By Mamadou Dem
Mr. Alagie Abdoulie Kebbeh, Telecom engineer and consultant, yesterday revealed that the National Telecommunication Company (GAMTEL) has a debt burden of about one billion dalasi.
Mr. Kebbeh who was reappearing before the ‘Janneh’ Commission as a member of the taskforce constituted by the former president to probe into the affairs of GAMTEL, was testifying in connection with a contract between MGI, which was in charge of the management of the gateway project while the Multimedia Gateway Incorporation (MGI) was focused on the maintenance of the said project.
According to him, the said contract was signed by Balla Jassey and Babucarr Jabbai in October 2014, further stating that the purpose of the contract was for the implementation of the gateway project.
Mr. Kebbeh further testified that he had the contract documents of MGI for the management of the Gamtel International Gateway project; that he however did not have the memorandum and articles of association of the Company.
The telecom expert at that point produced correspondences which included the duty waiver for Mobicell and other documents relating to the contract and other projects which were addressed to the Secretary General. He said the contracts were not subjected to competitive bidding.
He also informed the Commission that there was a duty waiver on the MGI contract and that he did not find out whether they were paying corporate tax; that the taskforce report did not look into the issue of tax for MGI in Switzerland or its subsidiary Company in The Gambia.
Rectifying his previous testimony on the payment received by MGI from the Gamtel gateway proceeds, he said the sum of $600,000 was effected from the 1st of June 2014, to 31st December 2014, and $800,000 up to the end of 2016 when the contract started.
Dwelling further, he said Gamtel did not benefit from the contract; that all the monies went to Spectrum. He said Gamtel had no autonomy to manage the Company; that the money generated went to CBG and not to Gamtel.
Mr. Kebbeh testified that they did not suggest to the former Government to sell Gamtel shares; that what he meant by ‘autonomy’ was that Gamtel should decide on matters concerning Gamtel and the management of the gateway project. He recollected that Gamtel was among the best Companies in terms of communication after South Africa; that if the Company enjoys autonomy, it would regain its lost glory. He said the Companies that signed contracts with Gamtel for the management of the gateway project were not investors but business groups who showed interest in the national telecom Company.
According to him, the shareholders of Gamtel (government) seized the revenue of the Company and interfered with its affairs; that this has affected the Company. He said Gamtel’s debt was about 1 billion dalasi.
At this juncture, when he was asked by Commissioner Saine, he responded that he did not think the termination of traffic at the office of the former president stopped.
Documents relating to the management service report as well as certificates of incorporation were admitted in evidence.
Next to testify was Mr. Abdoulie Jallow, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, who reappeared in connection to the disbursement of $5,000,000 to a Central Bank account. He told the Commission that they could not establish the beneficiary of the said amount.
According to him, the normal procedure was to follow their tender procedure and when it was finalized, the supervisor or the government consultant would authorize or certify for payments; that however, on the $35,000,000 loan, they did not have any evidence that the Ministry of Finance was involved.
Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda, told him that in 1999, there were grants signed by the government but the witness responded that the grants were handled by the office of the former president; that he did not know anything regarding the Republic of China on Taiwan, and The Gambia protocols.
It was put to him by Counsel Bensouda that substantial grants were made by Taiwan. In response, he said most of the grants were in the form of development assistance; that his Ministry was fully involved in grants given to The Gambia as it must be included in the estimates presented to the National Assembly and were treated under Revenue and Grants Section.
Mr. Jallow however revealed to the Commission that his Ministry did not play any role in the grants granted by Republic of China on Taiwan, because the Ministry was not involved in grants prior to 2013; that from 17th July 2009 to 1st December 2009, there was a repurchase by the former government of Spectrum shares to the tune of $5,000,000.
Mr. Ebrima O Camara, former Secretary General and head of the Civil Service, who was summoned in connection with the Gamtel Gateway contracts, informed the Commission that he was recently appointed as Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but prior that, he served at the office of the former president from 2002-2009 as Principal Economist.
Dwelling on the subject matter, he confirmed that he signed the contract agreement between Gamtel and Tell and according to him, there was a meeting at the office of the former president where he was called and told that a group of investors would take over the management of the gateway project.
He informed Commissioners that he was told that the agreement was to be signed on the same day, as the investors were to leave and therefore, signed on behalf of Gamtel; that he was redeployed in May 2011 to the Embassy in Brussels.
The witness further testified that he never met the management of Spectrum but was of the view that Tell and Spectrum had some linkage; that Mr. Muhammed Bazzi introduced Tell Company to the former president and there was popular opinion that Bazzi was part of Spectrum.
Responding to Mrs. Bensouda, Mr. Camara testified that it was the responsibility of the Secretary General to inform him about the outcome of the Spectrum / Gamtel relationship as all correspondences were channelled through him.
Documents relating to settlement of disputes between the two Companies among others, were admitted as evidence.