected me as the president of this beautiful country, it was no mistake that the task ahead of me is not only challenging but also huge and demanding. However, never in my mind have I doubted our great potentials to rebuild our country. We have the human resources comprising of talented youthful population, as well as the geographical advantage to make this great country a force to reckon with in the sub region.
That is my belief and it is anchored on the fact that I have confidence in my administration but more so in you Gambians to collectively transform our economy, deepen our democracy and rule of law.
In the face of a commanding resistance, you must be applauded for taken your country back from the dictatorship that far too long strangled our country, suppressed our potential to grow, dwarf our spirit and confidence to compete on the global stage. This is not just an incredible feat but a clear manifestation that with the collective efforts and sacrifice of Gambians here and abroad, no challenge facing our country is impossible for us to handle.
This is why my administration is working tirelessly to ensure that there in transitional justice, while we undertake the needed processes for institutional, social and political reforms.   We must all set our mind that together we can set the standards for a prosperous nation now and for the next generations.
However, it is clear that we did not begin this task with the best of the conditions.  We started from a position undermined by decades of mismanagement and undemocratic consolidation of power, that weaken our institutions, our coffers not only emptied, but we are loaded with huge debt.  The country has debts of more than 1 billion US dollars which is a staggering 120% of debt to GDP, this is equivalent to each household owing about 4500 US dollars. In addition, state assets have been neglected. Electricity is a case in point.  
NAWEC Generators have not been maintained and have been run into the ground. In October two generators were shut down for scheduled overhaul, but in the course of a few weeks three other generators broke down, this caused unacceptable power cuts.
I must say I was deeply encouraged by the level of patience demonstrated by the Gambians under the difficult condition. As a government, we have taken the decision to plan for additional new power plant as a medium and long-term plan and a complete overhaul of the ageing generators. My Government has set out an energy Roadmap to help fix the continuous energy crisis. This plan is already attracting donors and investors.
These are some steps we have undertaken for this country to graduate from isolation and collapse economy to a vibrant destination for investors and a centre of attractions for people in the sub region and beyond.
During the year under review my administration has forged relationship with many development partners and made so many genuine friends within a short span of time.  We engaged many partners to rebuild our economy but also our social ties across religious, geographical and political boundaries. This goodwill has since translated into benefits as we see signs of progress in our democracy and macro-economic status. The port has seen an increase in trade. Tourism has recovered and there is a mark improvement in our macro-economic status.
The GDP growth for 2018 is projected at 3.8 percent compared to a growth of 2.2 percent in 2016. The agriculture, industry and service sectors are all expected to register positive growth compare to the year ending.
Inflation has reversed its rising trend declining from 8.8 percent in January to 7.4 percent in October 2017 reflecting the gradual decline in food prices and stabilization of the Dalasi.
Treasury bill rates have declined between September 2016 and September 2017. This has reduced the cost of Government’s borrowing by close to 50 percent and this trend is set to continue in the coming year.
The Dalasi has remained stable since April 2017; with gross international reserves increasing from less than one month of import cover at end-2016 to well over 4 months by the end of year under review.

Fellow Gambians and friends of The Gambia,
Given that no country can survive in global isolation more so a small country with limited natural resources like ours, one of the first assignments of my government is to return our country into the fold of the international community. We have already set the ball rolling for re-joining the Commonwealth and other international bodies such as the International Criminal Court and we have also reaffirmed our membership in the international centre for settlement of investment disputes to encourage and restore Investors’ confidence.
My administration has already signed the Trade Facilitation Agreement with the World Trade Organisation, to ease access to markets and have an improved investment environment.
Fellow Citizens,
We have since restored free speech and freedom of the press. Politics of fear and intimidation have no place in today’s Gambia. We usher in an age of dialogue and transparency. My Government also encourages all Gambians to be informed and engaged. This is demonstrated by the increase in youth and women participation in the democratic process.  We have encouraged openness to the media to promote dialogue and understanding on our national issues, thus promoting freedom of expression and opinion.  
Fellow Gambians,
In the development process, it is practically impossible to take on all development challenges at once, this is why privatization and focus is important. In this regard, following careful consideration I have personally identified the following five thematic areas as my presidential priorities during my tenure of office.

Energy and Infrastructure,
- Agriculture,
- Health
- Education and Youth Empowerment
- Tourism,  

These areas will be monitored with keen interest to ensure that my Government achieves key milestones and targets which are now being worked out at the technical level.

It is also important to note that these presidential priorities have also been incorporated in the National Development Plan as required. This government blueprint which has already been validated is an all-inclusive plan with clear vision and implementation strategies.

In conclusion, as we usher in the New Year, let us make firm resolutions as a country with the bold objective of constructive change and work towards achieving exciting new possibilities in our personal lives, as well as in the life of our nation.

I urge all Gambians and friends of The Gambia to redouble our efforts and dedication to timely and effective implementation of our development plan.  This requires sectoral leadership in the ministries, departments and agencies to monitor and supervise the implementation and outcomes of the National Development Plan.

And let us go forward into 2018 with optimism and faith in our ability to achieve and succeed.

I pray to almighty Allah to grant us all a New Year filled with good health, prosperity and happiness.

Thank you