By Makutu Manneh
Former Chief Executive Officer and former Finance Director Lamin Suso of the Basse Area Council (BsAC) continued giving contradictory testimonies before the Local Government Commission of Inquiry dubbed the Bah Commission.
The Bah Commission is conducting a full and impartial investigation into the local government councils from May 2018 to January 2023 to enhance transparency and accountability in the councils.
On the second day of their joint appearance, ex-CEO Ousman Touray and Ex-Finance Director Lamin Suso gave contradictory statements on the financial misspending of the Council’s funds. Both witnesses said decisions for spending the funds of BsAC were made by the management which comprises – The Chairman, the CEO, the Finance Director and Yaya Ceesay (Planner and Engineer).
Counsel Patrick Gomez challenged Lamin Suso to provide evidence of withdrawals he made in the name of a refund for himself. Most of the withdrawals Lamin Suso made were in the name of refunds for the monies he spent on the council.
“You were making withdrawals from the Council’s accounts and paying yourself as refunds; where is the evidence to back it up?” Counsel Patrick Gomez asked.
“I don’t have evidence. The CEO should be honourable enough to say it here. He was aware,” Lamin Suso answered.
“I never authorise him to pre-finance any of the Council’s activities. I am not aware of any pre-finance he made,” OusmanTouray said.
The Gambia Government on 17 December 2021 remitted Two Million Dalasi to the accounts of the Basse Area Council as subvention.
Former CEO Touray said after the Council received remittance from the Gambia Government Lamin Suso came to his office asking him to covertly spend the money.
“Lamin Suso came to my office and told me that normally when they receive money at the Brikama Area Council [where he was working] they used to share the money and prepare receipts,” Ousman Touray said.
Ousman Touray further testified that he turned down Lamin Suso’s request to share the money meant for development. In his reaction, Lamin Suso said OusmanTouray’s testimony was false.
“What we [I and CEO Touray] talked about was how to settle our liabilities with the banks,” Lamin Suso said.
“What was the money for?” Patrick Gomez asked.
“It was for the construction of an old market in Basse,” Lamin Suso answered.
“It was for development,” Lawyer Gomez said.
“It was a conditional grant for building the old market,” Lamin Suso replied.
When asked about the cost of the old market project, Lamin Suso said the cost was Two Million Four Hundred Thousand Dalasi. In response to the question posed by Lawyer Patrick Gomez concerning whether the money was spent on the market project, Lamin Suso said the money was not spent on the market.
“Was the general council aware that the Government has paid money to your accounts?” Counsel Gomez asked.
“No, we did not report to them,” Lamin Suso said.
“Why?” Counsel Gomez asked.
“Normally, we only inform the Chairman,” Lamin Suso answered.
Lamin Suso and Ousman Touray both testified that former Chairman FodayDanjo was aware of the funds as they discussed it in their management meetings.
“Basically, it was between me and the CEO. We decided how the money was spent,” Lamin Suso said.
Asked why they did not spend the money on the market, Lamin Suso said the banks were pressuring them to pay off the loans the Council took. Lamin Suso added that he and the CEO agreed to use the money to pay the banks while awaiting the Car Park Fees to spend on the market.
The Basse Area Council received Two Million Seven Hundred Thousand Dalasi from the Gambia Government on 17 March 2022 as Car Park Fees.
“Were the car park fees eventually spent on the market?” Lawyer Gomez asked.
Lamin Suso said the money was not spent on the old market project.
Counsel Gomez: “MrTouray, you as the CEO, you failed to ensure that the money was spent on the market project.”
“Yes, I agree with you,” OusmanTouray replied.
“You failed as a CEO,” Patrick Gomez said.
“Yes,” Ousman Touray answered.
When asked how the 2 Million Dalasi subvention from the Government was spent, OusmanTouray said NdabahKrubally withdrew One Million Dalasi, One Hundred and Fifty Thousand and Eight Hundred Thousand Dalasi. From the Eight Hundred Thousand Withdrawn, OusmanTouray said Five Hundred Thousand Dalasi was deposited at Vista Bank and Three Hundred Thousand Dalasi deposited at Supersonicz Microfinance. Lamin Suso countered the CEO saying from the Eight Hundred Thousand Dalasi Ndabah Krubally deposited Seven Hundred and Sixty-Five Thousand Dalasi at Vista Bank for salary payment.
Chairperson Jainaba Bah asked the two (2) witnesses to provide evidence that the money was used to pay salary and, in their responses, both OusmanTouray and Lamin Suso said they do not have evidence to support their claim.
Counsel Patrick Gomez told the two (2) witnesses that the Financial Manual makes provision for the Council to have thresholds for spending. Both Lamin Suso and OusmanTouray admitted that they did not comply with the dictates of the Financial Manual.
Lamin Suso on 6 October 2021 went to the Vista Bank Brikama Branch to withdraw Fifty Thousand Dalasi (D50,000), but the withdrawal was refused by the bank. Ex-CEO OusmanTouray said while was in the office he received an SMS alert for a D50,000 withdrawal. He testified that he did not recall signing any cheque for such withdrawal and this was how he reached out to Vista Bank and the transaction, which was almost concluded, was reversed. OusmanTouray provided a copy of the cheque and a printout of the SMS alert to the Commission. Both were tendered and admitted into the records of the Commission and marked as an exhibit in a bundle. OusmanTouray stated that he called Lamin Suso and confronted him regarding the transaction, but Suso insisted that the cheque was signed by both of them.
Lamin Suso, on his part, said the CEO was not true. Suso testified that the cheque was signed in September by both of them and he only tried to make the withdrawal in October. When asked why the cheque withdrawal was not allowed by the bank, Lamin Suso said he felt that the account had a negative balance. When asked what he was going to do with the D50,000 he wanted to withdraw, Lamin Suso said it was a refund for a pre-finance he made. When asked what he pre-financed, Lamin Suso said it was for a refund of Thirty Thousand Dalasi (D30,000) he gave the CEO at the time as per diem allowance for his trip to the United States. Suso added that the Twenty Thousand Dalasi (D20,000) was to be used for other council activities. He admitted that there was no voucher or any other form of evidence to support his claim of the pre-finances he allegedly made. He blamed himself for not preparing a voucher before making the pre-financing.
Former CEO OusmanTouray reacted to Suso’s testimony. He stated that Lamin Suso was not truthful because the per diem allowance paid to him was from the Basse Area Council Agib Bank Account. He referred the Commission to the bank statement concerning 9 September 2021.
“My allowance was not from Suso’s pocket,” Touray said.
Lamin Suso was shown the account statement indicating the withdrawal of 9 September 2021. Lamin Suso said the said withdrawal was for the payment of CEO Touray’s liability to one ModouJonga. When asked whether he had evidence to back his claim, Lamin Suso said he had no evidence.
Lawyer Patrick Gomez asked Suso again why the bank reversed the payment. Lamin Suso said he understood that there was no money in the account.
“Sometimes we take chances when we go to the bank,” Lamin Suso said.
“You don’t take chances, Mr Suso,” Patrick Gomez said.
Ousman Touray accused Lamin Suso of forging his signature, but Lamin Suso said the CEO had different signatures.
“That signature on the cheque is not the signature of the CEO at Vista Bank,” Counsel Patrick Gomez said.
“Yes,” Lamin Suso answered.
Lamin Suso also withdrew One Hundred and Forty-One Thousand Dalasi (D141,000) on 22 September 2022 from the same Vista Bank Brikama Branch. OusmanTouray said he discovered earlier that there was a deposit of Forty Thousand (D40,000), which was withdrawn on the same day before the withdrawal of the D141,000. OusmanTouray said he asked Lamin Suso to return the money in the account, but he did not follow the instructions.
“He is very right,” Lamin Suso said, in reaction.
He said the D141,000 cheque was also signed by the CEO, but the CEO said this signature was forged. Lamin Suso said the money was also a refund for the pre-finance he made. Ousman Touray said at the time of the withdrawal the account had a negative balance of One Million Dalasi and the withdrawal increased it.
Chairperson Jainaba Bah raised the issue of having negative balances and the raising of the cheque, which was allowed by the bank without following due process.
“We did not authorize the bank for that facility,” Ousman Touray said.
The Commission noted that Lamin Suso used the Brikama Branch of Vista Bank where his friend Abdoulie Saidykhan serves as the branch manager.
Lamin Suso pointed out that in July 2022 the account recorded deposits of D40,000 and D26,000 and in August another deposit of D65,000. In September, Lamin Suso withdrew that D141,000. Lamin Suso said the D131,000 from that amount was for salary while the D10,000 was for fuel.
This testimony of Lamin Suso contradicted his earlier statement that it was for a refund of the pre-finances he made. Chairperson Jainaba Bah informed Lamin Suso the D65,000 deposit was not in the statement.
Counsel Patrick Gomez referred Lamin Suso to the Financial Manual regarding sources of council funding. After reading that provision of the law, Lamin Suso was asked whether pre-financing was part of it and he responded in the negative. Lamin Suso testified that he had no authority to pre-finance the Council’s activities.
Commissioner Oreme E. Joiner said on 8 September 2022, the Basse Area Council received a deposit of One Million Five Hundred Thousand Dalasi (D1.5 Million) but on the following day, they made certain withdrawals of D200,000, D500,000, D100,000 and D50,000. On 22 September, and they also withdrew Eight Hundred Thousand Dalasi (D800,000). He asked why all those withdrawals were made, but Lamin Suso could not provide specific answers to each withdrawal.
Chairperson Jainaba Bah asked Lamin Suso and OusmanTouray why they did not maintain a salary account. In their responses, both of them agreed that it was better to have a salary account than what was in place.
Ousman Touray provided two vouchers saying the signatures therein were not his. Lamin Suso insisted that the CEO has different signatures. The Commission noted that the person who prepared those vouchers did not sign them.
Both Ousman Touray and Lamin Suso testified that they had not followed the dictates of the financial rules, as they prepared vouchers after concluding the transactions without attaching supporting documents.
One of the vouchers queried by OusmanTouray was a payment of fuel for Chairman FodayDanjo’s vehicle. Lamin Suso said it was a refund for the fuel Foday Danjo purchased. The voucher did not have supporting documents and the person who prepared it did not sign it.
Patrick Gomez told the witnesses that they were not employed to pre-finance the Council’s activities, instead they had the obligation to manage the funds of the council in line with the law.
“You don’t have any document to prove your pre-finances,” Counsel Gomez asked.
“Yes,” Lamin Suso said.
He referred the witnesses to certain provisions of the Financial Manual regarding how council funds were supposed to be expended.
“Why were you approving payments without vouchers and supporting documents?” Counsel Gomez asked.
“It was wrong,” OusmanTouray answered.
The two witnesses were discharged by the Commission.