16 November 2012

Gambia: SSHFC Report Triggers Controversy At National Assembly

The Activity Report and Financial statements of the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) submitted to the joint session of the Public Accounts and Enterprises Committees PAC/PEC of the National Assembly, yesterday, triggered more controversy at the Assembly before the adopting the report.

"Why is the SSHFC spending billions of loans on others, while they are borrowing loans from the banks?" asked Hon. Abdoulie Saine, member for Banjul Central. He also questioned the management on how the unclaimed pensions were used.

Hon. Lamin K Jammeh, the member for Illiassa also asked the investment rationale for such huge amounts, noting that the Ocean Bay Hotel has never returned a profit in all its operations to the SSHFC by way of dividends. He asked the management to give an explanation to salvage this worrying and sorry state of affairs.

"The Ocean Bay is not a lost investment because we don't just sit and do things but it is well planned", responded MD Graham.

Hon. Buba Ayi Sanneh asked the management about how it acquired the land at Brikama Jamisa in Kombo Central. He said the Corporation has demolished houses and cut down cashew trees without compensating the owners of the land. He cited the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia which, he said, made it illegal to forcefully seize land from people.

"You are calling people to go back to the land when you have forcefully taken their lands. How do you expect them to go back to the land", he quizzed.

Hon. Sanneh challenged the management's claim of building 70 houses at the said location as he has not seen any building at the place.

At this juncture, an argument broke out when the member for Tumana, Hon. Netty Baldeh, tried to intervene on behalf of the Corporation.

Hon. Sanneh argued that the questions were not meant for him. He told him to go and sit among the ranks of the management if he wants to defend them.

"The Gambia is not only Kombo but it spread from Kartong to Koina. Why can't you spread the Housing Scheme project to the rural areas because there are many workers there as well", asserted Hon. Mam Cherno Jallow, member for Upper Niumi.

The issue of land banking at the rural areas by the Corporation was a hot issue at the Assembly.

The honourable members complained of lands taken from people without developing it. They asked the management to hand over the lands if they cannot develop them so that the people can use it for agricultural purposes.

In response to some of the questions raised by members, Mr. Graham said the Housing fund was not only for low income earners. He cited the Bakoteh Housing Scheme which he said they did not only gave land but also built them. He said they have a different strategy in other areas.

"There are some places we don't look at the financial benefits. The initial objective with the Ocean Bay was not financial benefit but to boost the economy", said MD Graham.

The member for Upper Niumi questioned how could the Corporation spend D500 million of people's money and said they are not for financial benefit.

Mr. Graham argued that the Ocean Bay is not a lost investment. He claimed that the property is 100 percent owned by the Corporation.

The Auditor General, Mr. Abubacarr Sankareh, pointed out that the Minutes of the last Investment Committee meetings were not signed. He argued that the Corporation cannot have a loan of billions and running with overdrafts. He further argued that the external auditors' statement cannot be in contradiction with the management letter because they have no evidence to support their argument.

"We do not have authority to take land from people. It was the government who gave us the land and it is the duty of the Lands Office to prepare the assessment value of the land for us to pay the compensation", said the SSHFC MD.

Meanwhile, the external audit from the Augustus Prom Chartered Accountants has made several observations and recommendations about the financial status of the Corporation. They also warned the management of the implications of failing to take note of the recommendations.

The report that was tabled indicates "The Corporate mission of SSHFC is to provide adequate social protection for the workers, facilitate shelter delivery on a sustainable basis."

Mr. Edward Graham, the Managing Director of SSHFC had earlier said the Corporation has opted for key areas of health, education, agriculture, housing and tourism. He maintained that shelter delivery remains a key development aspect of the Corporation's program. He explained that the Corporation is providing assistance to all the main hospitals in the country. The Corporation was fully compliant with the GPPA regulations, said the Managing Director.

Eventually, the report was adopted by the joint session committees of the National Assembly.

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