By Mamadou Dem
The former Minister of Regional Administration, Lands and Traditional Rulers, Momodou Aki Bayo, yesterday told the Janneh Commission that the former president was passionate about landed properties and that was why he identified hills as his own.
Mr. Bayo was summoned in connection to the lease of properties issued to the former president and the Gambia Milling Corporation, whiles the former Minister of Agriculture Ismaila Sanyang, appeared in connection to KGI, MRI and other Government accounts respectively.
Prior to dwelling on the subject matter, Bayo gave a background of the portfolios he held under the former Governments.
He was told by Mrs. Bensouda that he approved a lease land belonging to the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) to a private Company (Gambia Milling Corporation), to which he responded in the affirmative.
Counsel Bensouda told him that the land was a freehold property but he said he relied heavily on technical advice and that the matter was dealt with the Physical Planning and the Department of Lands and Surveys, including technical staff of his Ministry; that being a freehold property, there should have been an approval from the National Assembly and the President before it was leased.
According to him, his records showed that GPA gave their consent on the leasing of the land. He however could not produce the document at that point and was required to produce it to the Commission.
On the approval of the four properties on the coastal area leased to KFF, Bayo said he did not know how these extensive properties were acquired without following due process as alluded to by the Department of Tourism.
He however said as the Minister at the time, he relied on his technical staff and if it was pointed out to him that the said land fall under TDA, he would have made second thoughts.
Mr. Bayo told the Commission that it’s not his style to blame his junior staff; that he did not only signed the lease documents based on the advice from the technical staff, but it was done out of fear.
He further told Commissioners that had it been he refused to approve them, then there would have been consequences which would be detrimental. He said his junior staff were not consulted prior to granting the leased lands to the former president.
On whether the former president discussed with him land matters, he responded in the affirmative; that the former head of state on a couple of occasions, told him about land affairs.
According to him, during a Cabinet retreat in Kailai, the former president emphasised to him as to why one of his provincial properties was not leased; but that he responded to him that the documents were yet to reach his desk and described the way the former president spoke to him as ‘threatening.’
At this juncture, Commissioner Saine interjected and asked whether there was a culture of collaboration between him and his staff and he responded in the positive. “I do interact with them and they advised me not to do certain things,” he expounded.
He finally testified that under Jammeh’s rule, there was a climate of fear, intimidation, torture and disappearances and most officials under his administration had a story to tell. He however said despite all those difficult circumstances, he tried everything possible not to make anyone cry.
Mr. Bayo is expected to reappear today in connection to the lease surrounding the land given to the Gambia Milling Corporation.
Testifying earlier, the former Agric Minister Sanyang confirmed to the Commission that he was a co-signatory to various accounts namely, Tax Recovery, GNPC, MRI Presidential, Higher Education, PAC/PEC and Kanilai Institute of Technology Accounts respectively. On how the MRI was funded, he responded that he has no idea about how the account was funded because he found the account in operation at the office of the former president and it was managed by the permanent secretaries, office of the former president.
At this juncture, Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda, asked him to explain a transaction for the withdrawal of D7, 000,000 which was authorised by him and Isatou Aurba. Sanyang responded that it was an instruction from the former president for the said sum to be withdrawn and handed over to him as a matter of urgency; that he has no idea about what the fund was intended for while confirming that he physically handed over the said sum to the former president, but could not recollect in the presence of whom; that it is correct that he authorised the payment of D2,000,000 to Sanna Jarju, former Chief of Protocol.
Sanyang further told the Commission that it will be difficult to know the purpose of the payment to Jarju ,suggesting that Jarju should be in a better position to explain considering the condition they worked under, they dared not ask questions.
According to him, these were inherited accounts and it would be difficult for him to explain how funds were lodged and withdrawn from the account; that the former president was more responsible for the funds than him, as he was the Chief Executive of the country.
“It would be difficult for me to know what the monies were meant for under those circumstance,” Sanyang said.
He said if the issue of KGI was brought to his attention earlier as the Agric Minister, he would have resolved the matter with regard to the debt amounting to D100, 000,000 it owed to the Ministry.
Next to testify was Mr. Bakary Biati Trawally, a Plant Pathologist who introduced himself as a former national and international civil servant.
Trawally who gave a synopsis of his career as a civil servant ranging from 1979, was summoned in connection to the Japanese grants (rice) and testified that the grants came well before Jammeh came into power, but that it was in the form of pesticides among others.
According to him, when the former President became Minister of Agriculture in 2007, he was moved in and out of the Ministry and hardly saw or communicated with him.
He alleged that it was very difficult to work with the former president as all correspondences had to be sent to the Secretary General, rather than the Minister responsible for agricultural matters. He said during his time as PS, the Ministry used to liaise with Sarja Camara of KGI regarding the Japanese rice; that the proceeds were deposited at the bank but he never dealt with KGI.
“All the time I was at the Department of State for Agriculture (DOSA), there was no sitting Minister at the quadrangle,” he said.
With regard to the Japanese grant, he said they were usually asked by the Japanese to list down the items needed prior to disbursement of the consignment; that he did not think the Japanese grant helped the poor people as intended, noting that the Gambia has a fertile soil and resources, to produce what it consumes.
He however opined that what the country needs, is to upgrade the soil by applying fertilizer, enhance the capacity of the farmers with farm implements as well as introduce irrigation systems. He said he never knew that KGI belongs to the former president and that the Japanese would not specifically identify the Companies to award contract for the sale of the rice.
He finally testified that he initially suggested for the sale of Japanese rice to be decentralised among the Governors in various regions, who will sell and deposit the proceeds into a Trust Bank account, which will in turn be deposited to CBG.
Next to face the Commission was Mrs. Woreh Njie-Ceesay, Managing Director of Kanilai Group International. She was summoned in connection to KGI accounts and APAM respectively.
During her evidence, Mrs. Ceesay told the Commission that she was a banker with First International Bank (FIB), prior to assuming the responsibility of Managing Director of KGI.
On how she became MD for the said Company, she said she was approached by the then Secretary General Momodou Sabally, to serve in this portfolio; that while at the Bank, she was the Manager of the JB KGI account which she said, was a joint venture investment different from KGI, dealing with the importation of cement among others.
According to her, she was appointed as MD on March 14th 2014, and among the payments she was receiving, were proceeds from Bakeries and Rentals from Futurlec building; that as MD of the Company, she reports to General Sulayman Badjie.
At this juncture, she confirmed that Gen. Sulayman Badjie owned 60% of KFF while she owned 40% as per the amendment on the Memorandum of Article and Association.
Mrs. Ceesay further disclosed to the Commission that upon her appointment, a meeting was held between the former president, Momodou Sabally and herself and it was at this meeting that she was asked to be reporting to Gen. Badjie.
She finally testified that request for payments from the former president through Gen. Sulayman Badjie were available.
Sittings continue today.
By Mamadou Dem