Wednesday, December 13, 2017

FAR announces preparations for first well

FAR, the Australian Securities Exchange listed oil and gas exploration and development company has completed geotechnical studies and a resource assessment over offshore Blocks A2 and A5 and is looking to drilling its first well in 2018.

Last month the company announced an estimate of 1.1 billion barrels of resources in the two blocks.

Blocks A2 and A5 cover 2,682 sq km and are adjacent to and on trend with SNE discovery offshore Senegal and thus hold great promise.  Both concessions are also within the Mauritania-Senegal-Guinea-Bissau basin.

The two drillable prospects named "Samo" and "Bambo" are very similar to the shelf edge explored off Senegal.

The Managing Director of FAR was quoted last month saying : " The Gambia represents a huge prize, if successful" and that the geological chance of success is high for a frontier exploration well.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Economic recovery threatens by huge public debt, says IMF

The Gambian economy has started to recover, following a slowdown in 2016 stemming from a bad harvest, foreign exchange scarcity and a drop in the number of tourists that visited the country last year because of the Jammeh-induced political stand-off.

This assessment is from two IMF missions to the country in November and December to conduct Article IV consultations and review performance under the Staff Monitored Program (SMP).

Economic growth is projected at 3%, and inflation, according to the IMF, has reversed its rising trend as a result of the stabilization of the dalasi and a gradual decrease in food prices.  With the gradual return of fiscal discipline under the Barrow administration and coupled with external financial support, the dalasi has remained stable since April, according to the Fund.  Foreign reserves have recovered strongly.

By 2020, the growth rate is projected to be 5% "assuming continued good policy implementation and a significant expansion of electricity supply, expansion of irrigation and commercial farming, investment in tourism and trade sectors and continued infrastructure investment."

The IMF considers the Staff Monitored Program to be on course and "encouraging but more progress is needed."  Interest rates are down in part because of the drastic reduction in government's net domestic borrowing.

The IMF mission reports have strongly hinted at the need for the government to exercise prudence in conducting due diligence procedures when it comes to its public investment programs.  We have little doubt that recent procurement missteps that brought the entire procurement process into disrepute has raised equal concerns among our development partners.  "Careful evaluation and prioritization of investment projects within the due diligence procedures of the Investment Implementation Task Force will be crucial" in restoring faith in the public procurement system.

Reform of parastatals, especially NAWEC, is a critical because of the fiscal risks they pose in contributing to the high public debt.   The flexible exchange rate regime, according to the IMF, should be maintained by the Central Bank in order to continue rebuilding of external reserves and safeguarding the stability of the financial sector.

Think about this for a minute

This post was first published in August 2013.  We are re-posting it for the purpose of reminding ourselves of the need to restructure UTG for the purpose of bringing its output in line with the job-creating capacity of the economy. 

The University of The Gambia (UTG ) has been producing graduates in astonishing numbers in its brief history.  From 2005 - 2012, UTG graduated a total of 1,790 in various disciplines and professions including medical doctors, lawyers and diploma and HTC awardees in the Schools of Agriculture, Business and Public Administration and Education.    This figure excludes the year 2011 for which we have been unable, so far, to get figures. (Any help from our readers will be appreciated.)

In 2009, the university graduated 207.  The following year, it graduated a mind-numbing 486, more than doubling the size of the previous year's graduating class.  In 2012, 453 were graduated.  We assume, therefore, that in 2011 close to this number were graduated. 

By simply taking the annual average graduating class to be 255, UTG will produce 2,550 graduates by 2023 in various fields.  This is the most conservative of estimates, given that 2011 figures are excluded.  With an agriculture-based economy where 75% of the population eke a subsistence living, the government and private sectors must grow sufficiently to absorb these graduates yearly.  The tourism sector, the second biggest employment generator, like agriculture, is seasonal thus cannot guarantee full employment throughout the year, even for some of its professional staff. 

In spite of the Gambia economy's growing at 4-5% rate with low to modest rates of inflation by IMF figures, these numbers have, unfortunately, not translated into jobs.  Instead, there has been contraction in the private sector after a sudden surge in the commercial banking sector with new banks being opened, and stagnation in the government sector ( except in the security/uniformed forces ) over the past 5 years followed by, what appears to be, a hostile attitude by Jammeh against private operators causing some investors, including Gambian businessmen and women moving their businesses across the border to friendlier Senegal.   

If the government payroll is not expanding to absorb UTG graduates and the private sector is similarly under-performing in the area of job creation, then the 'social time bomb' that made the Jawara regime hesitant in creating a University may be closer to reality than anticipated.  The absorptive capacity of the economy is being tested less than a decade of UTG's existence.  It is, therefore, imperative that the problem be studied closely. 

These are just my preliminary observations pending the availability of further data in areas of training and specialization of these graduates, the levels and the cost of graduating a student per year.  Our analysis will focus on the quantitative aspects of this phenomenon, leaving the qualitative issues of UTG graduates to the market cum employers to decide.

What is evident, even at this preliminary stage of our enquiry, is the urgent need to re-calibrate the annual intake and the subject mix to better reflect the demands of an economy that has been underperforming for a decade, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future due to bad and inappropriate A(F)PRC policies.

 Post script:  As I was about to publish this blog, my attention was drawn to a BBC story that says that the University of Liberia will not be having an intake in the 2013/14 academic year; not due to strike action but because not a single candidate passed this year's university admission exam.  All 25,000 failed the exam.  It is not that I am putting ideas into the heads of UTG examining board members but this might be one way of slowing down the rate of production of graduates until the economy is in a better shape to absorb the new graduates. 

Gambia: Truth Commission to Uncover Jammeh abuses

Bill Should Ban Amnesties for Most Serious Crimes

(Banjul, December 12, 2017) – Gambia’s truth commission bill, to be debated on December 13, 2017, is an important opportunity to shed light on human rights violations committed during the rule of former president Yahya Jammeh, Human Rights Watch said today. The National Assembly should amend the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission bill to prohibit amnesties for those responsible for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape or torture, in accordance with international law and practice.

“Gambia will greatly benefit from a truth-telling process that shines light on Jammeh’s abuses,” said Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Gambian victims deserve a truth commission that gives them a platform to tell their stories and lays the groundwork for those most responsible for grave crimes to face justice.”

The proposed 11-person truth commission will document human rights abuses during Jammeh’s two-decade rule, which ended when he left for exile in January after losing a December 2016 presidential election to Adama Barrow. The bill permits the commission to grant amnesties to perpetrators who testify truthfully about their role in abuses. While it precludes amnesties for acts that “form part of a crime against humanity,” it does not rule them out for other serious crimes under international law.

Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou put forward the truth commission legislation after conducting a countrywide consultation process in August. The government also consulted widely with domestic and international nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch.

In appointing commissioners, the bill requires President Barrow to consult with a range of civil society groups, including victims’ organizations, as well as to consider Gambia’s geographical, regional and gender diversity. Identifying the right commissioners will be essential for the truth commission to be viewed as independent, impartial and competent, Human Rights Watch said.

Tambadou told Human Rights Watch that the government will offer individuals the opportunity of an amnesty to encourage them to come forward to disclose their role in past abuses. The bill’s preamble states, “It is important to have an accurate and impartial historical record of the violations, [and] document them for posterity to ensure that ‘never again’ do we encounter a reoccurrence of such abuses.” The commission plans to hold public hearings and publish a final report, with the government required to issue a white paper within six months describing how it will implement the report’s recommendations.

The bill itself acknowledges that responding to Gambia’s legacy of human rights violations also means addressing the country’s culture of impunity. It empowers the commission to identify and recommend for prosecution the persons who bear the greatest responsibility for human rights violations and other abuses. However, by permitting amnesties for serious crimes that do not amount to crimes against humanity, the law could prevent many Gambian victims from seeking justice, Human Rights Watch said.

As the truth commission advances, the government should also consider whether and how the commission should share evidence with Gambian police and prosecutors investigating grave crimes, Human Rights Watch said. The justice ministry should consider negotiating a formal memorandum of understanding between the truth commission and public prosecutors that sets out how the commission will provide guidance to investigators while preserving the confidentiality of victims and witnesses.

“Gambia’s truth commission is the first step in efforts to bring justice to victims and hold those responsible for serious crimes accountable,” Wormington said. “Gambia’s international partners should assist the government to ensure that the commission achieves its important aims.”

In October, Human Rights Watch and Gambian and international groups launched the “Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice” (#Jammeh2Justice) to press for Jammeh, as well as those who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes of his government, to be brought to trial with all due process guarantees. Jammeh now lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Gambia, please visit: 

For more information, please contact: 
In Banjul, Reed Brody (English, French): +220-791-0848 (mobile); or +1 917-388-6745 (mobile, WhatsApp); or Twitter: @ReedBrody
In New York, Jim Wormington (English, French): +1-917-592-8738 (mobile, WhatsApp); or Twitter: @jwormington

Monday, December 11, 2017

Gambia denies signing an agreement with Antone Bakov to establish the "Romanov Empire" within territorial Gambia

Dawda Fadera, Secretary General
In a statement issued today, December 11th, the Office of The President denying claims made by a Russian national that The Gambia had agreed to cede 10 sq kilometers of its territory to Antone Bakov, a Russian national in exchange for $ 60 million.

Mr. Bakov who is referred to as founder of the Monarchist Party of Russia convened a news conference at the TASS press center in Russia a few days ago to announce the deal and to display what he claimed to be the authentic agreement he's entered into with the Government of The Gambia.

According to the press release from Sate House, the statements of Mr. Bakov are false and the documents accompanying his claims are fake.   The signature of the Gambia's Secretary General have been falsified and the document purported to be the agreement was not issued on an official letterhead.  However, the press release was silent on the identity and authenticity of one Modou Lamin Saidykhan who signed the document as the Foreign Minister of the imaginary Romanov Empire.  He is presumed to be, at least, a Gambian national, if not holding a dual Gambian-Russian citizenship.

The official release admits that Antone Bakov was received at Sate House and expressed interest in investing in tourism.  During the course of his visit, he presented an MOU dated 13th November 2017 for the consideration of government.   The proposal, according to the State House release, called for the government to provide Mr. Bakov "with 10 sq kilometers of land to develop an artificial island called BITCITY for an annual payment of $10 million for six years which would total to $ 60 million."
Anton Bakov with Jammeh 
 The proposal was forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for legal advise which opposed the idea on several grounds including the fact that the "Romanov Empire is not a real state" and Mr. Bakov's desire to recreate the Russian Empire.  The Justice Department, convinced that Mr. Bakov's intent was to acquire the land for his own use.   Because Romanov Empire is not a real state, it cannot enter into international treaty for lack of a permanent population, a defined territory etc.

In addition to the objections of the Justice Department which seem to suggest that the proposal from Mr. Bakov was on behalf of the Romanov Empire, the State House press release cited the environmental and financial impact as additional factors that led to the disapproval of the proposal.

The official reaction to the Romanov Empire fiasco concluded with the following that "while the Gambia government wants genuine is aware of dubious individuals and companies who would want to exploit the New Gambia for scam projects."  It concludes by assuring the Gambian people that the Barrow administration "will always seek the best interest of the Gambia for any investment opportunity."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Banjul is dead, Long live the Port City of Banjul

Photo of "Pa Machine" by Ishmail Sarr 
This piece was first published in September 9th 2013 about our beloved City of Banjul that has fallen on hard times.  Its republication is triggered by Ismail Sarr's nostalgic photographic depiction of "Pa Machine" at Bund Road.

The sight of only little kids coming out to greet Yaya Jammeh as he pretends to be touring the devastation that is the city of Banjul is further reminder that the dictator has lost all credibility, and with it, support of the people of Banjul and the Gambian people as well.  One look at the state of Banjul should prove the devastation of its infrastructure, and with it the city's moral and spiritual fabric.  Although the people of Banjul have finally started blaming Jammeh for their predicament, the slide into the current deplorable state started well before Jammeh seized power.

Unlike the Jawara who attempted to address the urban decay with roads and sewerage projects, Jammeh in fact accelerated the deterioration by focusing an inordinate attention and state resources to the far-flung village hamlet of Kanilai, his home town.  Capital cities generally contribute significantly not only to national incomes, but to the political, social, cultural life of countries.  Kanilai does just the opposite.  It drains resources away from the national treasury, and into wasteful and idle endeavors like the "Futamgpang" and women wrestling matches which, some have argued, have contributed to the promiscuous behavior of our young men and women folk.  Kanilai is not all play.  It has a good and well-maintained access road leading to the village.  Its infrastructure is far superior to Banjul's.

Banjul is a dead city.  Like the city of Detroit, once the pride of America and the home of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, Banjul has been abandoned by the very people who once profited from its strategic location as the seat of government and the hub of commerce.  The decline of Detroit was slow and painful but avoidable.  And so is the decline of Banjul.  Some urban planners suggest that the decline of the Motor City started in 1967 with the worst race riot in U.S. history which saw 42 people killed, mainly African-Americans by National Guard troops.  This led to White flight to the neighboring suburbs thus depriving the city of tax base necessary to provide services and the maintenance of the city's infrastructure.  The decline in the share the world market which started with the competition from Japanese autos led to the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler.  The financial melt-down provided the coup de grace until the Obama administration stepped in to save two of the Big Three.  .
If a similar inflection point in Banjul's good fortunes is to be suggested, I'd venture to say it is the advent of Gambian tourism of the mid-60s which quickly accelerated in the 70's and 80's.  What was once the outback of the Kombos soon was dotted with tourist hotels and other amenities, including access roads, never seen before were springing up everywhere from Cape Point to Kotu and beyond.  City dwellers who did not venture much outside the city limits, except for an occasional Sunday trip, were now venturing out to enjoy the night life that the tourism paradise around the Cape Point, Fajara and Kotu corridor had on offer.  Night club operators in Banjul moved to the Kombos to cater for the tourists.  Other businesses along Wellington Street followed suit.  Then you have Pipeline, a once residential street soon turned into the business center of the Kombos.  Fuelling all of this was the land use policies of the Jawara era which is a separate subject of interest.

Banjulians abandoned the city in droves for the Kombos.  In heading for the hills ( some have argued that the legendary Banjul mosquitoes contributed to the exodus ), they deprived the city of much needed revenue.  Instead of an expanding tax base, Banjul city administration was also collecting less in rates, some of the money found their way into the notoriously corrupt rate collectors.  For the first time in the city's history, entire compounds, some even of historic significant ( especially those along Clarkson Street ) were being abandoned as well. These newly-transformed 'Kombongkas', including yours truly, did not only deprived the city much needed revenue, they also posed another problem for not only the city but for central government as well.  They clung on to their "kerr chosan" even when offered compensation to make way for the Port Expansion Project.  They eventually succumed but not before the right of eminent domain was likely to be applied by the State which would have abrogated their right to negotiate for a fair market price.

Jammeh's contribution to the acceleration of Banjul's decline is what Daniel Patrick Moynihan would refer to as "benign neglect".   Banjulians supported the coup and Jammeh.  In return, he engaged the Banjulians in frequent 'celebrations' at the July 22nd Square and beach parties and barbeques in the beach front of the State House.  The support for Jammeh was founded on the basis that the Jawara regime neglected the city in spite of the numerous externally funded projects with 10% contribution from government.  There were more urban development-related projects under Jawara than under the current regime.  The drawback to the efforts were that some of these projects were poorly designed as well as poorly implemented.  The SOGEA sewage project comes to mind.  Some of the current pollution problems relating to the raw sewage that has been found in the flood waters in Banjul is partly attributable to this project because a good number of the toilets in compounds were not connected to the system for various reasons, but primarily financial and technical ones.

The devastation did not start with the floods.  It only aggravated it and spot-lighted the plight of those trapped inside what can only be described as a hell-hole.  Bond Road, the ring road connecting Half-Die to the main road out of Banjul is impassable.  The Pumping Station or "Pa Bokis" that pumps the water to keep Banjulians from drawing in flood waters has been out of commission for years.  The gutters along Albion Place that empties into the Box Bar stream are caked because of solid waste, and as a resident of the city told me the other day is that the cutters are so caked in the dry season that you can skate on them.  Now, I am told there is/are crocodile(s) inhabiting those gutters suggesting, in a horrifying way, that the drainage system has completely broken down.  Banjulians will not have to contend not only with the legendary Banjul mosquito but they are like likely to be eaten by crocodiles right in the middle of the capital city.

Drastic decline requires equally drastic measures.  Whereas the problems of the two cities i.e. Detroit and Banjul share some similarities, the solution that I am suggesting for Banjul is different.  I will not suggest that Banjul be under an Emergency Manager or receivership which I oppose in the case of Detroit.  Instead, I am suggesting that Banjul be transformed into a Port City which would require that almost the entire city be leveled.  Of course, it doesn't mean that bulldozers descend on the city tomorrow and start levelling everything in site.  The feasibility of it should be carefully studied.  It may turn out that a better option is to have half of the city, say up to Allen Street, be converted into an industrial complex relating to port operations and other industrial activities.  A site for a new political capital would have to be considered as well.  Which ever option is finally opted for will take massive investment which I envisage will come from private capital.  However, you cannot attract private capital with a corrupt and incompetent government.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"The Commission of Inquiry enjoys the full support and confidence of the Barrow administration", says a State House source

President Barrow with Commission members

Over four months of eye-popping deliberations to date, the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of ex-dictator Yaya Jammeh has conducted itself - individually and collectively - with dignity and decorum reflecting the high moral and intellectual caliber of its members.

Under the Chairmanship of  Mr. Surahata Janneh, it is our view - one shared by many - that the proceedings have been fairly conducted, up to this point, with a degree of professionalism and decorum that holds great promise for a country emerging from 22 years of one of Africa's most brutal, incompetent and corrupt dictatorship.

The three members of the Commission have been competently served with equal professionalism and unmatched dignity by Mrs. Amie Bensouda  in her capacity as lead counsel.  Despite this or in spite of it, as should be expected, there are criticisms, legitimate as well as unfounded ones, recently, including accusations that the lead counsel is conflicted in the case of the sale of the Kairaba Beach Hotel.  It has also been implied during the course of the deliberations that she may also be a potential witness in other cases that may come before the Commission. 

As a result of these criticisms and despite Mrs. Bensouda's public assurances that she has never acted on behalf of the former president or any of his close business associates, and if there is any appearance of a conflict, she will be the first to bring it to the attention of the Commission members and Gambians and to recuse herself. 

In anticipation of further use of this strategy as a means of discrediting or intimidating the Commission, as implied by Mrs. Bensouda's statement that she will not be intimidated, in response to the witness counsel's accusations, we reached out to a State House source who in response to our inquiry assured Gambians and the general public that "the Commission of Inquiry members and the lead counsel, Mrs. Bensouda, enjoy the full confidence and support of the government of President Adama Barrow."

The State House official went further to suggest that if any person has objections to anyone sitting on the Commission or serving as counsel, the proper and prudent measure to take is through court action; let them challenge any individual's fitness to serve in a court of law.  Character assassination and any form of peddling false accusations will not wash and can only strengthen our collective resolve to hold accountable those responsible for squandering the nation's meager resources that brought the Gambian economy to its knees over the 22 years of Jammeh's dictatorship. 

Similar appointments to previous Commissions, the source continued, have been challenged in the past before the courts.  It was none other than Mr. Fafa E. Mbai who challenged the appointment of Justice Aboagyi to a Commission by Sir Dawda at the Supreme Court.  Hon. Hamat Bah, leader of the NRP also challenged the appointment of Justice M. A. Paul to preside in their sedition case.  His took place at the Court of Appeals.  It is not for lack of precedent to resort to the courts for redress.  Amadou Samba or any other witness before the Commission can do likewise.

Conversely, this may have been the reason why the Chairman had the cause to remind witnesses before him that the Commission is not a court of law but a fact finding inquiry into the financial dealings of the ex-president where normal court procedures do not necessarily apply.

The task before Commission members, though challenging, is not insurmountable if the public continues to provide the necessary input and support by refusing to be party to a concerted effort orchestrated by vested interests - from within and without - whose main aim is to muddy the waters and to deflect the attention of the public away from the evidence being generated by the probing questions of Commission members and Mrs. Amie Bensouda.  The important work of the Commission must neither be impeded nor derailed.