Tuesday, January 28, 2020

AT THE ‘JANNEH’ COMMISSION: “BPI Did Not Justify Expenditures On Ocean Bay, Sun Beach Hotels”


By Mamadou Dem

Tamsir Badjie, an engineer by profession and former Director of Housing at SSHFC, yesterday revealed to the ‘Janneh’ Commission that BPI Investment Group, did not justify expenditures made on the renovation of the said hotels, and refused to furnish SSHFC with the required information.

Prior to the witness testifying, Lawyer Musa Batchilly told the Commission that he was taking over from Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda, as lead counsel to enquire on the circumstances leading to the leasing of Ocean Bay and Sun Beach hotels respectively to BPI, by SSHFC and also to find out whether the former president was involved in the process.

Batchilly told Commissioners that he was mandated by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to deal with the said matters. Commission Counsel Bensouda, is the attorney for SSHFC and there might be a conflict of interest to handle the same matter affecting the Corporation.

The former Director of Housing, Tamsir Badjie, told the Commission that he is an engineer by profession and a pensioner; that he worked as a public servant and had also worked at SSHFC for twenty eight years; that he retired in 2016.

He told the Commission that before he retired, he was the Director of Housing for four years (from 2012-2016); that his functions was to manage houses and any other assignment given to him by the Managing Director.

He was given a document which he confirmed to be a statement he wrote to the investigators. Counsel Batchilly then applied to tender the document in evidence as an exhibit, which was granted by the Commission.

Badjie testified that he knows about the leasing of Ocean Bay and Sun Beach hotels by the SSHFC to BPI; that the office of the MD set up a taskforce to discuss and negotiate the leasing of Ocean Bay hotel and he was part of the key members together with the Director of Finance Abdoulie Cham, and Mr. Foon; that during the negotiation process, they agreed on certain terms and principles among which include allowing SSHFC technicians to check on the quality on work done, and be part of the renovation and maintenance of the hotels, among others.

Badjie said they were shown a letter where BPI showed interest to lease Ocean Bay Hotel; that there was a directive from the office of the former president to negotiate with BPI to lease the said hotels.

Badjie further testified that they had a standard process of leasing their properties. He was asked whether the committee was informed about two other offers and he responded that it was only BPI‘s offer they received; that they were dictated to by the BPI team, and sometimes their meetings were distracted by visits to the State House. He told the Commission that for the Ocean Bay meeting, the negotiation took place but could not remember how long it lasted.

He was again shown an offer letter for the leasing of Ocean Bay to peruse, which he confirmed. Counsel Batchilly applied to tender the said letter which was admitted.

He was again asked whether there was a lawyer representing SSHFC during the negotiation and he responded in the negative; that the lawyer came after the negotiation was drafted.

Another document was shown to Badjie, and he responded that when they went for the negotiation, they were going for the best they could offer; that they were powerless and the BPI team were strong.

He stated that the BPI’s Lawyer, drafted the letter and Lamin Ceesay, the Lawyer of the Corporation was given the draft.

Badjie was again given a letter of intent which he confirmed, and was asked the content of the letter i.e. the conditions for a ten-year lease. He told the Commission that they offered a rent of 12,000 Euros per month; that 13,000 Euros was agreed as the offer per month by BPI; that they could not pay more than that.

According to Badjie, they could have had a better deal, had bidders were allowed to bid and compete; that BPI achieved most of the works specified but they had issues with them, stating that BPI did not allow their technicians to be present.

He told the Commission that BPI came up with a huge pack of invoices which were not privy to members of the committee and were only brought after the renovation was completed; that some of the invoices presented were not even expenditures on renovation but hotel expenses.

Badjie said they requested for the bill of quantities, receipts and invoices showing expenditures on the refurbishment and renovation of the hotels but BPI did not provide them.

“Do you think BPI was able to justify their expenditures?” asked Counsel Batchilly. Badjie responded in the negative and added that he was aware that BPI was deducting €6,000 from the rent.

Badjie further testified that in 2013, the Ocean Bay lease was signed and there was a committee set up to monitor the works done; that they asked BPI to seek their consent before doing anything at the hotel but they did not, noting that they were adamant to comply.

The witness further testified that their team of technicians was on the ground to monitor the works by BPI but, BPI was not complying and as a result, they withdrew the team and informed management. He revealed to the Commission that there were letters of demand for BPI to settle arrears, further stating that they had issues with NAWEC concerning bills.

On Sun Beach Hotel, he disclosed that BPI started at the beginning of the tourist season, and BPI told them that they loss part of the generation account and that the committee was not aware when BPI started the work at Sun Beach. He however said one day, they went to the hotel and found that they were operating but does not know who authorized them to use the hotel before the lease was finalized; that they asked them to give SSHFC the proceeds of that season but they never did; that Saibatou Faal, the Chairperson of the committee, made several demands during the meetings but got frustrated; that BPI made an offer to lease Sun Beach hotel, the same way as they did with Ocean Bay. He confirmed a document indicating a proposal to lease Sun Beach Hotel.

At this juncture, all these documents were tendered and admitted as exhibits. Badjie continued that they were informed by the managing director, as the taskforce was created; that there was an executive directive to lease Sun Beach hotel. Badjie said he saw the lease after it was finalized by SSHFC and BPI.

It was put to him that the committee agreed with BPI on terms, to lease the hotel, to which he answered in the positive. It was further put to him that BPI agreed to spend €2,000,000 on the renovation of Sun Beach Hotel. He however said BPI did not spend close to the said amount; that projection was attached to the renovation and this was why they highlighted their plans from 2013-2031.

According to him, his department was supposed to monitor the works but BPI did not provide them with the specific schedule of works and they were frustrated at the end; that the Chairperson of the committee, reported the matter to the board. He told the Commission that they always requested for bills of quantity, invoices and receipts but to no avail.

Responding to questions from Abiosseh George, Badjie said he could not remember how much they bought the hotels and when. “How come Legal opinion was not sought?” Commissioner Saine asked. In response, Badjie responded that under normal circumstances, they worked hand-in-hand with their Legal representative, noting that they acted based on directives but were never happy and comfortable.

“We were not benefitting at all and SSHFC should have realized more than 60% of our investment,” he told the Commission,.

Sittings continue today.

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