Tuesday, May 30, 2017

President Barrow receives PSC Chairman G.O.Bright

President Adama Barrow 
It may have come at the tail end of the euphoria and countless photo ops but President Barrow has finally met the Chairman and members of the Public Service Commission which, in our view, is one of the most important events of his 4-month old government.

President Barrow promised Gambians that his government will provide us with a road map representing his short- to medium- term plan of his transition government for economic, political and social renewal.  He made the announcement curiously on a foreign news outlet which was later carried on local radio that the blueprint will be issued this month.

Any blueprint that will eventually emerge from the internal consultations currently underway, in the form of a road map, provides Gambians with a Barrow's road map to the end of his transition government, it will not be realized without being translated into actuality.  That task rests with the civil/public servants who are, in turn, managed by the Public Service Commission.  To finally have met with the Chairman and Members of the Public Service Commission, however symbolic, holds promise that the restructuring of the civil service will now be brought front and center as part of the transition process.

During the courtesy call, according to the press release, President Barrow lamented the low salaries of civil servants in relations to their private sector counterparts which can only be interpreted as an encouraging sign that their welfare is paramount in the president's mind.

In the same release, Barrow cited a litany of problems including the high domestic debt, which the previous regime borrowed from domestic commercial banks and a "lot of the money went into private pockets and not government." Although these undesirable outcomes are caused by both politicians and civil servants alike, it takes the dedicated civil servant operating within an independent civil service, to clean up the mess that, unfortunately, will negatively impact powerless Gambian that the government has sworn to protect from physical harm to rising cost of basic foodstuff.  

The President finally emphasized the need for an independent civil service and the press release ended his portion of the courtesy call in which he was directly quoted as saying "without the technocrats, the politicians will not succeed."  We expect President Barrow to match his words with action. Time is running out as signaled by the dwindling domestic enthusiasm and a rapid dissipation of the international goodwill that was discernibly on display only in January.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

$ 900,000,000 from Gambian-registered companies stashed in Panama, Gambians demand explanation

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We published this blog post, May 23rd, 2016, exactly a year ago. Attorney General and Minister of Justice press conference yesterday is a reminder that in order to turn a new leaf, we must, as Gambians, garner enough courage and conviction to confront our past.  We cannot pretend that everything is fine.

Regarding the $ 900,000,000, we have come to learn from investigators that the amount might represent total proceeds that went through theses accounts in Panama over time and may not necessarily represent the actual amount in the accounts.  In short, these amounts might not all be there as we speak.  

Gambians demand to know the TRUTH. Without the TRUTH, there will be no justice and without justice there will be no peace.  Thanks,  Sidi Sanneh
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According to the Panama Papers, a number of companies registered in the Gambia have stashed almost $ 1 billion in offshore accounts.

We are studying the details in consultation with tax accountants, financial and legal experts with a view to gaining insight into this massive transfer of financial resources from one of the world's poorest countries.

We wish to draw the attention of our esteemed readers that operating offshore accounts in and of themselves may not necessarily be illegal unless it can be established that the origin or origins of these funds are as a result of illegal activities, such as drug or human trafficking or other forms of international criminal activities.

The Gambia is, of course, not the only country that is shown to have its citizens operating offshore accounts in tax heavens.  Prominent Senegalese businessmen are among those listed as operating accounts offshore.  The difference between them and the Gambian businessmen listed in their forthrightness.

The Senegalese businessmen listed in the Panama Papers were quick to respond to the revelation by explaining the rationale for these accounts which, according to one, was to legally reduce or eliminate further exposure to higher tax liabilities.  To some, this is unethical or unpatriotic.  To others it is a smart business move.  In short, one man's tax dodger is another man's astute businessman.

Amadou Samba, a Gambian businessman, a business partner and a close associate of the Gambian dictator is listed as operating one or several offshore accounts.  The amounts in one or several of these accounts are unknown.  However, the global figure for the country is listed as $ 900,000,000 a figure close to Gambia's estimated GDP of $ 1 billion.

Gambians deserve a response from both Amadou Samba and Yaya Jammeh as initial step in a process that will take the expertise of world class legal, financial and tax professionals to ascertain the facts on behalf of the Gambian People.

When Jammeh seized power, "rampant corruption" was the reason he advanced to justify the illegal coup.  A team of investigators were dispatched to comb the offshore centers in search of funds they believed were derived from the Nigeria Crude allocated to the then government as balance of payment support by the Nigerian government.  Today, the shoe is on the other foot.

Gambians must hear from Amadou Samba and Yaya Jammeh.
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Amendment:  The initial blog post figure read $ 900,000 instead of $ 900,000,000

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Photo editorial: Kololi land protest/demonstration

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Jammeh's assets frozen by court order says Mr. Ba Tambadou, Justice Minister

Mr. Ba Tambadou - Gambia's Justice Minister
Gambia's Justice Minister announces at a press conference that the former Gambian dictator's assets have been frozen by court order.

The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, said during the press conference in Banjul that his office obtained a court order today freezing or placing a temporary hold on the known assets of former President Jammeh who is currently living in exile in Equatorial Guinea.

The court order, according to the Minister, affects 131 landed properties in the personal name of the former dictator or companies directly associated with him.

In addition to the 131 known landed properties thus identified, there are also 88 different bank accounts, 14 companies and number of livestock purportedly belong to the disgraced dictator.

Preliminary finds also shows Jammeh milking the Social Security and Housing Corporation (SSHFC) amounting to D 189 million and the withdrawal of US$ 50 million from the special deposit account that holds proceeds of the foreign assistance programs meant for the country.

The Minister solicited the corporation of the general public for information relating to assets held in the personal name of Jammeh or directly associated with him.  Anyone withholding information in this regard, the Minister emphasized, will be committing an offence.  

Developing story ...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Demonstrations tomorrow (Monday) by youths in Kololi area communities against Global Properties






















The youths of Kololi, Manjai Kunda, Bakoteh, Sanchaba and Kololi are planning a protest march cum demonstration as they face an eminent threat of losing not only their only football/practice field they have left in the area but the small land area left from the original track of land that measured 58,743 sq m and a distance of 992 meters.  The communities planned to use the remaining area to build a market for the men and women of the communities and an open space for the communities that have been overwhelmed by the land grab that has been going on for nearly two decades..

The protest march is scheduled to start tomorrow (Monday) from the football field at 3:00 PM -7:00 PM.  The area MP Hon. Madi Ceesay is said to be following developments in the constituency he represents in the National Assembly and may join the youth in the demonstration.  Also other community leaders expected to attend include Saibo Drammeh and his mother-in-law who is also a UDP Yayi Compin.
The original track of land in question can be found here.  We have been informed that most of the huge track has been sold reportedly by the Mayor of KMC.  The remaining land is said to have been sold to Mr. Saul Frazier by the same said Mayor of KMC which is now being contested by the youth of the area.  No proof of ownership has been provided neither by Mr. Frazer nor by the Chinese contractor.

The land grab threat highlighted in our Facebook page is reportedly coming from the Chinese company and Saul Frazier who is CEO of Global Properties, a real estate firm.  The huge parcel of land provided in the link above has been the property of the Gambia Government and a target of developers since 1997.  How this ended up in the hands of private developers and KMC is still being investigated, including how the proceeds were utilized and by whom.

The organizers have stressed in their communique to us that the demonstration will " a peaceful and a lawful one."  The organizers have invited members of the surrounding communities of Manjai Kunda, Bakoteh, Sanchaba and Kololi.

All area football clubs, team supporters and officials, academies, community leaders and Yayi Compins have been invited and are expected to take part in the protest to draw public attention to their grievances.  The youth of the communities mentioned herein are cordially urging all to take part in the protests as a civic duty.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

SEMLEX is the wrong company for the New Gambia

SEMLEX’s 5-year contract with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to print biometric passports calls for a 65% – 35% revenue sharing ratio with 65% going to the company and 35% to the government of the DRC.  This deal is part of a larger investigations currently being conducted by the Belgian law enforcement authorities about the company’s business practises in other African countries where passport prices have skyrocketed as a result of unfavorable deals that put money in the pockets of corrupt government officials and middlemen operating in the Gulf.  For a full story of the DRC scheme by Reuters, click here. 

To appreciate the proportionality of the cases in point, in the DRC, the cost of a passport is $ 185 or D 9,250.  DRC’s population is 82 million which is 41 times the size of Gambia’s population of roughly 2 million.

In the case of The Gambia, we can confirm that the contract SEMLEX intends to sign with the Barrow administration calls for a 70% - 30% revenue sharing ratio with the company taking home 70% of all revenue generated through passport sales  to Gambia government’s 30% share, as opposed to the 65% - 35% revenue sharing ration in the DRC scheme as stated earlier..

In a country of barely 2 million people, mostly poor and living subsistence lives, for SEMLEX to make a profit from the scheme, the conservative estimate of a price of a Gambian passport will be double or triple the $ 185 that DRC citizens currently pay.  It is impossible for the company to match the $ 185 that Congolese pay for a passport while maintaining a comparable quality standard.  Even with a lesser quality, matching the DRC price will not be possible.

In either case, therefore, Gambians must be ready to pay between D 10,000 and D 15,000 for a copy of a biometric passport that will pass the international standard test for it to be a worthwhile business proposal for SEMLEX. The small population of the country will tempt both the government and SEMLEX to scout for non-citizens as "clients" to make the business proposal viable.     

Although the contract does not specifically mention “passports”, official documents is defined to mean ALL official documents such as national ID cards, cards for foreign residence, and may include other documents as specified in any contract between the parties.

The Government of Mr. Adama Barrow is also required to provide the land and buildings required to implement the project at government expense.   In addition, government will provide qualified staff and pay for their salaries.

After 22 years of kleptocratic rule and the mismanagement of the country’s meager resources, the Barrow administration owe it to the Gambian people to protect them from unscrupulous businessmen and corrupt government officials by avoiding dubious business proposals and projects designed to put money in the wrong pockets at the expense of the rest of society who will end up paying these inefficiencies in the form of higher prices. 

If, despite public expression of dismay of some prominent members of the Gambia Chamber of Commerce, President Adama Barrow and his Interior Minister, Mai Ahmad Fatty still decide to proceed with the award of this and similar contracts to SEMLEX, then it is likely that there will be both legal and civic action against the government.  

The previous government had already signed a contract with The Touray Brothers to produce bio-metric national ID card and passport.  The contract was moving smoothly until Jammeh and his business partner Muhammed Bazzi, among others, interrupted the operation that eventually exiled them.  Before engaging any other company, the administration of Adama Barrow and Mai Fatty must settle with the current contract holders before committing government with a foreign firm, especially one that is already being investigated by the Belgian authorities.

Gambian businessmen and businesswomen with good business reputation must be given priority and preferential treatment over foreigners, especially those with proven track record, good business record, have demonstrated capacity to provide goods and services efficiently at competitive prices and/or rates.  The New Gambia must not emulate the Jammeh way of doing business or managing the affairs of State.  It's a new day and thus should be a new and better way.
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Monday, May 8, 2017

Muddling through

Here's a 3-year old nugget which we could have easily retitled "An anatomy of 'The Struggle.'"  We've indeed come a long way considering the odds.  Enjoy!!
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This week has been a bad week for "The Struggle."  Factional cracks are apparent everywhere after accusations of embezzlement and other unsubstantiated malfeasance that have yet to be proven.  But the damage has already been inflicted, with or without proof, and which may or may not have been the accusers' intent.  Things cannot stay the same.  They will have to change.

 "The Struggle" which is the name given to a loosely-assembled groups of Gambian dissidents in the United States, Europe and West Africa has faced challenges in the past, which they've succeeded in overcoming, not necessarily because they've been adequately addressed but because they were not as visible and accountable now as they were then.

Thanks to the online media which, in itself, is proving to be a blessing as a curse by publicizing the activities of "The Struggle" as well as blowing it apart through irresponsible reporting and outright partisanship and personal agendas.  There also exist a clear and discernible partisan divide within the media which is normal and expected.  We wish they'd stop pretending that they are non-partisan and - to borrow Fox News' faux mantra - 'fair and balanced'.  The online media has contributed immensely to the muddles messages filtering through the various organizations that constitute a significant chunk of "The Struggle."

We believe that the muddled messages of the 'civil organizations' in the dissident communities are a direct results of conflicting and competing political philosophies and leanings of the major players in the Struggle which further aggravates an already desperate condition.  A return to their respective political parties will reduce the current confusion and allow the non-party affiliates to mount a credible international advocacy against Yaya Jammeh.

Within what we now take to constitute "The Struggle" goes beyond CORDEC, CCG, GGC and NRNG to include individuals who are not affiliated with any of the above groups.  It just so happens that the most influential of the lot are the non-affiliated individuals who happens to be the proprietors of the online radios and newspapers.

And if this category of membership of the Struggle insists, as they always do, that they are impartial in their reporting, as their profession dictates, yet they take on overtly partisan stance against other members of "The Struggle" because he happens to be a Ousainou Darboe, Omar Jallow, B.B.Dabo or Mai Fatty, it inevitably poses a problem.  It exposes leaders of political parties who decided to, in good faith and in the common interest, join a broader coalition to fight the enemy that is Yaya Jammeh.

We have seen Ousainou Darboe, Omar Jallow, B.B. Dabo and Mai Fatty attacked personally and the records deliberately distorted because they decided, wrongly, to place themselves and their respective political parties in the line of fire while Halifa Sallah stays out of harm's way - a sensible political move even though we opposed the reasons PDOIS advanced for staying out of Raleigh.  Political parties, in our view, should remain political while the other organizations do what they do best - advocacy.

Which brings us to the latest entry into "The Struggle", the National Resistance Movement of The Gambia (NRMG) into the scene with a full-blown press conference to introduce its leaders.  They describe NRMG and themselves as a political organization and politicians respectively with military backgrounds that will not hesitate to use military means as last resort to remove Jammeh from power.  They are not interested, according to its spokesperson, in political power but yet they claim to be a political grouping and not a military one.  They are retired military officers but they do not consider themselves soldiers.

To be fair to the NRMG, they have tried, through their spokesperson and through a couple of press releases and radio interviews but regrettably it left people like us in more confused state than before their arrival.  The muddling through continues with an additional layer added to the Struggle that, in our view, further complicates an already difficult situation.

We continue to suggest that the political parties ring-fence themselves from all the structures of the Struggle as GMC has done.  And those who belong to and active in party politics should rejoin their respective political parties and help party leaders build, revitalize and rehabilitate them.  Those interested in a political career but do not subscribe to the philosophy of existing party should take steps to form their own and join the political fray.  A realignment along political allegiances and leanings is inevitable, and the time is now.  It will reduce the muddling through that we are witnessing currently.

Friday, May 5, 2017

GAMBIA: Foreign exchange controls are the wrong way to go

Exactly two years ago, we warned Jammeh about his interference in the foreign exchange market which caused serious distortions that ultimately affected the value of the dalasi.  Gambians are living the consequences of those irresponsible actions of the former regime.  If the new administration continues to aggravate the factors that led to the declining economy, the economy will continue on its declining path while countries like Senegal, Ghana and Mali  continue to adopt appropriate policies while curbing corruption.  Gambia must stay away from fly-by-night invetsors and hustlers if we are to make headway as a country.

Sidi Sanneh  
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 First published May 5th 2015

Faced with a persistent loss of value of the local currency, the Dalasi, against all major world currencies, especially the US Dollar, Pound Sterling and the Euro, the Gambia government, in an obvious panic mode, decided to add fuel to a raging fire by introducing foreign exchange controls.

In an official release from the Office of the President, and not the Central Bank of the Gambia (CBG) that is legally responsible for monetary policy, the government appears to be blaming hoarders of foreign exchange and not on imprudent monetary as well as fiscal policies, for the current problems facing an economy that has been struggling since 2011.  The language of the release is convoluting and imprecise thus proving difficult to gauge its impact.

State House's injecting itself in what is purely the responsibility of the Monetary Authorities brings back to the fore, a dispute between the International Monetary Fund and the regime of Yaya Jammeh about the exclusive role of the CBG in monetary affairs.

In June of 2013, the IMF warned the regime (specifically, the Office of the President) not to interfere in the forex market after meddling in it by setting rates that caused panic and uncertainty in the markets by politicizing the process.  We expect the IMF to weigh in again, hopefully, this time, with severe sanctions against a recalcitrant regime that flouts international rules with impunity.

The external factors adversely affecting the value of the dalasi include but not limited to the increasing strength of the U.S. dollar.  The Gambian dalasi is not the only currency experiencing the pressure that the dollar is exerting.  Other currencies are experiencing similar pressures but that did not result in panic-driven reaction, and as extreme as literally taking matters into the hands of politicians; in this case the Gambian dictator and away from the Central Bank authorities.

The free market-based inter-bank mechanism which has been in existence essentially since 1986 and overseen by the CBG has been undermined by Jammeh, thus threatening the purpose for which is was establish to conduct a fair and open auction of foreign exchange by the Central Bank.  Exchange controls have not worked in the past.  There is no reason to believe that they will work now.

Therefore, the regime will do itself a favor by adopting prudent fiscal and monetary measures that they have agreed to with the IMF, and not by interfering with the market mechanisms that have served the economy very well when they are left alone.  Jammeh is evidently unable to keep his hands off the market, partly because he is the single largest individual businessman in the country; so he has a vested personal interest in the market.

It is too early to gauge the full impact of the measures taken by the Gambian leader.  What is certain is that less foreigner exchange will enter the market in the short run because those holding US dollars or Euros will continue to hold on to them to see how these new measures will hold public and IMF scrutiny.   The CBG will be less active because it has little or no foreign exchange to speak of, resulting from the poor performance of two of the economy's biggest foreign exchange earners - Agriculture and tourism - in the previous two years.

In future blogs, we will be looking at these and other issues in detail.  What we have here is an outline of the debate that we expect will follow.

Meet Sulayman Gassama, State House videographer

Sulayman Gassama, of Pirang 
Exactly a year ago today, we published this blog post about a man who has a catalog of horrifying videos of horrendous rape and torture sessions that he had recorded over a period of several years for the enjoyment of Yaya Jammeh, one of the world's worst dictators.

Where is Sulayman Gassama today.  This man must be arrested and interrogated for the crimes he has witnessed and recorded on tape.  He must either be a a witness and help the authorities in their investigations or he will charged.

The same applies to the GRTS cameramen who recorded victims of torture - Amadou Sanneh, Finance Minister comes to mind - should all be arrested and appropriately charged.

Sidi Sanneh

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Sulayman Gassama is Yaya Jammeh's videographer and photographer.  His specialty is to record torture and rape sessions conducted by Jammeh's torturers and rogue elements within his murderous regime.

This man has video taped and documented numerous rape sessions for Yaya Jammeh which he enjoys watching, especially victims he considers his arch enemies.

Wives of Jammeh's opponents - real and perceived - are have been taken to the NIA torture chambers to be raped and filmed for the listening and watching pleasure of Yaya Jammeh.

Jammeh is reported to enjoy watching fellow Gambians being tortured and raped by men drunk on alcohol and drugs financed by Gambian taxpayers money.  He usually laughs at the sight of the trauma these unfortunate victims are subjected to.

We will be featuring these creatures with their photos in subsequent special editions for the world to see and get to know them for the monsters they are.  This man's father was a revered Muslim scholar - so they say.  Look at him.

Monday, May 1, 2017

A perpetual state of political dissent is not an option

Sidi Sanneh 
Last December, an obscure 51-year old real estate agent and a political newcomer named, Adama Barrow, stunned the world by defeating an entrenched dictator who’d ruled the Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years.  Equally stunning was the manner he achieved the feat - through the ballot box as opposed to the conventional route via military intervention.

While the defeat of Jammeh stunned Gambians, it left the online media flatfooted, just as it had of the opposition parties who selected Adama Barrow as their presidential candidate, setting off a wild scramble, both in The Gambia and among the online radios and social media communities in the diaspora, that had served, up to election day, as the front line in the fight against a brutal dictatorship.

In this regard, we advocated for the reorientation of online radio programming that will focus more on issues that will solidify the democratic gains realized as a result of getting rid of Jammeh democratically and without bloodshed, as opposed to getting stuck in either continuing the demonization of Jammeh or succumbing to the temptation of replacing the ousted dictator with President Barrow as a means of holding on a captured audience.   This was seen in some quarters as an attempt to silence the press by bringing them in line with, and in support of the new government which was never our intention.  The blog in question entitled "[T]he online press must also transition" can be found here.

Covering the Jammeh regime was a nightmarish experience full of carnage and brutality that can only be equated with the worst of the worst of dictatorships.  The raw brutality meted out to fellow Gambians by the Jammeh and regularly reported on by the online media, tended to have numbed the sensibilities of a portion, (hopefully, a small portion for the good of the country) that have come to normalize the gory stories that were streaming out of the NIA dungeons (Bamba Dinka).

The temptation to continue to wet the appetite of the online audience is great; driven in part by the desire to retain a captured audience, even if it means jazzing-up and/or ginning up stories at the expense of national reconciliation.  Some unsavory and unhinged characters have been taking to the airwaves, inciting people to start a new 'Struggle' against a government that is barely 100 days old, accusing the Barrow administration of promoting tribalism - a red herring -  as well as favoring certain caliber of investors.

There is no significant difference between these accusations that pit one tribe against another and Yaya Jammeh's infamous incendiary denunciation of the Mandinka ethnic group that drew an incitement to violence charge from none other than the United Nation's Special Adviser to the U.N. Secretary General on Genocide, who reminded the former dictator of how incitement to violence led to mass killings along identity lines in Rwanda and other countries around the world.  Jammeh was reprimanded as a result which should serve as a reminder that incitement to violence is a serious bridge of international law.    

The truthfulness of the accusations leveled against Barrow and his government agencies are not what are at issue here.  What is at issue is the appropriateness of taking to the airways and making unsubstantiated accusations and literally making up stuff about simple facts that can easily be verified by a click of the mouse to access official websites.

On our part, we will continue to engage the Barrow government constructively, while holding it responsible for any policy decision, particularly on issues pertaining to the public policy processes, and to provide solutions and policy options.   We do not have neither the desire nor the intention of being part of the perpetual state of political dissent because it is neither rational nor realistic.

What we will be focusing on is to be part of a process that will contribute to the building of a viable and last democratic society, using the democratic gains of last December 2nd and the international goodwill currently on offer as foundations for a better future for all Gambians.