By Mamadou Dem
Mrs. Teneng Mba Jaiteh, former Energy Minister and ambassador to Brussels, Musa Balla Gaye, former Minister of Finance, as well as the Managing Director of Standard Chartered Bank, Olukorede Adenowo, yesterday appeared at the ‘Janneh’ Commission in relation to pertinent issues under the former government.
Mrs. Jaiteh and Mr. Balla Gaye were summoned in connection to the Gamtel Gateway contracts while the banker reappeared in connection to the sale of the Kairaba Beach Hotel and Premier Agro Oil Company Limited.
During her testimony, Mrs. Jaiteh informed the Commission that she is The Gambia’s ambassador to Brussels, Belgium; that prior to this, she served in various capacities in the former government, starting as assistant secretary at the Ministry of Works; that she acted as deputy Permanent Secretary at the Personnel Management Office (PMO), Secretary to Cabinet as well as Secretary General.
According to her, she was involved in the termination of the contract awarded to Spectrum by the former government under the directive of the former president. At this juncture, Commission Counsel, Amie Bensouda, showed her some letters which she said were signed by her in relation to the termination of Spectrum and the purchase of Gamtel / Gamcel shares. The said letters were tendered and admitted as exhibits.
Further testifying, she told the commission that on the 28th of October 2008, the former president instructed the management of Gamtel / Gamcel, PURA, the Director General of NIA, Secretary of State Ministry of Finance, Communication and the Attorney General, to review the management agreement with Spectrum; that the NIA was to come up with a report on the alleged fraud and breaches made by Spectrum because there were allegations that funds were diverted and they were also terminating traffic from Lebanon.
However, she said she did not see the National Intelligence Agency report; that the former president said the sales of Gamtel were coming down and senior Gamtel officials were being laid off; that Spectrum did not comply with the terms and conditions of the contract and therefore a criminal investigation was mounted as recommended by the Attorney General because the International gateway was taken to Lebanon and an offshore account was opened without authority.
Tenengba disclosed that the former president gave Spectrum officials 72 hours to furnish them with information and cabinet was briefed on the NIA report during which they cautioned the executive on the breach of contract, as it might end up being a court case.
According to her, at the time of signing the contract with Spectrum, Gamtel owned 90% of the Company; that they were called by the former president to meet System 1 representatives on the 1st of November 2008; that the briefing was about the said company; that during the briefing, they were told that System 1 gave technical support to Global Voice and Spectrum was using the switches of Global Voice.
Tenengba informed the Commission that they asked System 1 to provide them with documents if they were interested in investing in The Gambia; that the former president told them that the draft contract they submitted to him was at variance with the other one.
According to her, she received directives from the former president to write minutes for the purchase of Gamtel / Gamcel shares by Spectrum.
However, she told the Commission that she was not privy to the minutes; that she was instructed to write letters in connection to the contract with Spectrum; that she was never involved in the negotiation of the contract with Spectrum neither did she deal with Mr Bazzi; that the Gambian side of the contract with Spectrum was signed by the then Minister of Justice; that the transaction was too much to be handled.
When quizzed by Commissioner Bai Mass Saine as to who represented the Gambia’s interest in the said Company (Spectrum), she responded that it was the former Vice President and the former Justice Minister.
Mrs. Tenengba Jaiteh further testified that the representatives of Spectrum were not on the ground for the termination of the contract with Spectrum; that she was never involved in the issue of buying shares. “I did not see the report of the NIA neither did I follow up,” she told the Commission.
At this juncture, instructions issued by the office of the former president to the Ministry of Finance for disbursement of funds from a Central Bank Account, were tendered and admitted as exhibits.
According to Mrs. Jaiteh, the former president was advised to appoint a Minister of Communication and Technology because matters of communication were too technical to them, as they did not have the expertise; that she confessed to the former president that it was too technical to handle; that despite being given 24 hours with the System 1 Contract, they wrote to say that the company would not serve Gambia’s interest; that she never spoke with Mr. Charara neither did she meet him.
On other requests for payments signed by the witness, she responded that she could not remember exactly what the money was meant for but was of the belief that it had to do with the treatment of HIV/AIDS by the former president.
At this juncture, Counsel Bensouda told her that the sum of $46,325,000 was paid to AMS Corporation in connection to the acquisition of state aircraft while the sum of $1,000,000 was paid into a CBG account of one Dr. Buba Badjie, who was in Sweden. She said this was an instruction from the Chief of Protocol, Alagie Ousman Ceesay; that Mr. Ceesay told her the purpose of the money was for a poultry project and Mr. Badjie was to provide the equipment for the project but she did not know whether the equipment arrived in The Gambia, neither did she know where the poultry project was located.
On the payment of $250,000 as scholarship payments to medical students in the United States of America, she said instructions were given to transfer the said sum to the embassy of The Gambia in Washington DC and the instruction for the disbursement of the funds was signed by Dr. Njogu Bah. At this juncture, Counsel put it to her that those who received the scholarship never sounded as Gambians but the witness responded that it was the first time she was seeing the document and the transaction did not pass through her.
When asked about the payment of $32,400,000 to the former president, she confirmed that it should have been paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund; that this payment was out of the ordinary. It was further put to her by Counsel that there was an instruction to transfer monies from the Central Bank to Trust Bank in the name of Green Industry which she said was signed by her and Njogu Bah. According to her, the said industry was set up by the former president and one Sheriff Nyang and they were partnering with some Chinese but it was an unorganised enterprise; that the CEO of GIPZA went to her office and explained that Green industry owed them a lot of money; that it was operated from public funds and the purpose was to create employment and for development; that they were making uniforms, clothes, baby diapers, toilet paper among other things.
The witness alleged that when the former president was unable to handle the Company, he dumped it on them; that they persuaded him for a business plan to be made for the operation of the Company.
However, Counsel Bensouda put it to her that the office of the former president was not a business entity and there were institutions that were in charge of businesses. She replied that they tried very hard to discourage the former president from being involved in business, but this was difficult for them.
At this juncture, Commissioner Saine interjected and told the witness that public administration was different from business administration; that notwithstanding, the former president appointed himself as Chief Investment Officer and was making numerous financial decisions.
In response, the witness acknowledged that the office of the former president is a government office and not a business entity but that the former president was of the belief that anything that was not operated from his office was not efficient.
Tenengba however testified that not all that was operated at that level was indeed efficient, noting that they succeeded in some areas while they failed in others.
She finally told the Commission that due to the Gamtel issue, she was removed from the office of the former president.
Next to testify was Fatim Badjie, former Minister of Communication and Health, who was summoned in connection to the Gamtel and Spectrum gateway contract.
Fatim said it was correct that she was a public servant and had served as a minister in the said portfolios.
At this juncture, Counsel asked her to look at the Spectrum / Gamtel Gateway contract as well as some letters and she confirmed signing one of them; that she did not see some of the documents before which triggered Commission Counsel to apply for her testimony to be adjourned, in order to give her the opportunity to photocopy and refresh her memory on the documents.
Next to testify was the Managing Director of Standard Charted Bank, Olukorede Adenowo, who reappeared in connection to the sale of Kairaba Beach Hotel and Premier Agro Oil Company.
Adenowo told the Commission that he had both letters of Kairaba Beach Hotel and the bank; that following an agreement and the payment of $10,000,000, there was a subsequent payment of $2,600,000 paid into the hotel’s account; that he could not find any document relating to the facility extended to the hotel.
According to him, the hotel instructed the bank to pay $7,000,000 to Trust Bank’s foreign account. At that point, Counsel tasked him to find out the original owners and the previous management as well as the current one. The witness revealed that Millennium Trading was managing the hotel before it was sold to M.A. Kharafi.
Documents relating to the purchase price of the hotel by M.A. Kharafi, instructions of payments by Kharafi and other related correspondences were admitted as exhibits.
Adenowo finally disclosed to the Commission that they never had anything like collateral security for Agro Oil Company other than the venture agreement which he had submitted to the Commission.
Mr. Musa Balla Gaye, former Minister of Finance, testified in connection to the Gamtel Gateway after he gave a synopsis of his services in government way back from 1970. Gaye said the former government had never discussed the sale of 50% shares of Gamtel/Gamcel to Spectrum; that there was no due process in the sale of Gamtel / Gamcel shares and people like the former Attorney General, were never involved in the negotiation, because the president constituted his own negotiation team.
The former Finance Minister informed the Commission that he was not aware of the evaluation of Gamtel / Gamcel by the former government, as the Finance Minister at the time; that he could not give evidence on the shareholders of Gamtel / Gamcel because they were only summoned and instructed to execute orders given to them by the former president.
He however testified that the normal practice is for government shares to be held in the name of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance but that he was not sure whether due process was followed; that on one and one basis, he advised the former president and he heeded to his advice but not at cabinet level.
While responding to Commissioner Saine, he said “as Minister of Finance, I was empowered to advise the president, but in the case of Spectrum, the former president already took his decision.”
I don’t think it was prudent after the president took a decision to change it despite being empowered by the National Assembly. The former president was doing things in his own way,” said Gaye.
He further said that notwithstanding, it did not mean that whatever the former president did was okay with him, but after he came up with a decision, he would not come out plainly and challenge it. However, Counsel Bensouda told him that it was his responsibility to advise the president when he was wrong in some of his decisions.