Thursday, November 21, 2019

Audit Office Unable To Establish Ownership Of “Daily Observer”


By Mamadou Dem

Karamba Touray, Auditor General at the National Audit Office (NAO), yesterday September 6th, appeared before the ‘Janneh’ Commission. Touray who was summoned in connection to an audit carried out on the “Daily Observer” Newspaper Company, disclosed that among their main findings was the inability to establish ownership of the said Company.

According to him, the audit on “Daily Observer” came as a request from the Office of the former president through a letter, dated 4th June 2015. He confirmed that the audit was conducted and he was in possession of the file and the audit report as well.

At this juncture, a copy of the file from NAO, including a letter of engagement between the Company and NAO, were tendered and admitted as exhibit.

Touray testified that they were tasked to audit the Company from July 2010, to 31st July 2015, noting that they were able to establish the original owners of the Company, but that by then, it was not registered; that among their main findings, was their inability to establish ownership of the Company, because it was not registered before it was sold; but that the original owners were Keneth Y. Best and Lawyer Ida Drammeh. He said tax liabilities and social corporate responsibilities and staff loans, were not paid; that they discovered that some payments could not be justified, because they were not supported by documents.

At this juncture, Commissioner Saine told him that as NAO, they are allowed to audit public institutions and not private firms. However, Touray responded that where Government has minor interest, they would conduct an audit; that they could not establish who purchased the Company from the original owners, noting that appointment of staff usually came from the office of the former president. He stated further that the Company should be sold in public auction, further stating that he did not consider the Company to be a public enterprise.

On how they came to know that the “Daily Observer” was not registered, he said they consulted the AG Chambers and were told that the Company was not registered.

Next to testify was Alagie Jabang, former Finance Director at Gam Petroleum. Jabang was recalled before the Commission, at the instance of Muhammed Bazzi and Fadi Mazegi and reappeared for continuation of cross-examination by Messer Bazzi and Mazegi’s attorney, Victoria Andrews.

Ms. Andrews reminded him about the account for reconciliation which he carried out with Euro Africa Group. She told him that the reconciliation followed the meeting held between Gam Petroleum and Euro Africa Group, but Jabang denied this.

Jabang said this was done during the audit; that he attended a meeting with Bazzi and Saihou Drammeh, but could not remember vividly what happened during the meeting; that Bazzi wanted them to strike a deal and he told him to correct their records, such as the exchange rate. He however testified that Mazegi threatened to institute Legal action against the Company, which he said would incur more than what they were claiming.

The former finance director adduced that he could recollect a document that was signed by Messer Mazegi and Drammeh.

At this juncture, he was given the document which was later given back to Counsel Andrews, who read the contents to the witness. She put it to him that a sum of $47,000 was supposed to be waived by Eagle Company. Again Ms. Andrews gave him the said document to identify the signature on it. In response, he said the signature looked like Saihou Drammeh’s.

On the signatories of Gam Petroleum’s account, Jabang told Commissioners that they were Michael Gladie, former General Manager, himself and Momodou Badjie, former Managing Director of Gambia National Petroleum Corporation.

He disclosed that when Michael left, he and Saihou Drammeh became signatories to the account; that the former GM together with one Simon Paul, signed the cheque issued to APRC.

It was put to him by Counsel Andrews, that they made a payment of D2.7 million. But he said from the D5,000,000 they made a payment of D3.7 million to APRC; that the payment to the former ruling party was from the 2016-2017 budget.  He said prior to this, there was a board meeting but he was not privy to know what led to the dismissal of the General Manager.

It was again put to him, that the minutes of meeting indicated that there were no donations made to the APRC, but Jabang insisted that he could recall at a board meeting, that they should give something to the ‘big man.’

“What you have said is not the truth,” Counsel Andrews challenged Jabang. But he responded that it was. Regarding payments made to APRC, Jabang said he made the GM to sign a document; that hence he was talking to him verbally. “I was terminated after a disciplinary hearing,” he disclosed.

Ms. Andrews put it to him that he failed to tell the auditors that the sum of €2.9 million, was owed to Euro Africa Group by Gam Petroleum. However, Jabang was a bit sceptical to respond to the question, but was quick to argue that he was not the subject matter before the Commission. According to Jabang, the Commission was not the platform to discuss issues that triggered his termination as Finance Director at Gam Petroleum.

Baba Fatajo, Managing Director of NAWEC, reappeared for cross-examination at the instance of Messer Bazzi and Mazegi of Euro Africa Group. Testifying under cross-examination, Fatajo said he started work at NAWEC in 1993 up to 2013, when his services were terminated but was reinstated in March 2017. Ms. Andrews told him that he was required to produce some documents.

He however responded that the volume of documents they asked for, could not be put together; that he is on leave.

At this juncture, Counsel Bensouda intervened and told the Commission that the Legal Officer at NAWEC wrote, indicating that it would take time to produce the said documents requested by Counsel Andrews, ranging from 2002-2015. Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda, submitted that the request made by Bazzi’s attorney was unfair, because it was not specific as to which documents she needed. According to her, Ms. Andrews ought to be precise on the documents she wanted to be produced; that from 2002-2015 is a long period. She said it would just waste the time of the commission.

In her counter argument, Ms. Andrews said her request was apt, and did not in any way intend to waste the time of the Commission; that NAWEC witnesses, including Alagie Conteh, alleged that contracts were not awarded properly. She said the only way they could contradict such allegations, was by providing them with the necessary documents. She explained to the Commission that the request was made on 18th July and forwarded to NAWEC on the 19th of the same month, in 2018. She said their request was on electricity and water projects.

It was at this juncture, that Commission Chairman Sourahata Janneh, said: “It is our desire to be as fair as possible.” He however said from 2002-2015 is extremely wide, despite the fact that Counsel Andrews was limiting her request to electricity and water projects respectively, and ruled that production of documents by NAWEC must be based on relevance.

Hearing continues on Monday 10th September, 2018.

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