National Assembly Petitions Committee Inquires GTBoard Staff Petition

//National Assembly Petitions Committee Inquires GTBoard Staff Petition

 


By Kexx Sanneh

The Senior staff of the Gambia Tourism Board have sent a Petition to the National Assembly Public Petitions committee to investigate claims that the GT Board has been abusing their power and engaging in corrupt activities and has not been following the legal guidelines in managing the affairs of the Board.

The staff have also claimed that the Minister of Tourism has been interfering with the running of the affairs of the Board to the extent that he ordered the transfer of some of them to different postings in the provinces where there are no offices and no tourism activities just to punish them for opposing the nefarious deals, that he and the Board had excluded them in negotiations involving the allocation of contracts for the building  of some eco- tourism lodges in the provinces without following the due legal guidelines as stipulated in the Gambia Public Procurement Authority Act and also engaged in wrongful  land allocations in the TDA area and other underhanded activities contrary to law.

The 9 member Public Petitions Committee which is chaired by Hon. Sunkary Badgie, has on Tuesday 10th May 2021 summoned the GPPA to appear and answer to issues pertaining to their role in the process of giving out contracts to bidders for eco-lodges in the provinces.

 

The petition of the staff raised concerns over the issue of abuse and corruption at Gambia Tourism Board. According to the staff for the past year and half there has been outright and open corruption by both the erstwhile Director General Mr. Abdoulie Hydara and the Director of Finance and administration Mr. Ousainou Senghore.

“These directors who have been placed to manage the affairs and develop the  tourism industry economically, sustainably and otherwise, have been misusing, abusing and forming and creating dynasty to enrich themselves and their cronies and in turn frustrate and ridicule staff who question their honesty and lack of transparency. The Ministry of Tourism and Culture on the other hand has time and again neglected and even publicly defended such corruption and abuse of office”, stated the petitioners.

According to the staff as captured in their petition, it is regrettable to say the least that at a time when the country should be focused on fighting COVID 19 and laying out plans for economic recovery post COVID 19, the Honourable Minister for Tourism and Culture is busy making statements and actions that would have serious negative consequences on the tourism industry and the country as a whole.

They went further to inform the Committee that the Honourable Minister had called a media conference declaring that tourism was ‘Dead and at Ground Zero’ and that as a responsible Minister he was sending all GTBoard staff home on a 50% salary pay monthly for a period of six months effective June 2020.

 

According to the petitioners, the declaration of tourism as dead does not only wear away tour operator confidence in the destination but also kills the spirit of all stakeholders in the tourism industry; that all tourism authorities worldwide were working together with stakeholders and coming up with strategies to address the impacts on tourism.

This was the concern of some dedicated and hardworking staff who thought that instead of going to the social media it was best to go and meet our Board Chairman and explain our concerns vis-a-vis the ongoing proliferating corruption going on at the GT Board, stated the petition.

The staff continued to make their case, stated that on Monday, 18th May 2020, a dedicated staff of 6 acting on behalf of the general staff had a meeting with the Chairman of the Governing Body, GTBoard (Mr Abdoulie Touray) to express their concerns regarding some management malpractices that they believe were detrimental to the institution and raised the following issues and the Board Chairman promised to take them on board and discuss with other members of the Board.

The following issues were raised with the Chairman of the Board who was later removed by the Honourable minister in what they believe was triggered by their visit to his office and for him being receptive to them.

The GTBoard they said had plans to develop eco-tourism in rural communities with the goal of decentralizing tourism and creating employment as recommended by the National development plan. The concept for the eco-tourism venture was developed by product development staff GTBoard and the identification of sites for eco-tourism camps were done in collaboration with the local government and their technical advisory committee.

The sites identified were the Kunkilng Forest in CRR Sotuma Samba Koi River site in URR, Kiang West National Park in LRR and Bambali in NBR. An engineer was engaged to visit the sites, provide designs and estimates for the construction of the eco-tourism camps that would each have a 20 bed capacity, a restaurant that can seat 50 persons, a reception and 3 craft shops for the community and a 3m by 6m jetty. This was estimated by the engineer to cost 12.5 Million Dalasi excluding VAT.

According to the aggrieved staff, in 2018 bids were invited for the construction of the eco-tourism camps and five companies namely; Mendura Construction, BB Electrical and Construction Company, Peace Enterprise, Lamin Jatta Eco Construction, Santa Yalla Construction and Lerr Group.

  1. Mendura Construction presented a bid amount of D12, 121,746.50.
  2. BB Electrical presented a bid price of D14, 628,032.80.
  3. Peace Enterprise presented a bid amount of D13, 188,075.00.
  4. Lamin Jatta Eco Construction presented a bid price of D13, 839,309.00.
  5. Santa Yala Construction presented a bid price of D16, 514,888.00.
  6. Lerr -Group presented a bid price of D26, 199,667.84.

The contracts committee under the chairmanship and influence of the Director of Finance decided to award the contract to Lerr Group but the decision was challenged by some concerned staff as there is a difference of D10, 000,000.00.

According to the petitioners, the matter went to the GPPA who advised that another engineer be engaged to give estimates. The two engineering firms, Sphinx Associates and Shekh Mahfoos both agreed that Lerr Group’s Bid was too high. Sheikh Mahfoos gave a ceiling of D19, 000,000.00 (Nineteen Million Dalasi).

They also said the GPPA in an earlier letter dated 21st December 2018 advised the GTBoard to divide the five eco lodges into lots and restrict each contractor to one in order to timely complete the projects but that the management decided to give approval for the award of all five contracts to Lerr Group which contradicts their earlier letter.

 They further elucidated that that particular letter was signed by one Momodou K. Jallow who had been frequenting the GTBoard office and helping the Director General and Director of Finance in their corrupt practices.

After several complaints from the Director of Product Development Mr. Lamin Fatty that his department is not satisfied with the whole bidding process and the awarding of the contract to one contractor, GTBoard wrote to Lerr Group putting the contract on hold pending the internal review of the bidding process.

That the directors knowing that the concerned staff were right, decided to use the COVID 19 situation to send all staff home and in their absence went ahead and signed a contract according to the Honourable Minister for Tourism’s proclamation at the launching of the eco lodges in Sotuma of D97, 000,000 for the construction of the eco lodges and an advanced payment of D38, 500,000 (thirty Eight Million Five· Hundred thousand Dalasi made the Lerr group.

Sir, you will find out that the GTBoard wrote to the contractor to put the contract on hold thus it is expected that if they decide to reactivate the contract there should be a written missive to the contractor to that effect but that was not the case in this matter. The Erstwhile Director General and Director of Finance decided to go ahead and make an advance payment.

“This eco-tourism project for rural communities has been a subject of financial abuse by the Director of Finance who is the chairman of the contract committee and the Erstwhile Director General to enrich themselves. According to estimates by previous engineers and bidders, D75, 000,000.(Seventy Five Million Dalasi) would have built and furnished all five eco lodges as planned. We see this action of the director of finance as a gross financial misconduct because the signing of this contract and payment of D35.5 million to Lerr Group from GT Board accounts did not follow proper financial and auditing procedures. The director of finance had advised the contract committee wrongly on the way they have evaluated the eco-tourism projects and awarded the contract to Lerr Group on the basis that this contractor will pre-finance the project only to realise that this is not true, stated the petition.

On the Gambia Tourism Board head Office and other staff matters.

According to the staff in 2014, Gambia Tourism Board entered into a Framework Agreement with Construct Company for the allocation of Land in the TDA (Tourism Development Area) in Fajara which is now the Fajara Water Front. The agreement was for GTBoard to allocate the Land to Construct Company and in return Construct Company to construct a head office complex for Gambia Tourism Board at Kololi next to the Jakarlo Football Field on the Highway to Senegambia now called the Tropics.

The office complex was supposed to house GTBoard and MoTC staff. However, sometime in 2018, when the Honourable Minister for Tourism and Culture; the Permanent Secretary MOTC; the director General GTBoard and the director of finance travelled abroad, they decided from there that GTBoard would no longer occupy the office complex but instead rented where the GTBoard currently is and paying D3,000,000.00 per annum.

This decision, they said, shocked all GTBoard staff who up to today cannot understand why they are paying such an amount on rent when they could have easily moved into a tropical complex.

Equally no one could tell if the framework agreement with Construct Company still exists and there is rumour that the complex is now leased to Construct Company and the proceeds are shared between the Minister, PS, DG and Director of Finance. It is important for you to be aware that the Director of Finance is the husband of the current Permanent Secretary at the MoTC, and needless to say that this is professionally unethical, abnormal and conflicting in any system of governance.

The aggrieved staff and petitioners further went on to assert that this is exacerbated by the fact that the Director of Finance continued to abuse such by undermining the Director General and frustrating all staff of the institution by denying/delaying their entitlements in the most ruthless and unprofessional manner.

The petitioners also indicated some interference of the Honourable Minister for Tourism and Culture in Land allocation.

“It has also been established that the Honourable Minister has been interfering in the allocation of land within the TDA and has been giving directives to the Director General to implement which contain interventions which has caused the GTBoard to lose revenue in the allocation of prime lands in the TDA as some revenues that the Board should have collected were waived by the Honourable Minister for no justified reasons”.

 The interferences of the Honourable Minister that have cost the GTBoard some lost in revenue

“1. Waiving of 3% of the 5% levy that Kaijiang Holding Group Ltd. A Letter from MOTC to GTboard directing that 2% of the $750 000 should be taken as TDA deposit fee from the investor and waive the 3% levy.

This means the GTBoard will only receive $300, 000 and will stand to Iose $450, 000. This 5% levy was approved by cabinet and if there should be any reduction on the rates for any investor, it should be tabled at cabinet which we doubt was actually the case in this matter.

  1. The Honourable Minister has intervened in the allocation of land to MOAB Capital of which they were to pay $200, 000 as 5% TDA deposit fee but failed to pay and have in fact received their lease document which contradicts the land allocation process”.

They finally withdrew the attention of members to the Honourable Minister’s decision to send all GTBoard staff home and put them on half salaries from last month.

“We believe this move was in no way related to COVID 19 as he publicly stated but that he is angry with staff that went to see the board chairman. Some staff of GTBoard have recently been recalled to work and put back on full salaries under the pretext that they are needed in the office but these are mainly staff of the Finance Department and Quality Control Department.”

“Because key technical staff, including research and development staff, auditors, marketing staff and investment department staff who are key in laying out strategies for post COVID and ensuring operational and financial procedures were not recalled. It is apparent that staff that went to complain to the Board chairman are deliberately targeted with intent to make life difficult for them”.

The Public Petitions Committee in its first public hearing invited the GPPA to answer some questions regarding this matter and the deputy Director of GPPA Mr. Ebrima Sanyang and Mr. Momodou K. Jallow appeared. However, Momodou K Jallow was informed that he was adversely mentioned by the petitioners and as a result they would want to meet him alone at a separate time. He was released.

The two officials were informed briefly about the petition as well as the mandate of the Committee but they must first take oath or affirmation before the hearing actually started.

The following questions were posed to the deputy director by the members of the Petitions Committee.

  1. How is the Contract Committee of the GT Board constituted?
  2. What is meant by GPPA compliance; whether the law is followed.
  3. What is the basis for the awarding of the contract by the GTBoard?
  4. Were there any observations by GPPA on the awarding of the contract?
  5. What was the amount the contract was originally awarded and what was the cost ultimately?
  6. How many companies made bids and the amounts they advanced?
  7. What were the original sites identified and areas accepted and what Criteria was used for the identification?
  8. Has the Minister any role to play in the awarding of the contract?

In answering the questions Sanyang said the role of the contract committee as stated in the GPPA Act and actions were in accordance with the Act, as far as he knows.

On the issue of whether the method used to award contracts was GPPA compliant and whether the law was followed, he said he does not think so and further said he had pointed out that at the time of minting the contract.

Whether there was observation by the GPPA on the contract awarding, he answered in the positive; that they raised so many concerns among them is the bid price and time frame in which to implement the projects.

On the threshold advised by the GPPA and the amount the contract was awarded ultimately; Sanyang said the threshold stipulated by the GPPA was 19 million but they later came to learn that the GTBoard awarded it to the Lerr Group at 21 million ultimately.

Pressed as to whether in his opinion, it is normal or acceptable for them to award contracts beyond the threshold stipulated by the GPPA; he said that should not be and is not proper but that the Act did not mandate them to interfere.

On whether he was aware that some senior staff of the GT Board raised concerns and some of them were punished, Sanyang said he was not aware of that.

He was asked about the number of companies that actually bid for the contracts and the amounts opted; the deputy director named the following companies:

  1. Mendura Construction presented a bid amount of D12, 121,746.50.
  2. BB Electrical presented a bid amount price of D14, 628,032.80.
  3. Peace Enterprise presented a bid amount of D13, 18,075.00.
  4. Lamin Jatta Eco Construction presented a bid price of D13, 839,309.00.
  5. Santa Yala Construction presented a bid price of D16, 514,888.00.
  6. Lerr Group presented a bid price of D26, 199,667.84.

He was further asked whether it is not an anomaly to be noticed considering the fact the difference between the threshold of 19 million and the Lerr Group award of 22 million which amounts up to 10 million; that if the difference was say D500,000 or a million, may be one can ignore it but 10 million appears to be too high an amount to be simply ‘noted and filed’; Mr Sanyang said he agreed but said he was just following the director’s instruction to note it and file it.

On whether the minister of Tourism has any role to play in the awarding of contracts and whether he knew if the minister did play a role in this case. Sanyang said since the GTBoard is under the purview of the Ministry, he thinks the minister can play a role but was quick to say that the minister may play a role if invited to provide professional advice only where no one else is available.

Asked if he was aware that an amount of 38.5 Million was advanced to the Lerr Group even though the contract was put on hold and whether the GPPA was notified with the reactivation of the contract; Sanyang agreed and said there should be a notification to that effect and he does not know why it was not done.

He was finally asked if he was aware of the declaration made by the minister on the awarding of the contract in Sotuma; he answered in the positive and said he heard the declaration.

The meeting was adjourned to further notice to invite other key players who played a part in the awarding of this contract and related matters.

2021-05-14T10:01:35+00:00

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