By Makutu Manneh
A revenue collector of the Basse Area Council has on Wednesday, 30 August 2023 given evidence of how the Finance Director of the Basse Area Council lured him to collect money and hand it over to him.
Finance Director of Basse Area Council, Lamin Suso is in the center of allegation by several witnesses and the audit report on the Basse Area Council that he used to receive cash from revenue collectors.
Revenue Collector Lamin Manneh made admission that he gave the Finance Director of Basse Area Council on four different occasions council’s funds amounting to Fifty Three Thousand Dalasis (D53,000).
Manneh appeared before the Local Government Commission on Wednesday, 30 August 2023.
Details emerging from the Local Government Commission of Inquiry regarding the deals of Finance Director Lamin Suso was that he used to collect money directly from the revenue collectors without allowing them to make deposits at the bank. Lamin Manneh, a resident of Basse Kabakama and a revenue collector for the Basse Area Council is one of the collectors. Manneh gave a detail testimony on his engagements with the council’s Finance Director Suso.
The written witness statement of the witness dated 17 May 2023 was tendered and admitted as evidence by the Commission. Manneh said began his career as a revenue collector in 2021, adding it was his first appointment.
On how he got his appointment, Manneh said he submitted his application at the Basse Area Council and he became successful through an interview by the Establishment Committee of the Council. He said he received a call from the Area Council confirming his appointment and he was given an appointment letter.
The witness testified that the Local Government Service Commission was not involved in his recruitment and appointment. When asked by Lead Counsel Yakarr Cox whether he was trained on the financial and other manuals of the Area Council, the witness answered that he was only trained on how to use the device the Area Council uses in their revenue collection work. He said the orientation lasted for a few days and he was later asked to start collecting revenue.
He was issued a cash book so that when he deposits money in the bank it will be recorded. He said from Monday to Friday he used to go for revenue collection for the council and he used to deposit the funds daily into the council’s account at either Vista Bank or Agib Bank.
On how they do their work, he explained that the area council registers the business in their data system and issued them with a “demand note” as to what they should pay for that year. He added that they issue digital receipts for any payment receive from the businesses.
He informed the Commission that the revenue collection machine is a device that has the names of businesses registered. When asked who does the valuation for the businesses, the witness said he used to do assessment and it was his superiors that do the valuation.
“If you are in the system for so long you will have the experience,” Manneh said.
He added that they have a tariff where the businesses are classified and the amount for each category is stated. He detailed that Wholesale businesses are classified as Class A. He said the petty traders, compounds and others all have their categories.
“Some pay in cash and some pay at the bank,” Manneh said.
The witness said each device has an account and bears the collector’s name.
The witness explained an incident regarding his engagement with the Finance Director. At this time, he said he was absent and his assistant was using the device doing the collection. During his absence, Manneh said Finance Director Suso asked his assistant (Sulayman Bah) to bring the cash collected and paid directly to him. The witness said that was contrary to the memo that was issued that all payments should be made into the bank account.
“Sulayman Bah called me while I was at home and informed me that the Director collected the money from him,” the witness said.
Upon return, Manneh said he insisted that the Finance Director should refund the money and eventually the cash was refunded, and he went ahead to deposit it in the bank account. The amount involved was Eleven Thousand Five Hundred Dalasis (D11,500).
Another incident the witness explained was when the Area Council was facing troubles from the local bureaus doing money transfers at the market. Manneh said the businesspersons were not willing to make their payments adding that the Finance Director assigned him to go there and do the collection.
Manneh said after the collection, the Finance Director requested the cash from him with the claim that the area council was in dire need of money to take care of some of their commitments.
“I handed over the Nine Thousand Dalasis (D9,000) that I collected to the Finance Director,” Manneh said.
Manneh said the third incident happened on the 19th of June 2021, which was a Saturday. On that day, Manneh said it was not a working day for him and he was at home. He said while at home, he received a call from the Finance Director asking him to report to work.
“Director told me that they needed money to provide fuel for the NDMA team working on the Basse road, which was in a deplorable condition,” Manneh said.
Manneh explained that on that day, he did the collection together with the Finance Director using the director’s vehicle. Manneh indicated that they collected Nineteen Thousand Five Hundred Dalasis (D19,500).
“By then, I was not aware that I should not give the Director money. I was doing it as he was my immediate boss. I thought that he was my boss and whatever he asks me to do, I should do it,” Manneh said.
On the following day, which was a Sunday, Manneh said he received another call from the same Director of Finance asking him to do the same thing. This time around, it was to make collection from donkey cart owners. Each donkey cart owner was supposed to pay Three Hundred Dalasis. He testified that the Finance Director took the money that was collected from the donkey cart owners.
“When I came to the office, I insisted that the money should be refunded because I already printed the digital receipts. They gave me the money and I deposited it in the council’s account,” Manneh said.
“We collected the money and I gave him (Finance Director) the money,” Manneh said.
“Where do you take it?” Commissioner Joiner asked.
“He [Director Suso] took the money,” Manneh said.
The witness said the Area Council allocated him 15 liters of fuel monthly for his motor bike that he uses for revenue collection.
Lawyer Patrick Gomez, the deputy lead counsel of the Commission at this point took over from his lead counsel, Yakarr Cox to examine the witness.
The witness said he is a junior collector and he has a line manager. He added that the Finance Director was Lamin Suso.
“I did not undergo any form of training,” Lamin Manneh said.
He stated that he went with the people he found there for revenue collection for a few days.
“These are the people who have been there for over a decade,” the witness said.
He said they should be depositing the revenue collected daily.
“I knew that since my early days and that was what I was told,” he said.
Lawyer Gomez informed the witness that the auditors found that he was paying to the Finance Director directly.
“At that time I never thought it was wrong to pay money directly to the Director,” the witness said.
He explained that he was with the view that it was for the betterment of the council and considering the claim by the director of Finance Director
“Were you working for the area council or the finance director?” Lawyer Gomez asked.
“I was working for the area council,” the witness said.
“You knew that you were supposed to pay into the bank,” Lawyer Gomez said.
“Yes,” the witness stated.
The witness said he came to know that it was wrong to give money to the Finance Director at the time he received the memo that he should not pay any individual money.
“By then, I trusted the finance director very well. He came newly and I was new. I thought we had the same interest of raising revenue for the council,” the witness said.
Manneh added, “I came to realize that the Finance Director was using me and it was going to bring me troubles in the future.”
The witness said the Finance Director used to call him during weekend and they go together for revenue collection.
“We go foot-to-foot and do the collection,” Manneh said.
The witness said the collections that he did with the Finance Director were on Saturday and Sunday – outside work hours.
The witness was found to have handed the Finance Director over Fifty-Three Thousand Dalasis (D53,000). The witness said all this happened outside work hour but he was never paid allowance for working extra.
The first collection with the Director of Finance was Nineteen Thousand Five Hundred Dalasis (D19,500) and the money was handed over to the Director of Finance.
“He (Finance Director) gave me a paper to show the finance manager,” the witness said.
He said the finance manager declined, but the Finance Director instructed the finance manager to enter it in the cashbook.
“I did not know at the time they already tampered with the money. I did not know they used the money. I did not know they collected the money from my line manager,” Manneh said.
Other revenue collectors that used to give money to the Finance Director according to the audit report included Muhammed Suso, Sulayman Jallow, Ba Samba Jaw and Manku Manneh.
“Why do you collect revenue and give it to the Finance Director?” Lawyer Gomez asked.
“During those days I thought what I was doing was correct,” the witness said.
“That is not correct because you testified that you knew at the start of your work that you knew that all monies should be deposited,” Gomez said.
“I knew that all monies should be deposited into the account,” the witness answered.
“It was not proper and you knew that at the time,” Lawyer Gomez said.
“I was not aware that I should not give money to the Director of Finance. I never knew it was a crime,” the witness said.
“Were you ever told by anyone to give money to Director of Finance? You were only told to deposit money to the bank,” Gomez asked.
“Yes, I was never told to hand over money to the Director of Finance,” the witness replied.
“You will collect money and you will not deposit it in the manner it is supposed to be done,” Gomez said.
“The right thing to do is to deposit it to the bank,” the witness said, adding that “I thought what I was doing was right. It was an oversight on my side.”
The public hearing continues today.