21 February 2018

Gambia: Former Agric PS Says She Was Scared to Ask Questions

Mrs Ada Gaye, former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, yesterday revealed that she was scared to ask for further payments from the ex-president after she succeeded in retrieving the sum of D61,000,000.

Mrs. Gaye made this revelation while testifying in connection to the Japanese rice project awarded to the former government, when she reappeared before the 'Janneh' Commission. The said consignment of rice was a grant from the Japanese government.

Mrs Gaye told the Commission that it was correct that she received some consignments and this was a support for the under privileged farmers. According to her, each consignment had a corresponding account and after selling the consignment, it was deposited into their various accounts; that anytime the former Government wanted to use the funds, they sought clearance from the Japanese Government.

According to Mrs. Gaye, the consignment she received was handed over to KGI as instructed by the former president; that they once suggested for a level playing field for the private sector; that when she took over, she discovered that KGI was the sole contractor for the sale of the rice.

At this juncture, correspondences from the Ministry of Agriculture relating to the grant were admitted in evidence.

The witness confirmed to the Commission that there were supplies from the Japanese Government prior to 2009; that a committee discovered that there was an outstanding sum of D30,000,000 from the fertilizer and D17,000,000 from the rice, while the sum of D92,000,000 was paid without authorization, for the purchase of fertilizer from Indonesia.

She however informed the Commission that an outstanding sum of D61, 000,000 was paid by the former president but could not ask for further payments from the former president because she was scared.

At this juncture, Mrs. Bensouda asked her to explain why she was scared, she said she was told that the former president was not happy for people to ask him to pay up; that the sum of D30, 000,000 that was pending.

On whether the Japanese did not threaten to withdraw the support, she responded in the negative and added that there were additional consignments when she left the office.

Earlier Mr. Cherno Mballow, former Head of Agri Business, told the 'Janneh' Commission that the Japanese Government claimed that KGI did not deposit all the monies generated from the grants given to the former government by the Japanese.

The former Head of Agri Business at the Department of Agriculture was summoned in respect of the Japanese grants given to the former Government. According to him, his role was to coordinate all business activity of the Department of Agriculture which he said included training of farmers, registration of cooperatives among others.

According to him, he took over from Bakary Sonko as the head of Agri Business until 2014, when he was responsible for the grants; that the Ministry was responsible for the grants which was mainly in cash and that there was an agreement that one of the Japanese agencies would handle the project, further stating that they would do the clearance for rice consignments at the ports and the sales proceeds deposited at the Central Bank, where monies were deposited by the Kanilai Group International.

According to him, there were agreements signed by the Permanent Secretary and KGI and the grants were in food aid such as rice, flour and fertilizer.

He recalled that during his time, he only witnessed four consignments from the Japanese grants; that he was the focal point between the Ministry and Japan at the time.

Mballow told Commissioners that KGI was subcontracted to sell the said commodities and deposit the proceeds at the Central Bank; that in 2009, the Ministry invited business partners to offer them the said commodities for sale which included Shyben A Madi and KGI; but that Shyben A Madi declined the offer and it was given to KGI; that the terms and conditions of the offer were not clear at the time of the meeting, noting that any price proposed by the Ministry at the time, was forwarded to the office of the former president for approval.

Mballow however disclosed that they did not make any follow-up with KGI for the deposit of the proceeds but confirmed that KGI did not deposit all the proceeds at the CBG; that the Japanese agent used to check how much was deposited by KGI at the CBG, noting that there was a commission awarded on the business which was determined by the Permanent Secretary.

Mballow added that whatever price was determined, there was an approval by the former president, further stating that the Japanese government gave a time limit for every project but there was no audit report; that the reconciliations were done between the stores and KGI, noting that the Japanese government claimed KGI did not deposit all the monies from the consignment of the commodities.

Mr. Abdoulie Hydara, Director General of the Gambia Tourism Board testified in connection to a lease document of 'Operation Save the Children Foundation' which was initiated by the former president, as a charitable organization.

Testifying before the Commission, Mr Hydara said he knew the foundation through the Ministry of Tourism; that there was a directive for them to issue land (sub-leased land) dated 25thAugust 2016.

According to him, they received a letter from the Ministry to ascertain a plot of land at the GT Board; that they were not told the reason to allocate the said land and a letter dated 25thAugust 2015, authorized them to allocate the land through one Lamin Fatty; that the board was invited by Fatou Mass Jobe-Njie and Fatou Lamin Faye, to allocate the land to the foundation and he called Mrs Njie and asked why one of his staff was invited without his knowledge. Hydara testified that the letter was handed over to the Ministry of Tourism and the Lands committee was responsible for recommending for land allocation, further noting that the board was been informed to do the allocation; that according to Executive directives, the Ministry had to allocate the land to the foundation, adding that most of the lands were committed to the former president, to be used by Kanilai Family Farms.

Hydara stated that they had nine Tourism Development Areas, noting that about 34% of TDA1, was given to the former president; that at the time he assumed office, he did not receive any communication that the land given to the former president was used for tourism purposes; that the sub-lease was not registered with the Ministry of Justice.

At this juncture, documents relating to the land allocation were tendered and admitted in evidence.

Further testifying before the Commission, Hydara said he could not tell the allocation of other lands in the TDA, disclosing that they had never received any application from Kanilai Family Farm to be allocated land at the TDA. Hydara however said he was not satisfied with the way the land was allocated to KFF, further testifying that they had twenty-seven applications for allocation of land out of which ten were approved.

Sergeant 2374 Ebrima Bah, a Police Officer attached to the Serious Crimes Unit of the The Gambia Police Force (GPF) and a member of the taskforce that investigated Government properties at Brufut Garden Estate, testified that the taskforce comprised the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Drug Law Enforcement Agency of The Gambia (DLEAG) and the police respectively.

According to him, the Term of Reference (TOR) of the taskforce was to find out the terms and conditions and allocations of the bungalows and during the course of their investigation, they were informed that 12 apartments were authorized by Muhammed Bazzi, to be given out but they were not told why Mr. Bazzi lodged people in those apartments; that at the time of the fact finding, Mr. Bazzi was said to be out of the jurisdiction. On the other hand, he said the Chief of Protocol, Alagie Ousman Ceesay, allocated houses to people on the instruction of the former president likewise Sanna Jarju, former Chief of Protocol, as well.

According to Sergeant Bah, some of the apartments were occupied by a Nigerian Judge, brother of the former First Lady and a Moroccan who died in a car accident among others; that they were told that two of the apartments belonged to the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC); that they discovered that those occupying the place were not paying any rental fees.

He finally revealed that among their recommendations, was to evict them and allow people that would be of benefit to Government to occupy the premises which he said was what they meant in their report as 'review' and 'revisit'.

Hearing continues today.

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