By Mamadou Dem
Dr. Njogu Bah, former Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service and Presidential Affairs Minister, yesterday told the ‘Janneh’ Commission that the former president said the purpose of the Kanilai Recording Studio was to support Gambian artists to record their songs because they were recording in a foreign land.
Dr. Bah was summoned in connection to grants from Taiwan, Green Industries and Kanilai Academy respectively. He testified that he found the said grants already in place when he assumed certain responsibilities.
He however agreed with Counsel Amie Bensouda that the dormitories at Kanilai were from public funds; that he was not aware whether the funds were accounted for but that the Kanilai Academy was initiated by the former president and meant for Science and Technology; that the project was implemented by the Ministry of Higher Education.
According to Dr Bah, the grant existed because of special arrangements the Taiwanese had with the former president, for national development; that at the beginning, there would be a bilateral meeting between the Embassy and the office of the former president; that the Embassy would invite them to identify the projects and determine the cost.
He said there was an annual and small grants; that the annual grant was $30,000,000 while the small grants was $10,000,000; that the small grants were meant for smaller projects which were probably not captured in the annual grant. Dr Bah testified that the former president would make proposals and an approval was made by the Embassy; but that prior to this, the Embassy would ask for clarifications in any ambiguous matters which were forwarded to the office of the former president and they would subsequently draw a budget.
He said once the project was identified, contractors would be involved and the cost would be determined and a letter would be written by the office of the former president to the ambassador and the funds would be disbursed. He however said the account was handled by the office of the former president and the Taiwanese embassy.
At this juncture, Mrs Bensouda asked him whether there was an accounting procedure and he responded that he did not see any accounting procedure but that receipts were attached showing disbursement of funds; that it was correct that the Taiwanese grants did not pass through the former Government’s accounting system neither was the Ministry of Finance nor the Accountant General, were involved.
The former civil service boss revealed that at the end of every year, there would be reconciliation for the disbursement of funds for the projects, further stating that the grants were not audited by the Auditor General or external auditors; that the receipts showing disbursement of funds would also be requested by the Embassy for their records and that they always ensured that monies presented to the office of the former president were televised.
However, Counsel Bensouda put it to him that the sum of $100,000 and $1,000,000 for the Green Industries were all from the Taiwanese grants. In response, he said the former president came up with the idea and that there was a construction at the airport for the operations of the Company.
Counsel Bensouda at that point explained to him that about $3,000,000 was disbursed with regard to the academy while on the Recording Studio, the former president said he wanted to help Gambian artists because they were recording their cassettes in neighbouring countries; but that there was an issue with that project, as the former president was not happy with the interior of the studio, particularly on the designing; that he then instructed Gamworks to take over.
Earlier, Mr. Ebrima Cham, Director General of GAMWORKS, testified in connection to Kanilai Recording Studio and Conference Centre. He told the Commission that he has been at Gamworks from 2004 to date; that he works in the Public Service after his high school.
When asked by Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda about his involvement in the said projects at Kanilai, he responded that he met up with Mr. Amadou Samba who informed him that the former president wanted him to help with the technical assistance on the projects.
According to him, after he spoke with Mr. Samba, he did not hear from him but he (Samba) later called to inform him that they wanted a recording studio at Kanilai which he said is situated after the Guard Post on the left side and this was how he got involved.
Mr. Cham told the Commission that there was a foundation stone laying by the former president at his native village and he (Cham) was invited to attend; that the office of the former president was supposed to supply materials of the said recording studio and pay the contractors.
At this juncture, he revealed that the office of the former president gave him cheques for payment to contractors but the contractors were not happy because there was delay in payments which he told Amadou Samba who in turn informed the former president.
Documents produced by the witness in connection to bank statements showing deposits of the funds into his personal account at Eco Bank and other related documents, were tendered and admitted as exhibits.
According to him, Andaligai Africa Company, were contracted with the construction of the Kanilai Recording Studio and Conference Centre and one of the contractors was a French man called Fluor, who Mr. Samba represented in Kanilai, but the contract was not signed.
He said prior to Andaligai company, the contract was started by another Company which was signed by Amadou Samba on the 28th April 2008, while he served as a witness.
Asked whether he knew the total value, he responded in the negative adding that excluding an advance of D1, 265,000 given to the contractor, the total cost of the project for both labour and materials was D1,309,035M. However, Mrs Bensouda put to him that the total payments was D30, 001,775 which she said was for labour and materials.
Mr. Cham further confirmed that the sum of D2, 000,000 was disbursed to him by Amadou Samba through cheques, which he paid to the contractors of the dormitories.
“As Director of General of Gamworks, are you allowed to do private work of this nature?” Mrs Bensouda quizzed. In response, Cham said he considered this voluntary assistance to the former president but he did not sign any contract and there was no indication that the work was not for the state; that it was not clear to him as well, that the projects were funded from public funds neither did he exchange any correspondence regarding the work.
The Director General adduced that Mr. Samba told him the services they needed from him were not for Gamworks but rather they just wanted him to offer some help.
On why he deposited monies into his own account, he said he did not want to keep that huge sum in his office or at home, noting that he made a statement of the expenditures and a bunch of the transactions.
Counsel Bensouda asked him to produce all the accounts he prepared and the sum paid out.
Further testifying, the witness said he did not know the purpose of the Kanilai Studio and the conference centre; that he could not remember the total cost of the conference centre.
He told the Commission that he did not know either what happened with the dormitories, noting that he did not have anything to do with other works at Kanilai.
At this juncture, Counsel Bensouda told him that he was required to submit his accounts to the Commission. Responding to Mrs. Abiosseh George-Gaye, Mr Cham testified that he was not paid for the assistance he offered the former president.
Testifying earlier, Mr. Kebba Drammeh, principal records officer, office of the president, reappeared to surrender some files from the office of the former president in connection to the Taiwanese loans. He confirmed that the documents he was given to go through relates to Kanilai recording studio and conference centre which were tendered and admitted in evidence.
Mr. Ousman Jammeh, also a former Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service, reappeared in connection to the grants from Taiwan and it was brought to his attention that substantial sums to the tune of $350,000 and $1,000,000 respectively, were disbursed for a poultry project in Kanilai and some of the requests were signed by him.
In response, he said there was a poultry project initiated by the former president and he understood that the purpose was for food self-sufficiency; that Dr Buba Badjie came with some Swedish nationals and told him that they came to establish a poultry project which was also approved by the Taiwanese Embassy.
According to him, the location of the hatchery was at Kanilai and there were certain shipments of containers for the hatchery but the project did not materialise; that he did not know whether the former president had access to PEGEP funds.
Hearing continues today.
By Mamadou Dem