By Mamadou Dem
Business Mogul, Muhammeh Bazzi yesterday informed the Janneh Commission of Enquiry, that he has finally withdrawn his application to be heard in camera, after consulting partners, friends and family members and also based on the fact that he has nothing to hide.
According to Mr. Bazzi, his safety and security has been guaranteed by the Government of the Gambia under the leadership of Adama Barrow.
Earlier, the former Managing Director of Social Security, Housing and Finance Corporation (SSHFC), Edward Graham, continued with his testimony before the Commission on the SSHFC Act he was referred to, the last time he appeared before the Commission.
Prior to continuing with his testimony, Commission Counsel, Mrs. Amie Bensouda told him that the SSHFC Act was amended in 2010. But Graham said he was referring to the 2015 Act which separates Social Security from Housing and Finance. He was then handed over copies of the Act of 1981 and 2010 respectively, to peruse.
At that juncture, Mr. Graham made comparison of both the SSHFC Act 2010, as well as the 1981 Act and explained that both Acts talked about the appointment of a Managing Director and the Governing Body of the Corporation, by the President.
Upon perusal of the 2010 Act, the witness discovered that the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance acts as the Vice Chairperson of the board of directors of the Corporation and section 20 of the same Act stipulates that even were as the Managing Director of SSHFC delegates his deputy to act, he/she (MD) is still responsible for the action or actions executed by the person delegated.
According to him, on the 27th of September, they received directives from the office of the then President for the purchase of tents amounting to D88, 000,000.00 and Central Bank of the Gambia served as the guarantor. He said they later received letters from CBG and Trust Bank that they received the bill of lading indicating that the tents have been received and their account was debited to that effect.
The office of the then President according to him, informed the Corporation that CBG will be responsible for the payments of the tents. He said there were no documents to show the transactions regarding the tents; that the money used for the purchase of the tents, was a loan but he could not confirm at that time whether the loan was approved by the board prior to disbursement. Mr. Graham also told the Commission as per the Act, that the board has no mandate to approve or disapprove directives from the Minister of Finance much more directives from the Executive. He said the loans given were guided by the policy of the Corporation while citing Section 39 of the 2015 Act, to strengthen his evidence.
Mr. Graham at that point was interjected by Commission Chairman, Sourahata Janneh who put it to him that he did not introduced himself as a Legal Practitioner and said to him someone who is not a Legal Practitioner, is not compelled to answer legal questions but because of his action of citing laws, the Commission Counsel is forced to ask him legal questions. Commission Chairman advised the witness that if he wants, he can get a Counsel to write a legal opinion on his behalf, regarding the Laws he cited and based on his responsibilities as the former MD.
The Chairman further told him that as Commissioners they are interested in facts and not Law, because they will come up with the position of the Law at the end of the day.
Commission Counsel further told the witness that when he was reinstated in 2010, several loans were given to NAWEC amounting to $7.9 Million, $5.6 Million, $6 Million and $300 Million respectively.
When asked whether he advised that the National Provident Fund was almost in jeopardy, Graham said he has discussed the issue with the former Secretary General but they were asked to go ahead with giving loans as it was an Executive Directive. He said some payments were made by NAWEC for the loans given to them and he has documents to back his testimony.
The witness further informed Commissioners that they have met NAWEC in order to offset the debts they owe the Corporation since they don’t have money to pay as a strategy, which he said was in 2016.
Documents relating to debts repayment agreement between the Corporation and NAWEC, were admitted as exhibits.
On the purchase of fire tenders and ambulance, he said he was called at State House by Njogu Bah for the safety and security of the Airport and the Corporation was asked to give loan which will be paid. But he intimated to them that it has to be in writing. Documents relating to work about the resolution of NAWEC, Fire tenders and ambulance were admitted as exhibits. He said he did not have the resolution of the loans for the Tobaski rams and the Aircraft.
He disclosed that actions have been taken verbally and in writing for the payment of the loans given by the Corporation to Institutions. Documents relating to actions taken by the Corporation for the repayment of loans in the form of letters, were produced by the witness and applied for tender by Counsel, as exhibits.
“We built Social Security from zero to a multibillion dalasi Corporation. Had it been we sat there without taking action, the Corporation would not have been what it is today. NAWEC and GPA would have been bankrupt. But because we were stifled by the Act and it is part of our mandate to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country. When it comes to Executive Directives, professionalism is out,” said Graham who nearly shed tears before the Commission.
Next to testify was Mr. Muhammed Bazzi, who informed the Commission that he has written to them through his lawyer, for the withdrawal of his application to testify in camera; that after consulting friends, partners and family, he has decided to come plainly as they have nothing to hide and his safety and security has been guaranteed by the Government.
He said the reason for the payments his company made to the accounts of former president Jammeh, was during his capacity as the Consul General of The Gambia, he was to bring investors into the country.
According to Mr. Bazzi in all the countries Euro Africa Group invested, they always applied for long term investments for about 15 to 25 years and this was the case in The Gambia. Several letters in respect of NAWEC’s outstanding sums to EURO Africa as well as a folder brought by the witness showing payments into the former president’s dollar and dalasi accounts, were all admitted into evidence as exhibits.
On the payment of D14M into the account of Jammeh in 2011, he said it was in regard to the payment made by Ali Charare and was made by himself in order to avoid problems for Mr. Charare.
According to Mr. Bazzzi, the former president asked Mr. Charare who was managing the Gamtel International Gateway Account, to be paying $500,000.00 into his account every month, which he said was neither a bribe nor an incentive.
Mr. Bazzi at that point promised to provide the Commission with all the documents, when his company exclusively started the importation of fuel into the country. He denied monopoly over fuel importation noting that the price was determined by the Ministry of Finance.
Mr. Bazzi appealed to the Commission for him to call witnesses who might be in better positions to shed light on certain issues surrounding his company and this was granted by the Commission Chairman.
Next to appear before the Commission was the former Managing Mirector of SSHFC, Tumbul Danso who is also the current Managing Director of Gambia Public Procurement Authority [GPPA].
Mr. Danso was summoned on the payment of $1,000,000.00 to the office of the then President and he confirmed that the request was made during his tenure as the Director of the Corporation and the request was approved by the board.
Mr. Danso said upon receiving the directive, he wrote to his Finance Director for relevant procedures to be taken before payment. He said the office of the then president is not classified under investment policy as it is part of the Government and the loan given to the office would not be classified as investment but rather an intervention by the Corporation.
According to Mr. Danso, the loan was granted three weeks after he moved to the GPPA.
Sitting continues today. Meanwhile, Mr. Bazzi will reappear on Wednesday 11th October 2017.