Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gambia Gov’t spent hundreds of millions of dalasi without proper documentation, auditor general reveals

Auditor General Sankareh

The Gambia government has done payments or entered into financial transactions without adequate and proper documentations making it very difficult to certify the transactions are really free of fraud or in some cases the truthfulness of the transactions, reveals the Auditor Genegal’s report.

In the report, Auditor General Babucarr Sankareh, who raised eyebrow about the irregularities of the government’s financial transactions, said in the process of auditing government accounts, he did not receive appropriate and sufficient information to confirm the occurrence, accuracy, or even the existences of some financial transactions.  

“The scope of my audit was limited,” Mr Sankareh said in the audited report he prepared after auditing the financial statements of The Gambia government for the year ended 31 December 2007.

In the report presented to the National Assembly in Banjul in October 2012, Mr Sankareh said that during his audit, he noted that the government purchased vehicles on credit amounting to over D77 million in 2007. 

“These were single source procurements from TK Motors in contravention to the regulations of the Gambia Public Procurement Authority [GPPA],” he said.  “MOFEA (Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs) was unable to provide documentation showing any approval from GPPA.  Detailed policies and procedures for the purchase of vehicles were not in place.”

That aside, the Auditor General said during the year (2007), government made payments amounting to over D33 million for which he, as the auditor general, was not provided with proper and adequate supporting documents. 

“Payment vouchers for D3,190,388.11 of these payments were not presented while the balance of D30,195,035.50 had payment vouchers without adequate supporting documents in contraventions to the Financial Instructions,” he said.

“In the absence of payment vouchers and adequate supporting documentation, I was not able to confirm the validity of the payments,” he added. 
Again, Mr Sankareh disclosed that he identified balances totaling over D38 million as 31 December 2007 held for government in commercial bank accounts that were not reported.

My tenure at the GCCI was very eventful: Bai Matarr Drammeh

The apex body of the Gambia private sector has seen the exit of several of its presidents who have worked very hard to take the chamber to higher levels in its over 40-year existence. The seventh in that trend is Bai Matarr Drammeh, who served the chamber for six years (2006 - 2012).  In this interview, the astute economist and private investor, who has served at senior capacity in many institutions in The Gambia and beyond, speaks to MatketPlace Business newspaper on his tenure as President of the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI).

Bai Matarr Drammeh
Having served the private sector of The Gambia for six years as president of the GCCI, how would you explain your term of service?

It was eventful; I will say that I am very pleased because if you were at the annual general meeting [held on 5 October 2012] you would see the interest members have in the Chamber now. 

During the AGM in 2006, when I was elected as the president, I said that I was coming in for two reasons: one, to make sure that the Chamber has a head office, and secondly to increase the number and quality of members.  These were my mission and I have been able to achieve them.

There were other things you could have chosen to be your mission as the president, why did you choose these particular ones?

I realised that for over 40 years of existence of the GCCI, we were renting, could not identify a place for our own property, our own home.  If an organization is to be looked upon as a very serious organization it should have something to be identified with, your own office and there was nothing the Chamber had to show to the public that is worth emulating.  So when I realised that, I said to myself somebody got to do it.  I was the seventh president, so before me there were six presidents and my immediate predecessor, [Abdoulie Baks Touray] often told me that ‘What you have done is what I wanted to do and is what all the previous presidents of the Chamber wanted to do, but God has allowed you to get it done so we should all be happy; you are the one who has been able to do what we could not do’. 

What were your strengths as the president of the Chamber?

My strength was the fact that I am a very patient guy, I used to be calm in doing things - I am very calm and understanding.  That aside, I am a very good listener.  All these together gave me an easy ride.  In difficult moments or in moments of misunderstanding I will be strong enough to say ‘no!’  I will say ‘no this is where I am going, if you are with me we go this way; if you are not with me I still go the way I was going’. 

I have had good times with the board members and rough times with some of them who had other agenda, who wanted to do other things different from what I wanted but then I have stayed on course and I got up to where we are now and at the end they are all happy about it. 

Sometimes it’s not very easy though, but we got things done, because I had very good board members who were sincere, committed, and open and if they were convinced something was good, or was in the interest of the Chamber they would go along. 

And I was particularly pleased with the female board members because they are very, very loyal and supportive.  I can tell you that the female members of any organization are always the best members of the organization – they are always loyal and dedicated.

What were some of your weaknesses?

Indeed I have weakness; some people in the end call it virtue, but I think it was a weakness, it was a weakness in that I over controlled my temperament. There were moments when I could have said awful things to my people because of the way they reacted but I was able to keep calm and in the end I would blame myself for not having done so – get angry and say things that may not be nice.  So, that I thought was a weakness but others tell me ‘no it is a virtue, it’s wisdom and it comes with maturity’ but I thought it as a weakness. I think that is my only weakness.

I am sure you may have had some things you wanted to accomplish during your tenure but could not for one thing or the other. Can you share these with us?

Yes, yes absolutely that is true.  I really, really wanted to get a trade fair complex for the Chamber.  The government has been kind enough to allocate a piece of land for that purpose and it’s located near the Sukuta Women’s Garden, in Sukuta.  I have started talking to some outside partners to get the place constructed.  We were on the verge of getting a suitable plan as to how the place should be built but I have every confidence that the new president will take it up because when I was the president he was my trade fair manager, so he knows everything that is important to know about the trade fair and I think he will dedicate some time in making sure that the complex is built. 

Religion leaders urge to protect children in prayers and actions

Fanta Bai Secka

Fanta Bai Secka, Director Social Welfare, has called on religion leaders to do more in their words and deeds to protect children as The Gambia joined the world in commemorating World Day of Prayer and Action for Children on 20th November.

“The involvement of Religious and Faith-based organizations is essential in promoting and improving children’s issues because all religions have texts about children’s well-being, their upbringing as well as protection, among others,” Mrs Secka said on Tuesday 20th November during a press briefing at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Banjul as part line-up of activities scheduled to mark the Day in The Gambia.

The three-year (2010 – 2012) global theme for the commemoration of the World Day of Prayers and Action for Children: “Stop Violence Against Children” has been localised in The Gambia as “Let Stop Violence and Sexual Abuse Against Children Now.” 

The director of Social Welfare said because many religion organizations work in communities and with the people, they have easier access to vulnerable children in the most deprived communities where other stakeholders often do not reach.

Friday, November 23, 2012

GPTC hastily laid to rest at a time when needed most

At a time when the transport system in the country is getting worse hence the need for a viable public transport system, the National Assembly Members has urgently and hastily repealed the Gambia Public Transport Corporation (GPTC) Act 1976 leading to the disbanding of the public transport service.

Sidia Jatta, former National Assembly Member for Wuli West Constituency and a member of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development, has earlier on noted that the transport situation in the country “is disastrous”, saying that one only needs to stand on the way, particularly at the Banjul Serrekunda Highway, “to see how disastrous” the transport situation has become.

On the heels of this, Minister of Works, Construction and Infrastructure, Francis Liti Mboge, sought on 19th November 2012 the approval of the Lawmakers to repeal the Act that established the GPTC and the Parliamentarians did just as the Minister wished without any hesitation.

Ebrima Garba Cham, the secretary general of The Gambia National Trade Union Congress (GNTUC) has said that it is important for government to take a comprehensive mechanism as an institution of investment to develop a National Strategy of Transport in this country. 

This he said should include all public transport including the ferry services.

According to the Minister of Works, the government is ever conscious of its commitment to provide public transport for the socio-economic development of the country.  He hinted the parliamentarians that plans are on the way for the revival of public transport in line with the objectives of the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE).

Gambia national broadcaster in serious financial problem

National Assembly would have advised the institution to be closed down and declared it bankrupt

The national broadcaster, Gambia Radio and Radio and Television Services, is in huge financial mess as its total liability, the amount it owed to other individuals and institutions, at the moment are three times more than the total current assets, all its belongings, implying a serious liquidity problem.

The director general of the institution, Alhagie Momodou Sanyang, has cried for government’s swift intervention to enable the GRTS to operate effectively and efficiently saying that more needs to be done to sustain the financially weak national institution. 

GRTS faces grave challenges despite registering modest achievements in 2011, the DG Sanyang acknowledged while presenting the 2011 activity report and financial statements of the GRTS on 20th November at the National Assembly for scrutiny by the Public Accounts and Public Enterprise committees who are currently inspecting the annual activity reports and audited financial statements of all public enterprises and agencies of The Gambia government since 1st October this year.

However, he said, much more needs to be done especially in terms of funding to ensure the sustainability of the national broadcaster.

Regional delegates discussed IFAD-funded Projects in Gambia

About 300 delegates comprising representatives from IFAD-funded projects in West and Central Africa, governments’ representatives and NGOs are recently completed a meeting in The Gambia to discuss how to continuously improve the performance of IFAD-funded projects and grants in terms of relevance, effectiveness, and efficiency; among other things. 

It was the 7th Regional Forum for IFAD-funded Projects held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Kololi from 12th to 15th November 2012 on the theme, ‘Result-based management for sustaining rural poverty reduction: lessons learned and challenges’.

Speaking at the opening of the forum on Monday, The Gambia’s Minister of Agriculture, Mr Solomon Owens, said the forum will lead to concrete conclusions and actions for enhancing the pro-poor impact of development interventions not only in The Gambia but in all the countries within our two sub-regions – West and Central Africa.

Africa could witness 98% increase in diabetes cases by 2030

The Africa Regional Director of World Health Organization, Dr Luis Gomes Sambo, have projected that Africa will witness a 98% increase in diabetes cases from 12.1 million in 2010 to 23.9 million by 2030, should the current trends continue. 

Diabetes is a serious, chronic and costly disease that imposes life-long demands not only on people living with the disease, but also on their families

In a statement read on his behalf by WHO Gambia Health Promotion Officer, Momodou Gasama, on World Diabetes Day on Wednesday, Dr Sambo said surveys carried out recently in the WHO African Region indicate that up to 15% of adults aged 25 – 64 years have diabetes.

The overwhelming majority are unaware they have the disease. Consequently many cases are diagnosed late, usually after complications have become so evident, he said.

Furthermore, a significant number of diabetes patients in Africa lack access to proper treatment and diabetes medicines, especially insulin, resulting in an avoidable complications such as neurological, vascular or visual disorders, heart disease, stroke, lower limb amputation and kidney failure, as well as other chronic diseases.

Sambo noted that an estimated 230 million people worldwide are currently suffering from diabetes."The number is likely to more than double by 2030, if effective interventions are not undertaken."

IFAD spent over US$53 million in Gambia, benefiting over 126,000 people

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has provided financing for nine projects and programmes in The Gambia amounting to US$53.7 million directly benefiting over 126,000 rural households in the country.

IFAD is operating in The Gambia since 1982 providing support and assistance to rural farmers.
Speaking at the 7th Regional Forum for IFAD-funded Projects held in Gambia at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Kololi from 12th to 15th November 2012, the Minister of Agriculture, Solomon Owens, said IFAD is currently supporting three major projects in The Gambia, namely: the Participatory Integrated Watershed Development Project (PIWAMP), the Livestock and Horticulture Development Project (LHDP), and the Rural Finance Project (RFP).

“These three on-going projects are all focusing on increasing agricultural production and productivity while increasing incomes of rural women and youth through appropriate land and water management technologies; improved vegetable and livestock schemes; and enhanced access to much needed financial support respectively,” Mr Owens said. 

He pointed out that the performance and impact of these projects have so far been impressive.
According to him, PIWAMP data indicate that with the project’s interventions, over 34,000 hectares of land are under crop cultivation benefiting almost 80,000 rural farmers of which 53% are women.  Through RFP support to over 60 Village Savings and Credit Associations (VISACAs) more than 32,000 rural poor people, about 40% women, are benefiting from the VISACA services.  And thorough LHDP support, 18 hectares of fodders fields have been established, directly benefiting about 1,200 small ruminant owners, 98% being women.

About 1.4 billion people still live in abject poverty globally

About a fifth of mankind still live in abject poverty, dispute the numerous national and global efforts during the past years on the first target of the Millennium Development Goals which aimed to decrease extreme poverty by one-half by the year 2015.

Abdou Touray, Programme Specialist – Poverty and MDGs at the United Nations Development Programme country office in The Gambia said as of 2011 the poorest 40 percent of the world’s population account for 5 percent of global income and the richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarter of world income. 

“Rural areas account for three in every four people living on less than US$1 a day and similar share of the world population suffering from malnutrition,” Mr Touray said on Monday at the commencement of the 7th Regional Forum for IFAD-funded Projects held in The Gambia from 12th to 15th November 2012.

According to the Mr Touray, poverty remains predominantly rural problems as the majority of the world’s poor are located in rural areas. 

He said: “It is estimated that 76 percent of the developing world’s poor live in rural areas, well above the overall population share living in rural areas, which is only 58 percent.”
Disparities between rural and urban areas are on the rise, particularly in many developing and transitional countries.

Globally, rural people and rural places tend to be disadvantaged relative to their urban counterparts and poverty rate increase as rural areas become more remote.  Individuals living in rural areas tend to have less access to social services, exacerbating the effects of rural poverty.

According to the poverty specialist, over the years there has been tremendous support to various types of interventions aimed at reducing poverty.  However, he observed that as it stands now, it looks like most developing countries particularly Sub-Saharan Africa countries will not met the Millennium Development Goals target of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

Alarming rate of diabetes in Gambia

The rate of diabetes in The Gambia is alarming, the Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Fatim Badjie, said as The Gambia joined other countries around the world to commemorate World Diabetes Day on 14th November.

Health Nutrition and Population Statistics, the World Bank’s comprehensive database of health, nutrition and population (HNP) statistics, has it that diabetes prevalence in The Gambia among the population ages 20 to 79 is 4.26%, in 2010.  However, though the rate of diabetes is said to be increasing, there is no latest statistics available as to the estimated percentage of the population with the disease or at risk of the disease.

Minister Badjie
The Health Minister noted that efforts must be employed to contain the situation.  “There is an urgent need for action to protect the health of our people.  Particular focus should be placed on the importance of education for health, targeting people who are diabetics and people at risk in order to reduce its impact in the world, Gambia in particular,” she said.

According to the Health Minister, diabetes can affect anyone especially those who are not watchful in terms of their diet.  She said diabetes is a killer disease in terms of its complications. 

Uncontrolled diabetics lead to blindness, impotence, kidney failure, stroke, heart disease, hypertension and amputation. 

Gambia’s Health Minister noted that taking proper medication can help to improve the diabetes conditions “but we can live a normal and even healthier life with diabetes if we exercise regularly and watch what we eat”.

IFAD awards Gambia US$ 34 million project to reduce poverty of rural women and youth

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has recently awarded The Gambia a US$34 million project to reduce the poverty of rural women and youth in the country. 

The project, National Agricultural Land and Water Management Development Project dubbed Nema, is to increase the incomes of rural women and youth from improved productivity based on sustainable land and water management practices.

According to Mod K. Ceesay Deputy Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, Nema project is one of the biggest IFAD programmes in The Gambia to help smallfarmers, especially women and youth, to improve land and water management to increase rice and vegetable production.

Momodou Gassama, coordinator of the project, said the Nema project is targeting all the six agricultural regions in the country and will focus on women and youth to enable them to participate more actively in development initiatives.

The Nema project would support and develop further The Gambia Government’s priority to transform the largely rain-fed production systems into sustainable market-oriented agriculture based on the smallholder, mainly women and youth.

Fatou Samba Njai, President of the Women Wing of the National Coordinating Organisation for Farmers Associations The Gambia (NACOFAG) acknowledged that farmers were fully involved in design of the Nema project.

Gamtel made huge revenue using outdated equipments

In 2011, the Gambia Telecommunication Company Limited (Gamtel) made total revenue of D1.450 billion, but despite this, the company continues to operate on outdated equipments which threatens its ability to compete in the telecoms industry.  The company also made financial loses of D63 million.           

Gamtel, one time second best telecoms services provider in Africa, is currently faced with many challenges, some of which are blamed on an aging network infrastructure and the use of obsolete equipments.

As Gamtel presented its annual activity report and financial statement of 2011 to the National Assembly, in Banjul, for scrutiny on Tuesday, the Lawmakers raised eyebrow, expressing disappointment that a whole national telecoms company is operating on obsolete equipments, when its competitors in the highly competitive market are largely operating on modern and cost effective equipments.

However, the Managing Director of Gamtel, Mr. Baboucarr Sanyang, told the National Assembly Members that the company is embarking on some capital intensive projects aimed at upgrading, expanding and introducing new telecoms services in response to the growing challenges.

One of Gamtel’s main challenges is the threat posed by its competitors and an increasing demand of customers’ requirements for more efficient service delivery.

Gambia to miss the MDG target of halving poverty by 2015

Abdou Kolley, Finance Minister

With the high rate of poverty in The Gambia and the modest achievement in reducing it, there is a likelihood that the country will not met the goal number one of the Millennium Development Goals, which is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

However, the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Abdou Kolley, acknowledged that as of now the country may or not achieve the MDG target of eradicating extreme poverty.  “It’s a probability,” he confirmed, though he pointed out that the government is employing all efforts to achieve this all important MDG target and such efforts includes boosting agricultural production and productivity as it employs a large percentage of Gambia’s labour force and contributes significantly to the country’s gross domestic product.

Statistics indicates that majority of Gambia’s 1.8 million people still live in poverty despite the reported “robust economic growth” over the years.  More than 40 % of those who are employed still live below the poverty line of $1.25 per day.

Speaking on behalf of Ms Chinwe Diké UN, Resident Coordinator, on Monday at the opening of the 7th Regional Forum for IFAD-funded Projects held in The Gambia from 12th to 15th November 2012, Mr Abdou Touray said given the historical trends and modest reduction in poverty levels in The Gambia, the MDG target of halving extreme poverty will not be met by the country, if efforts are not accelerated.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Regional experts meet in Gambia to discuss water management issues

Water management experts from West and Central Africa on Sunday completed a two-day meeting in The Gambia aimed at identifying what are the major constraints, issues and problems facing agricultural water management programs; what are the best ways to address these problems; and what kinds of new opportunities can be proposed for future programs.  

The experts - alongside regional and country programme managers of International fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) funded projects, government officials and policy makers in West and Central Africa - also shared the major results from recent projects implemented by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which has implemented several projects in the region on water management.

The event on the theme, ‘Improving outcomes of agricultural water management investments:  Research results, lessons learned and innovative new opportunities’, was a pre-forum learning event of the 7th Regional Forum for IFAD-funded Projects taking place in The Gambia from 12th to 15th November 2012.
Speaking to journalists in Banjul on Monday, Douglas J Merrey of IWMI, said water management remains one of the most significant constrains to agricultural development in Africa.

He noted that investing in small-scale interventions for improved water control can produce a dramatic impact on the productivity of agriculture.

According to him, over the years, there was not much political commitment to water management by African governments “but things are changing now as governments are more and more beginning to appreciate the impact of water management on agricultural growth and development”.

In Ghana, for example, the government is highly commitment to water management by pumping in a lot of money on water management and these monies are provided by the government itself not the donor community, Douglas said.

Many analysts believe that future increases in food supplies and economic prosperity for the rural poor will come mainly from improved agricultural water management combined with other interventions contributing to production and productivity of agriculture.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Gambia Press Union boycotts a forum meant to discuss way forward for the media

Members say nothing warrants such a decision  

The leadership of the Gambia Press Union (GPU) has decided to boycott stakeholders’ forum in which it’s invited as a “main stakeholder” to discuss the preliminary report that gives an overview of the findings on the situation of the journalists and media in The Gambia.  

Emil Touray
The meeting on 1st November at the Ocean Bay Hotel in Bakau was part of the “Journalists and Media” component of the European Union Delegation and Gambian Government joint Governance Programme. 
The meeting was for the stakeholders to discuss the preliminary report, prepared by a team of consultants from Article 19 during a mission conducted in The Gambia in October 2012, and commissioned by the European Union Delegation in The Gambia.

Thought the report indicated the achievements, strengths and the shortcomings of the GPU, the leadership of the Union said the report is biased.   

The president Emil Touray, secretary general Gibairu Janneh, and executive director Ahmed Alota are the ones invited to represent the GPU at the forum but none of them showed up neither do they delegate somebody else.

In a telephone conversation with the president, Emil Touray, to find out why the GPU is not represented at such a forum to discuss the way forward for the media, he said: “We just decided to boycott because we are not happy with the report.”

“We are dissatisfied with the content of the report and we thought the appropriate thing is to boycott forum as a way of expressing our disaffection,” he added.