By Mamadou Dem
Mr. Njogu Bah, the erstwhile Secretary General and former head of the Civil Service and Presidential Affairs Minister, yesterday confirmed to the ‘Janneh’ Commission of Enquiry, that the loan given to the office of the former president by the Social Security, amounting to D148, 500,000.00, was used to purchase state aircraft.
Mr. Bah who reappeared before the said Commission, explained that there was indeed an aircraft acquired by the state but that it gulped fuel to the extent that another one had to be acquired, a Russian type for that matter.
The former Secretary General was recalled to explain the numerous loans taken from the Social Security Housing and Finance Corporation (SSHFC), by the office of the former President.
On the issue of the D10 Million loan from SHFFC for the rehabilitation of Prisons, the witness reiterated that he was not aware as to whether there was any rehabilitation but acknowledge that he received the said sum and handed it over to the former President.
At that juncture, Counsel handed over some documents to the witness and upon perusal, Mr. Bah told the Commission that the office of the Secretary General does not hold an Account at Access Bank. But Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda, intimated to him that even if the D10 Million was given to the office of the former President, it would not have any use because the cheque was specifically meant for his former office.
In response, Mr. Bah said there are many ways in which cheques can be cashed but that the Bank can help in locating as to whom the money was paid to.
At that juncture Counsel applied to tender the GNPC Cheque payment of D10 Million as exhibit. While admitting the Cheque, Commission Chairman, Sourahata Janneh, observed that there was a GNPC Cheque as well as a Cheque from the Access Bank Manager, bearing the same amounts. He then said the Bank should be summoned to come and explain. Counsel Bensouda quickly responded that the Bank is already summoned on that issue.
According to the witness, the sum of $500,000.00 he received in cash was meant for compensating the Ghanaians who lost their lives in the Gambia and the money was received by Dr. Basirat Niasse, who was introduced to him by the former President, through the chief of protocol, Alagie Ousman Ceesay; that the second $500,000.00 he received from the Corporation for onward transmission to Japan was cancelled.
“I don’t know what Basirat does but it seems she was negotiating between the two Governments and apart from this compensation I did not have any dealings or transaction with Dr. Niasse,” said the former SG.
Mr. Bah informed the Commission that loans taken from SSHFC were intended to be paid through the Ministry of Finance and he did make a follow-up of loans taken from SSHFC, noting that the Corporation and GPA, were once under the purview of the office of the former President; that on the request of D15 Million loan for the purchase of Tobaski rams, the request was written by himself based on directives or instructions from his former boss with the promise that the loan will be paid after the sale of the rams and there were people responsible for the sales.
He however stated that he did not know whether the loan was paid because the three months agreement did not find him in office as SG; that he felt sorry for SSHFC and once told the former President that the Corporation book was in red and that they should be refunded; but that Yahya Jammeh insisted that the Corporation had money and can take money and refund them anytime. “I even requested the Corporation’s statement of accounts to be shown to Jammeh,” he disclosed.
According to him, he did not know why Jammeh took money from the Corporation and spent it anyhow, but he knew Jammeh had a big appetite for money and can get it from anywhere he wanted.
Regarding the Aircraft, the witness said there was indeed a state aircraft but it was said that it consumed too much fuel which warranted for a Russian type to be identified and a loan of $148 Million was taken from SSHFC.
Documents relating to the purchase of the aircraft and supporting documents at that point, were admitted as exhibits. He said the aircraft was flown from the United States to The Gambia; that he did not know how much was spent for the check and maintenance of the aircraft; that the aircraft goes for periodical maintenance. According to him, this loan was supposed to be paid by the Ministry of Finance but was not sure whether the loan was paid as agreed.
On the loan of €200,000.00 given to GRTS, the witness said the GRTS Management went to State house to seek assistance or intervention of the former President to enable people watch CAF events on TV and GRTS, and were supposed to pay back the loan from their Commercials; that there was an agreement signed between the Corporation and GRTS to that effect.
Mr. Bah said he can’t recall whether the loan was paid neither does he recall making any follow-up for the payment of the loan; that it was news to him when GRTS said they never requested the loan after they entered into an agreement with SSHFC.
On the sum of $3.6 Million loan from the Corporation to office of the former President for the purchase of Fire Tenders and an Ambulance, the witness said that was meant for the improvement of the airport to world standard and the request was made for that purpose.
Concerning the 65 Tractors bought from John Deere, Mr. Bah was of the belief that the tractors and farm implements had to do with mechanisation of farming and Vison 2016 projects and Jammeh met the officials of John Deere and that SSHFC was supposed to finance the farm implements which arrived in different segments; that some of them were parked at State House while others were at the MSA.
Documents relating to tractors and farm implements including correspondence, were also admitted as exhibits. The witness finally testified that with regard to acquisition of tractors, fire tenders and aircraft, the office of the former President did not comply with the Gambia Public Procurement Act (GPPA), in acquiring those items because of the Executive Orders.
At that juncture, Commission Counsel told Mr. Bah that he might be recalled if the need arises.
Next to reappear was business Mogul, Mr. Tony Ghattas but prior to his testimony, his attorney, Sheriff Tambadaou applied to tender several documents from his client as ordered by the Commission.
The Audited accounts of Gadsons Company Limited from 2012-2016 and Annual Returns from 2015-2016 as well as Audited Accounts for Afri Star Limited from 2012-2016 and Annual Returns from 2015, 16 and 17, were admitted as exhibits.
Audited Accounts of Multi Shipping Agency from 2013-2016 together with Annual returns of the same Company from 2013-2017, were all tendered. “Mr. Ghattas would like to tender a copy of a letter that was dated 23rd December, 2016 by APAM to National Enviroment Agency (NEA), requesting to rehabilitate the mining site,” said Tambadou.
A letter dated 7th January 2016, addressed to the MD APAM, from the Geological Department and a letter addressed to the same MD of the same Company dated 11th April 2016, were all admitted respectively.
It has been noted that a management plan mentioned in one of the letters, would be produced by the witness, Tony Ghattas. He was also asked by the Commission to come up with share transfers of his Companies and at the same time, find out whether his Auditors are registered in the Country.
At that juncture, Lawyer Tambadou applied to cross-examine Tony Ghattas on the documents tendered and admitted by the Commission but Commission Chairman intimated that among their mandate is ‘Jammeh and his close associates’ and those that are Jammeh’s close associates, know themselves, with Tony Ghattas included. But Tambadou said his client never considered himself as a ‘close associate’ of Jammeh. He however said the Commission has the right to cross-examine Mr. Ghattas and if counsel for Ghattas is not satisfied, he can appeal.
Sitting continues today.