By Mamadou Dem
Mrs. Isatou Njie-Saidy, former Vice President of the Republic of The Gambia, yesterday appeared before the ‘Janneh’ Commission and testified that it was only Zainab Jammeh, the former First Lady, who could say why she operated a private foundation using public funds. The former Vice President and Women Affairs Minister was summoned in connection to Operation Save the Children Foundation to which she was a board member and signatory to its accounts.
Prior to dwelling on the subject matter, she gave a synopsis of her portfolios under the former government. In her testimony, she confirmed that she was a member of the foundation and it was correct that she signed a document from Trust Bank Gambia Limited. However, Mrs. Bensouda put it to her that the foundation was not registered. In response, she said it was handled by the office of the former president and they were referred to the Attorney General’s Chambers for registration.
She told the Commission that she believed the foundation was registered and a letter dated 6th October 2014, addressed to the Ministry of Justice was shown to her. She said the Ministry wrote to the office of the former president confirming the registration. Further looking at a letter written to the Solicitor General regarding the registration of the foundation, she said if the registration was confirmed, it would come through the office of the former president.
According to her, she did not receive the registration certificate of the foundation but the board of the foundation met and that the former First Lady once attended the board meeting in her private office; that the former First Lady’s office was part of the office of the former president, further stating that maybe the former First Lady’s office was created in the last 10 years. Mrs. Njie Saidy further testified that the former First Lady gave money to EFSTH to extend some buildings; that she did not think that the former First Lady was regarded as a public servant. At this juncture, Mrs. Bensouda put it to her that there was no public office for the former First Lady. In response, she said the former First Lady had a budget approved by the National Assembly. However, Counsel Bensouda put it to her again that it was strange for the former First Lady to be a member of the board of the foundation. Mrs. Njie-Saidy informed the Commission that she was sent a form to fill by the former First Lady to open an account for the foundation and she became a signatory to the said account.
She disclosed that she saw the objective of the foundation as laudable, noting that this was why she became a signatory to the account as well as a board member; that she was not consulted when the foundation was formed and was not either consulted to be a member of the board. She however said she was only approached to be a member of the board; that the Women’s Bureau together with other institutions were under her purview. It was put to her by Counsel that the foundation had accounts at the Guaranty Trust and Trust Banks respectively, amounting to $130,000 and $60,000 respectively and that the $60,000 account bore her signature. In response, the former VP intimated that it was not her signature; that she did not sign the account indicating the $130,000.
She was again given other documents to confirm whether she signed them, out of which she confirmed signing only one, which was an online account; that the purpose was to acquire a video for $3,847. “I signed because the former First Lady was not available,” she disclosed.
Other Trust Bank accounts were again given to her to confirm whether she signed them and she confirmed. She said the former First Lady saw the need to identify musicians who did a good job in Morocco and this was why they were brought to The Gambia for an event and spent some money for the said event. Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda put it to her that as a board member, she was responsible for the foundation but Mrs. Njie-Saidy responded in the positive.
It was again put to her that she should have made sure that the foundation was registered but she responded that she did not know that the foundation was not registered. Further responding to Counsel Bensouda, she said she did not think signing cheques was a risk she took as a member of the board. Further testifying, she told the Commission that they had to organise a gala dinner to generate income for the foundation.
According to her, the members of the foundation were not easily able to talk to the former First Lady or the former president. When asked whether the former First Lady could run a foundation by using public funds, she responded that for ethical reasons, she would not do it. She told the Commission that it was only the former First Lady who could explain why she was involved in running a private foundation. Documents produced by the former Vice President were tendered and admitted as exhibits.
Mr. Mustapha Colley, former Deputy Director of Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC), reappeared in connection to Premier Agro Oil Company while the former Managing Director of Gamtel Babucarr Sanyang, reappeared to produce some documents and further testified on Gamtel-Gateway contracts. Meanwhile, the Commission will embark on a site visit and will resume on the 15th February, 2018.