The director general of the National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDEA) has said that the amount of drugs seized during the year 2011 showed a declining trend as the number of cases reduced drastically.
Benedict Jammeh made this revelation on Wednesday while presenting the Agency's Annual Activity Report and Audited Financial Statements for the year ended 31st December 2011 before the Joint Session of the Public Accounts and Public Enterprise (PAC/PEC) Committee of the National Assembly at the National Assembly Chambers in Banjul.
He said compared to 2010, the amount of Cannabis and Cocaine seized dropped significantly in 2011. He recalled that in 2010, the Agency seized 1ton, 944kg, 413g, 429mg of Cannabis Sativa and 2 tons, 345kg, 342g, 500mg of Cocaine, while in 2011, there was less than one ton of Cannabis and less than 20 kilograms of Cocaine seized.
Jammeh said the development means that both the NDEA and the general public have risen to the president's clarion call to combat drugs from all fronts, and that some success stories are being gradually realised. He further informed the Committee that during the year under review, the Agency registered 351 drug cases compared to 360 cases in 2010.
"Cannabis Sativa is still the main problem for the NDEA and indeed for The Gambia with 320 cases which constitute 91% of all drug cases in 2011. The reason for this is mainly caused by the widespread cultivation of Cannabis in the southern Senegalese province of Casamance which shares a long border with The Gambia. This is made worse by the lack of proper drug law enforcement in that area on account of the ongoing political conflict," he said.
The NDEA boss said records also revealed that while most of the persons arrested with drugs are Gambian citizens, quite a lot of other foreign nationals are also involved in drug abuse and trafficking in The Gambia. "Statistics also show that young people still continue to be involved in drug cases. This is a great cause for concern for the Agency. Cannabis is one of the most available drugs in The Gambia that attracts youngsters. Of the 387 person arrested in connection with drugs in 2011, 56 of them representing 15% are between 13-20 years," he further stated.
He added that even though most of the juvenile cases of drug abuse involve possession as opposed to trafficking, the figure is still a serious cause for concern if one considers the number of young offenders involved in the juvenile age bracket.
Jammeh said the Prosecution Unit of the Agency registered 275 cases which is a staggering record, adding that out of the total cases registered, 111 cases were dealt with and successfully prosecuted with seven convicts able to pay the court fines imposed on them, 18 cases were acquitted and discharged whilst 164 cases are currently proceeding in court.
"It is however important to note that the year 2011 was unprecedented in the judicial process of this country. This was due to the fact that the prosecution of the South American drug cartels who were arrested in The Gambia in May 2010 in connection with over two tons of Cocaine seized in a warehouse at Bonto in the West Coast Region was concluded and judgement entered," he said.
He reminded the PAC/PEC Committee that all the accused persons except Denis Wilco Winter who died in prison a few days before the judgement, were convicted and sentenced to a mandatory jail term of 20 years each and a fine of D50, 000, 000 in default to serve 50 years imprisonment, while the fourth convict Michael Ephraim Chiduben was acquitted and discharged on 29th December 2011 by Hon. Justice L.A.M.S Jobarteh of the High Court, on appeal.
Jammeh stated that the vision of the NDEA is to contribute to national development by wiping out drugs from the face of The Gambia for once and for posterity. He assured that the Agency will continue to conduct raids, arrest suspects of drug abuse and bring to justice the suspects in a professional manner in accordance with the Drug Control Act 2003.
Jammeh disclosed that during the year under review, the NDEA received an operating cost of D49, 596, 459.29, which was received in the form of subventions from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs through the Office of the President where the Agency's budget line is allocated as well as from court fines and monies accrued from rented properties of the Agency.
"The subventions received totals to D44, 105, 834.35 representing salaries and allowances, one by six advance and other charges. The subventions were received monthly in the form of cheques which were deposited to the Agency's operating fund account at the Central Bank," he added.
He told the Committee that the extra funds generated such as 75% of court fines on drug cases during the period amounted to D5, 213, 933.99 and D210, 000 from the rent of a property of the Agency.
The NDEA boss further disclosed that in 2011 the Agency had a staff strength of 474 officers working in different units and locations across the country.
He continued: "The NDEA continues to enjoy a mutual relationship with other sister security and financial institutions in the country in the fight against drug trafficking. During the year under review, staff of the Gambia Police Force, the Gambia Armed Forces, the National Intelligence Agency, the Gambia Prison Services, the Gambia Immigration Department, the Gambia Revenue Authority have all assisted the Agency in one way or the other in the execution of its mandate. The Agency also works closely with all the banks in the country in the provision of banking information of drug traffickers."
Jammeh told the Committee that the NDEA management is aware of the fact that one of the best ways of abating the drug abuse menace and illicit drug traffickingis by increasing staff capacity in the different fields of drug law enforcement. He revealed that the management was able to secure short-term training for some members of staff both locally and overseas. He added that during the year under review, staff of NDEA participated in series of training in the country and abroad.
Drug talk show
He informed the Committee that as part of series of efforts to involve the public in the fight against drugs and its related activities, the PRO of the Agency has been running a radio talk show programme over West Coast Radio at Kotu, since July 2010. "This programme was initially sponsored by Gamcel up to December.
But due to the public interest and high demand, Gamcel deemed it fit and necessary to renew the contract with West Coast Radio and extended the programme for the third time until 31st December 2012. The programme runs every Thursday from 7pm to 8pm," he said, adding that the show has enlightened a lot of people on the need for personal involvement of every patriotic Gambian in the fight against drugs.
Jammeh said that it is clear that the Agency has registered resounding success during 2011 thanks to the enormous support it continues to receive from the Office of the President under whose purview it is currently executing its mandate.
He added: "Nonetheless, the Agency is not without some constraints. While some of them have been addressed, Management is calling on the general public and government institutions and partners to complement the efforts of His Excellency the president to collectively address some of the remaining challenges facing the Agency so that together, we can all fight and win the war on drugs."
Ibrahima Sanyang, a senior compliance officer at the Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA), said NDEA was found to be substantially compliant with the Public Procurement Act and Regulations.