By Mamadou Dem
Two former Ministers in the former administration of former President Yaya Jammeh, Sira Wally Ndow -Njie and Fatou Mass Jobe –Njie, together with three Regional Governors in the names of Omar Khan, Omar Sompo Ceesay and Amienata Siffae Hydra, yesterday testified before the Janneh Commission of enquiry set up to probe into the financial dealings and assets of the former president, on wide range of issues particularly financial transactions.
Mr. Omar Sompo Ceesay, former Governor of the Upper River Region (URR), told the Commission that he lives in Basse Mansajang Kunda and is a Farmer. He said he served as Governor from November 2013 to February 2017 and prior to this, he was the elected Chairperson for Basse Area Council.
Mr. Ceesay confirmed to Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda, that he received the sum of D600, 000.00 from the Central Bank of The Gambia; that he did not know the name of the account the money was withdrawn from but he signed a pay slip from the bank.
According to the former Governor, the purpose of the money was for him to buy bulls, slaughter them and sell the meat to poor people in his region at a cheaper and affordable price. He however disclosed that it was never his idea to buy the said bulls but the pronouncement was made at State House during one of the Ramadan Sugar distributions, by Mr. Nuha Touray, former Secretary to Cabinet. He informed Commissioners that ex-President Jammeh witnessed the sugar distribution but he never made such proclamations.
The former Governor who is now a subsistence Farmer said the conditions attached to the D600, 000.00 was for governors to sell meat at a cheaper rate and return the sum of D500, 000 to the Central Bank. “Did you see this (Selling of meat) as part of your responsibilities?” Counsel quizzed. “I show it as part of an assignment from the President. Am aware of the local Government Act and I have not seen anywhere, where it is stated that the President can give assignment to Governors,” he acknowledged.
At that juncture Mr. Ceesay testified that he has no account of the money used to purchase the bulls. However Counsel Bensouda urged him to do so given that the money given to them by the banker’s bank, is from public coffers.
When quizzed on the tractors, Mr. Ceesay said: “I did not distribute tractors to farmers. The tractors I received were meant for Sotuma Samba Koi and Sotuma Siray rice fields. I received only two tractors and apart from that I also received equipment like ploughs and seeds respectively,” said the witness.
Mr. Ceesay was told to produce list of items or materials he received at the time he was governor. He however informed the Commission that he never received vehicles for onward distribution to members of his community. He was also required to submit an account of D100, 000.00 which was spent out of the D600, 000.00, given to him from the Carnegie Minerals Account.
Mrs. Aminata Siffai Hydara, former Governor of West Coast Region also acknowledged receiving a sum of D600, 000.00 from the Carnegie Minerals Account from the Central Bank, for the same purpose like that of Mr. Ceesay. She said the money was given to them when one of the governors suggested for other regions to benefit from what Banjul and Kanifing Municipality were enjoying, i.e. selling of meat at a cheaper rate during the holy month of ramadan.
Prior to this disclosure, she first said that she lives in Brikama, West Coast Region and has been the governor of the area from 2015 to 2017; that prior to this she was a Community Development worker, way back in 1981; that the money was given to her in her capacity as governor and she was instructed to sell meat and bone for D60.00 per kilo whilst D75.00 was for stake.
On the issue of tractors, she said during her tenure as governor, four tractors painted in green were brought to her office by the Agricultural Department and two tractors were given to the communities of Foni, for their farming activities. She said she handed over the tractors to her successor including money generated from them, whilst the first segment of tractors was brought before her appointment. Mrs. Hydara was however urged to give account of the D100, 000.00 to the Commission.
According to her, she decided to delegate a business woman to handle the selling of meat because she trusted her; that out of the D10,000.00 which was generated, she decided to give the woman D5,000 while the other D5,000, was given to a Youth Group in Bwiam, West Coast Region.
“I was delegated by my superior to involve people in the business and I thought it to be part of my responsibilities because my people will benefit,” said the former governor. With regards to surrendering the money to her accountant or accounts office, she confirmed not doing that but was quick to add that she called all the Chiefs and informed them about the business. “I don’t know Agricultural properties belonging to the former President,” said the witness.
She finally testified that the five governors that discussed among themselves opted to deposit back the D500, 000; that this was what they were required to pay back despite running the meat business at a lost and what they preferred was to be given the bulls physically and not the money.
Next to appear before the commission was Fatou Mass Jobe-Njie the then Minister of Tourism and Culture. Mrs. Njie gave a synopsis of positions she held under the former Jammeh regime and testified that it is correct that she was a signatory to one of the accounts called Mobilisation Account, which was opened at the Guaranty Trust Bank.
She revealed that the objective of the former first lady’s foundation was to help children on Education, Health among others and that the main source of revenue was through fund raising. She said in her capacity as the then Tourism Minister, they were expecting the Taiwanese President; that therefore, they were to prepare for accommodation and State Banquet at a cost of D8.1 Million.
Mrs. Njie at that point provided a pamphlet with regards to the issues she was summoned. And this she handed over to Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda. This is in respect of Dunes Hotel and the Casino.
According to her, the hotel was bought by Kanilai Group International at a tune of $650,000.00 and the agreement was the buyer must pay the sum of D2, 400,000.00 as Capital Gains Tax. Mrs. Njie came with a bundle of documents with regard to the hotel, and this she read to the Commission as part of her evidence.
The former Tourism Minister also testified about the reason that led to the closure of the hotel, the losses incurred as well as her resignation as managing director; that this was the only transaction she had with the President which she did, was based on her outstanding long relationship with David Ford, the largest shareholder of the hotel. She made it categorically clear to the Commission that she did not know the source of funds the hotel was bought from as well as the money spent to build it. She explained that she never participated or involved herself in the negotiations between former President Jammeh and David Ford, for the purchase of the hotel.
Earlier, the Ex- Governor of the Central River Region (CRR), Omar Khan, also testified that he has received D600,000.00 from Nuha Touray, the then Secretary to Cabinet and Sanna Jarju former Protocol Officer, to buy bulls and sell the meat to the people in his region at a cheaper and affordable price.
Mr. Khan intimated to the Commission that out of the total cash given to him, he spent D100, 000.00 and returned the balance of D500, 000 to Nuha Touray and Sanna Jarju.
According to Mr. Khan, he worked in the Public Service sector for 51 years before he was appointed as governor which he has served for 21 years including Central and Upper River Regions.
Mr Khan further testified that though it was not his responsibility to sell meat which he described as a “surprise,” but that because of the type of President Jammeh was, he dared not to reject the instruction which he said, could be met with punishment. He added that none of the governors had written to the Secretary General to inform him that it was inappropriate for them to sell meat which he said was sold to the public.
Mr Khan further testified that he was not involved in the distribution of tractors during his tenure as governor but acknowledged that he was given Mahinda tractors to give to Chiefs within the six districts and women as gifts purposely for farming when he was a governor.
Mr Khan notwithstanding was asked by Counsel Bensouda to give account of the D100, 000.00 which was taken from the accounts of Carnegie Minerals. Mr. Khan said he deposited a receipt of D500,000.00 at the Central Bank and this was admitted as exhibit.
Mrs. Sira Wally Ndow-Njie, the erstwhile Minister of Petroleum, testified that she lives in Cape Point Bakau, and now manages Events Planning and Management, situated in Fajara; that she was appointed as Minister on the 16th of February 2015 to April 18th 2016. She said she joined Central Government way back in 1989 as a Cadet Analyst; that she was also onetime Director of NAWEC as well as Minister of Energy.
At that juncture she confirmed being a signatory to the GNPC Account at Guaranty Trust Bank. Upon perusal of the account opening information and statements of accounts respectively, the witness acknowledged appending her signature on the documents.
Mrs. Njie while responding to counsel admitted that Ministers shouldn’t be signatories to accounts but said she was instructed by the former President to do so, despite being reluctant to be part of the signatories. “I was called at the then President’s Office. I told him that I cannot be the signatory to the account but he said I have to because I was the Minister and I would rather transfer the money to Central Bank to be managed by the Office of the President,” said witness.
Documents from the GNPC Special Services Account, Guaranty Trust Bank dollar, dalasi and related documents, were all admitted as exhibits. However, Mrs. Njie revealed that she never came across the dalasi account and therefore never conducted any transaction on the dalasi account; that during her tenure as Minister, Mr. Muntaga Sallah was the Permanent Secretary.
According to her, she was directed to pay contractors for works they did for the then government and there was a withdrawal of $500,000.00; that given the nature of the former President, he couldn’t refuse instructions from him.
At that point, minutes from the witness to Guaranty Trust ordering the bank to effect or process payment to Sanna Jarju, former Chief of Protocol in the sum of $500,000.00 and $358,000.00, were admitted as exhibits. She said the purpose of sending the minutes was because she was out of the jurisdiction and usually upon her return, she will sign.
The witness further testified that she was further instructed to withdraw the sum of D500,000.00 as the former President said he wanted to pay contractors again; that the last transaction on the account was $297,000.72. She said the exiled former President, requested further payments to settle the Gambia International Airline (GIA), regarding people who went to Mecca.
According to her, there was a particular payment in respect of a caterpillar; that she was helpless because the former President does not condone questions. She said there was a letter instructing her to disburse funds for the maintenance of State Aircrafts and there was an agreement that Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs was to refund the money on instalment. She said the sum of $115,000 was paid to the Gambian Embassy in New York.
She finally testified that her arrest and prosecution was based on allegations that they were not supposed to be part of transactions relating to importations of fuel with a particular company, but eventually the charges were dropped.
Sitting continues today.