Monday, June 25, 2018

Editorial: Moratorium on land dereservation and reclassification until all relevant laws are reviewed

Sidi Sanneh 
Senegal is displaying its national colors on the world stage with gusto and confidence while we continue to be consumed by complacency and self doubt.  And as a result, we have transformed ourselves into a nation of pitiful crybabies with a panache for peddling the art of fear mongering, as our neighbors in the region, including post-conflict countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire take strident steps to pull themselves from the rubbles of years of civil strife.

Even Guinea-Bissau, once in a permanent state of military coup d'etat is beginning to mend its ways as some of its key economic indicators compare favorably to Gambia's.  Yes, a good part of our predicament is Jammeh's doing but for how long are we going to continue putting all the blame on him.  It's time for us to assume personal responsibility.

Although, we successfully extricated ourselves from 22 years of brutal dictatorship and, thankfully, averted a catastrophic ending in the process, we are still faced with the imminent threat of sliding into chaos due to the mind-numbing inertia and an unacceptable and crippling level of corruption of the Barrow administration.  The recent tragedies in Faraba Banta is directly traceable to the inertia and the corruption that continues to grow like a metastasized cancer in the body politic.

We are so insecure and lacking in confidence in ourselves, as political and business leaders, that we see a potential enemy in every nook and cranny and in everyone that even our own children and grandchildren armed with nothing but posters, bumper stickers and a microphone in the exercise of their constitutional rights.

The lack of confidence in ourselves has permeated the State House and, therefore, the way we are governed.  When faced with a potential crisis situation or one that is staring them straight in the face, our leaders frequently elect to bury their collective heads in the sand, hoping the problem, usually of their own making or that of their business associates or friends, will blow away. It festers instead into a national crisis situation.

We have seen it occur in Bijilo, Farato, Gunjur, Taneneh and, of course, recently in Faraba Banta and in some of these localities requires the deployment of the paramilitary and resulted in death and destruction in Faraba Banta.  A common strain running through all of these besieged communities is an aggressive annexation - for lack of a better word - of state and tradition land tenure by so-called real estate developers and land speculators, rendering town and village residence powerless to protect their way of life and defenceless against an increasingly emboldened paramilitary that resembles more and more like the private army of powerful land speculators and encroachers.  The result has often gone far beyond agitated communities, and has, at times, inflicted painful and unexpected consequences on people's lives, like the recent experiences of the people of Faraba Banta. 

We watch while the same movie is about to play all over again, only this time with greater consequences - environmentally, socially and politically -  that will impact negatively on the tourism sector that is still struggling to recover to its pre-ebola and the "political impasse" levels.  The partial destruction of Monkey Park, one of the country's major tourist attraction, can only add to the challenges facing a sector that is the second highest foreign exchange earner.

We are about to score yet another 'own goal' in the allocation of huge tracts of land in the most environmentally sensitive area of the entire Tourism Development Area (TDA) that led Mr. Sheikh Tejan Nyang, a pioneer in Gambian tourism and  proprietor of  the Institute of Travel and Tourism to sound the alarm bell.  In a recent Facebook post, he urged his Kotu residents to join him "in condemning the illegal allocation of our Badala Parkway and Neighborhood Green" allocated to and being "destroyed by Muhammed Jah."

The proprietor of the Travel Institute characterized the aggressive manner of the wanton destruction of trees and vegetation by the Gambian entrepreneur as an "invasion".  But the Gambian businessman and owner and operator of QCell, a telecom company, is not alone.  Saul Frazer, a close friend and associate of President Barrow is reportedly a beneficiary of the "illegal allocation"  among other others.

According to Mr. Nyang, "the allocation contravenes the State Lands Act of 1991 because it's blocking public access."  The area was reserved in 1973, for leisure and recreational boulevard for both tourists and area residents, as part of the Bafuloto Tourism Studies by SWECO, a Swedish consulting firm.   The Kotu community residents have petitioned President Barrow, according to Mr. Nyang's Facebook post, and they are awaiting a response.

Following the Faraba Banta incident last week, the National Assembly, in a proactive and highly welcomed move passed a 21-point Resolution, in addition showing remorse for the loss of life in a close knit community, and as part of the measures, the Assembly Members resolved that Mines and Quarries Act of 2005 be urgently reviewed by government.

We wish to add the Local Government Act, The Land Laws of The Gambia, the NEA Act and to include but not limited to the review of the Implementation of the Land Assessment Framework as all of these laws are interrelated.  Until these reviews are done and reports submitted to the National Assembly, a moratorium on all land dereservation and reclassification should be effected as a matter of urgency.               

Friday, June 22, 2018

Resolution of the National Assembly on Faraba Banta

Speaker of the National Assembly
We, the Members of the National Assembly of the Republic of The Gambia hereby RESOLVE as follows:

1.  That it is with sorrow and dismay we express our profound sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims of the 15th June, 2018 incident in Faraba Banta , Kombo East, West Coast Region;

2.  That proper medical care be given to those shot and injured and, if need be, be sent  abroad for proper treatment if such cannot be offered in the country;

3.  That those who lost their lives as a result  of the shooting due compensation be given to their families;

4.  That those who survive bullet wounds be also given due compensation, particularly those who may emerge debilitated by injury;

5.  That an independent body be appointed to enquire into the circumstances which led to the occurence of the incident of 18th June, 2018 , in Faraba Banta, Kombo East, West Coast Region;

6.  That the coroner's inquest be instituted to enquire into the cause of death of those who lost their lives;

7.  That Government table, or cause to be tabled, the Report of the investigation before the National Assembly not later than 14 days of receiving the said report;

8.  That those found guilty should face due process of the law;

9.  That henceforth Government halt all sand mining operations in the area;

10. That the license for sand mining issued to the contractor be revoked with immediate effect;

11. That the issue of sand mining in the area be reviewed and considered critically, given that it affects the livelihood of the community concerned;

12. That in future, communities be involved in the negotiation before implementing such schemes in their localities;

13. That henceforth, part of the proceeds derived from tapping resources in localities be plough back to communities as dividend for the development of the localities;

14. That the State undertake immediately measures to ensure the security and protection of the people of Faraba Banta, Kombo East, West Coast Region;

15. Call upon the community of Faraba Banta, Kombo East, West Coast Region to refrain from violence and allow due process of the law to take its course;

16. That the State take all reasonable steps and efforts to prevent Police brutality and human rights violations in the future;

17. That the Mines and Quarries Act 2005 be reviewed with urgency and that a wide consultation among stakeholders be conducted before approval is given to issuing license;

18. That Government expedite the Security Reform Process including all the security apparatus;

19. That the State ensure that Security Officers do not use live bullets on unarmed civilians;

20. That the National Assembly Select Committee on Environment , Sustainable Development and NGO Affairs to monitor the implementation of this resolution and ensure that Government update the National Assembly periodically;

21. That the Clerk of the National Assembly immediately forward this Resolution to the relevant authorities and institutions.

DONE IN BANJUL, THE GAMBIA, this Twenty-first Day of June, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Eighteen.

Office of the Clerk
National Assembly
21st June, 2018

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Persistent lack of transparency in Gambia's public procurement system may affect donor response to the financing of the National Development Plan

The Gambia Port Expansion Contract with China Bridge and Road Corporation (CBRC) may pose the biggest threat yet to the Barrow administration's effort to transform the EURO 1.45 billion in pledges into actual commitments to finance the country's 3-year National Development Program (NDP) 2018 - 2021 following last month's successful Donors Pledging Conference in Brussels.

The persistent lack of transparency, and outright corrupt practises, that have plagued past government's procurement practices are once more rearing their ugly heads with the Ministry of Works and the Office of the Secretary General at the helm of what can only end up increasing donor skepticism.

At last May's GPA Board meeting, the decision was taken to engage the services of an international consulting engineering company to carry out the detail engineering design.  Even though the consultant completed the GPA's requirements on the present scope of works in the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) Agreement which were incorporated under advise of GAMWORKS and NIRAS Consulting Engineers of Denmark, CRBC rejected the observations.

Last June, a briefing session was convened by the Works Minister, Bai Lamin Jobe on the 4th June 2018 and attended by The Secretary General, Habib Drammeh,  GPA Board Chairman, Alpha Barry,  MD, GPA, Abdoulie Tambadou and Permanent Secretary of Works, Mariama Ndure-Njie to discuss how the EPC contract which is a component part of the China Ex-IM Bank-financed CBRC Port Development Project.

Some important aspects of the project are still outstanding because government, specifically the Ministry of Finance and GPA, the primary beneficiary of the loans, have not lend its full support.  These are : (a) The total loan sum of $177 million (b) provisions detailed in GPA requirements (c) value for money verification (d) Unit prices/rates to be provided while BOQ are confirmed after the detailed designs.

At their June 4th meeting, these critical aspects of the project raised by the consultants and rejected by CBRC were considered unnecessary by the Works Minister as these issues could be taken up later after the EPC has been signed as is.  In doing so, and while admitting of being unaware of the reasons CBRC's rejection of the observations by the consultant, he concluded that a competent Supervision Engineer, during the detail design, will ascertain that the unit rates and GPA's requirements comply with international standards as well as ensuring value for money.

Why would the government of Adama Barrow entrust such critical elements of the projects in the hands of a supervision engineer who, in all likelihood, will be a Chinese national, rather than continuing with more rounds of in-country meetings as proposed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Lamin Camara, requested that led him lament about the fact that deal is being rushed.  The GPA Board had scheduled a Board meeting for next Tuesday to discuss critical aspects of the project.

In an email correspondence obtained by us, the PS Finance said and we quote: "I MUST (emphasis his) say once again that the country is not in position to absorb such a loan facility as it will eventually take us to a very serious level of debt unsustainability and would eventually make us miss our programs with the Fund and the Bank (referencing the IMF and World Bank) and that may ultimately affect the gains we achieved  in the BARROW government." 

The Finance Permanent Secretary's email reveals that only 28% of the $177 million Chinese loan is concessional "which is way off from our program".  He further warned the Works Minister, Secretary General and the GPA Board Chairman and the MD that  the "loan facility comprises of one fifth of the whole public debt of the country so there is no way it can be financed given the current situation" hoping it will give pause to those insisting on proceeding without major issues being resolved at the national level.

The Works Minister's argument is that cabinet has decided and therefore they must proceed.  But was cabinet provided with all the facts laid out by the PS Finance.  Is the Finance Ministry so neutered that it can no longer lead the public finance debate as the final arbiter?

According to our sources, the Chairman of the Board of GPA wants government to proceed cautiously to ensure that the country gets value for money and not their intention to frustrate the decision of cabinet. In fact, a Chinese delegation had visited the GPA, accompanied by a Foreign Ministry official, and expressed their intention to reduce the scope of the China Ex-Im Bank financing so as to reduce the burden on government.  Even the Chinese recognize the burden of debt currently in the books to be unsustainable.

As we speak, a delegation comprising of the Minister of Works and the MD of GPA are to travel to Dakar to sign the agreement with CBRC on Friday June 22nd.  Why Dakar?  The loan is being contracted by the Government of the Gambia for Gambians as the beneficiaries and thus normal to have the loan signing ceremonies performed on Gambian soil.

We hope the Gambian authorities recognize that the decision to sign the agreement now, and in Dakar instead of Banjul, may cast doubt as to whether the Barrow government and his senior officials should be taken seriously when they commit themselves to a procurement process they claim to be open, fair and transparent. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Emmanuel Joof appointed Chairperson, Presidential Inquiry into the Faraba Banta killings by paramilitary police

Emmanuel Joof, Human Rights lawyer

STATE HOUSE, BANJUL, 20TH JUNE 2018 - His Excellency, President Adama Barrow has commissioned with immediate effect a Presidential Inquiry to independently look into the circumstances that led to the death of civilians in Faraba Bantang. The membership consists of the following:
    Emmanuel Joof, a renown human rights Lawyer as the Chairperson
2.      A representative of the Ministry of Justice
3.      A representative of the Gambia Bar Association
4.      A representative of the Gambia Armed Forces
5.      A representative of the of the State Intelligence Services
6.      A Representative of Civil society from the Association of Non-Governmental Organizations - TANGO

Taking into account the need for a speedy dispensation of justice and accountability, the Committee starts work with immediate effect and has a duration of one month to submit a comprehensive report to His Excellency, the President of the Republic.

The Inquiry has been mandated to:
1.      Investigate the circumstances leading to the standoff between the villagers of Faraba Bantang and the Police Intervention Unit
2.      Investigate the circumstances that led to the injuries and fatalities in Faraba Bantang and identify the those responsible for the deaths, including those who may have ordered the firings and those who fired the shots
3.      Recommend measures to prevent a recurrence of the circumstances that led to the stand-off in Faraba Bantang
4.      Recommend measures to prevent an occurrence of the incident in Faraba Bantang and other parts of the country
Additionally, the President has given approval for the appointment of a Coroner to investigate the cause of the deaths as per the Coroners Act, Cap 7.04, Vol. 2 Laws of The Gambia. The Coroner will work with a pathologist to establish the facts before the corpses are released to their families.


Monday, June 18, 2018

President Barrow regrets the loss of lives at Faraba, suspends all mining activities

Office of The President
State House
THE GAMBIA _____________________________________________________________________________

OP/291/249/01/PART IV (60- ABS)           
                                                        For Immediate Release                                                                                           


President Barrow Regrets the Loss of Lives in Faraba, Suspends all Mining Activities  

State House, Banjul, 18th June 2018 - The President is deeply saddened by reports of clashes in Faraba which led to loss of lives. Out of extreme concern and regard for justice and accountability, the President summoned the high command of the relevant security service and instructed thorough investigation into the matter as quickly as possible.   

He has been informed that Bakary Kujabi  and Ismaila Bah lost their lives while Sulayman Jammeh, Sainey Sonko, Amadou Nyang, Sir Dawda Daffeh, Bubacarr Darboe Mariama Bah, Abdoulie Jobe and Alhajie Camara were wounded. Additionally, three Police Intervention Unit officers: Modou Dem, Alieu Camara and Momodou Jallow also sustained injuries.

The President regrets such unfortunate incident leading to loss of lives taking into account how far we have come as a nation in fostering democracy and respect for the rule of law.

President Barrow calls for calm and restraint while fact finding is underway to ensure the necessary action is taken.  Three Police officers involved in the shooting are currently under the custody of the police and one is at the Intensive Care Unit at the Francis Small Teaching Hospital.

A directive has been given to suspend all mining activities until further notice.

DUGA Press Statement : Paramilitary forces shot and killed three, wounded local environmental activists

                                                           For Immediate Release

The Faraba Bantang Incident                        June 18, 2018

The Democratic Union of Gambian Activists, DUGA, holds President Barrow and his administration solely and wholly responsible for the senseless murder of unarmed civilian protesters in Faraba Bantang. We watch with horror as the Barrow government continues to spiral out of control, from the murder of Haruna Jatta in Kanilai (with no investigation, even though one was promised); to the arrests of peaceful environmental activists; and now these senseless murders and arrest of a journalist. It is appropriate to say that the Barrow government has lost its way and is determined to consolidate itself by any means necessary.

We have said it, and will unequivocally reiterates, we will never tolerate a return to dictatorship or any form of tyranny in The Gambia. What was unacceptable under Jammeh is STILL unacceptable in The Gambia today.  We lay the blame squarely on President Barrow and his government for arming the PIU with live bullets to quell a peaceful protest.

We condemn, in the strongest terms, the brutal killings and injuries of innocent citizens of Faraba Bantang. We call on the Barrow government to immediately launch a comprehensive and independent investigation into this unfolding national tragedy and bring perpetrators to justice.


The Democratic Union of Gambian Activists