Brikama Area Council Finance Director Fails to Account for Geology Funds 

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By Makutu Manneh

Mr Alagie Jeng, the Director of Finance at Brikama Area Council (BAC), was on Monday, 8 July, questioned about 33.7 million Dalasi the Council received as Geology Funds.

He provided the Commission with his report, but admitted it was not approved by the Council. After questions and answers with Lead Counsel Patrick Gomez, the witness admitted that his report was not accurate.

 Geology Funds 

The witness said they received 33.7 million Dalasi between 2019 and 2023 as geology funds. The funds were meant for the communities where mining activities took place. However, he informed the Commission that some of the funds were spent on capital projects. 

The witness said from the amount of 33.7 Million received as geology funds, the Brikama Area Council invested 7 Million Dalasi at Eco Bank which enabled them to withdraw 9 Million Dalasi from the bank and spent it on projects. He added that they invested 2 million Dalasi at Access Bank. The Commission asked the witness to provide evidence to substantiate his claims.

At this juncture, Counsel Gomez asked him about the remaining money from the amount received from the geology funds, Jeng responded that the balance of the money was spent on projects. 

The Commission noted that the Geology Funds were used to offset the negative balances of the Council in the banks while defeating the intended purposes. With the witness being argumentative, Counsel Gomez took time to list the transactions from the bank accounts, the report he provided to the Commission, the amounts received as Geology Funds, and the dates. 

He later accepted that the funds were mainly used to clear the negative balance of the Council in the banks. At the end of the questioning, Alagie Jeng admitted that the accounts were mainly in the negative balances, and when the geology funds were received, the bank took the funds and they only had meager funds to spend. 

The Commission noted further that the Brikama Area Council was taking loans and overdrafts from the banks, leaving their accounts in negative balances. One of the loans they took was a Ten Million Dalasi to refurbish the Council’s main building and another Two Million Dalasi to pay 1 by 6 salary for staff.

Witness Jeng also admitted that they made a lot of withdrawals from the accounts. The Commission asked him to provide evidence for the withdrawals and how the funds were spent. 

Counsel Gomez told the witness that the evidence before the Commission was that only 3.8 Million Dalasi was spent in the affected areas. The witness accepted, saying “Yes.” Counsel Gomez further told him that most of the funds went as offsetting bank liabilities. The witness accepted, saying the bank balances were in the negative, and the geology funds were used to offset the negative balances.

“There is a law guiding you on what to do to help these communities,” Chairperson Jainaba Bah told the witness.

The witness accepted and stated that they did not follow the law.

Revenue Suppression 

The witness was asked about a Seven Thousand Dalasi (D7,000) suppression. He said the money was not suppressed. Instead, it was spent as a contribution to a ceremony of one of the council’s staff. He added that the Brikama Area Council (BAC) supports staff who have ceremonies or funerals. When he was asked who received the D7000, he replied that he could not recall the staff and that he did not have the record. He admitted that it was wrong for them to spend the money because the Financial Manual for Local Government Councils does not permit such expenditures. 

“It was done on humanitarian grounds,” the witness said.

Chairperson Bah gave the witness till Thursday, 10 July, 2024 to bring the evidence to the Commission. 

He testified that he knew at the time that the expenditure was unlawful. He said the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Council is the approving authority for all transactions, but they do not have clear guidelines on how to do approval. 

 Unaccounted D63,000 

The witness was questioned about an unaccounted Sixty-Three Thousand Dalasi (D63,000) contained in the 2020 Internal Audit Report. He claimed that the matter was addressed, but he could not provide the Commission with evidence to substantiate the claim. Chairperson Jainaba Bah instructed the witness to provide the details. 

 Untraced Payments 

The witness was questioned about untraced payments amounting to 1.6 Million Dalasi.

“All these vouchers were traced. The auditors said the vouchers were not traced, but it was later traced,” the witness said.

He was given a timeline to provide the evidence to the Commission to account for the 1.6 Million.

44 Million Dalasi Deposit Slips 

The Commission probed the claim contained in the audit queries of deposit slips that were not presented amounting to over Forty-Four Million and Twenty-Nine Thousand Dalasi that were not presented. The witness stated that those were transfers. Council Gomez informed the witness that the issue of deposit slips would not arise when the funds were transferred. The witness stated that what he meant was that they have the deposit slips, but they are copies. He was asked to bring them. He added that they were deposits made for land transfers, operational fees, and bank transfers. 

Missing D160,000

The witness was asked about an amount of One Hundred and Sixty Thousand Dalasi (D160,000) that was not presented. He claimed that the issue was resolved. 

“How do you mean that the matter was resolved?” Gomez asked. 

“The market tickets were traced while the others were not traced. The collectors indicated their willingness to settle the outstanding fee,” the witness said.

He was told to provide evidence regarding his claim. 

Honorarium 

The witness was asked about the honorarium the BAC used to pay cleaners for cleaning services, which forms part of their duty. The witness answered that the payments were made concerning cleansing services cleaners offer for Sundays and public holidays. 

The Commission noted that the Council made payments to individuals without having any contractual relationship for clearing service. The total amount paid was over 2.5 million Dalasi. One of the recipients of the payment was one Mustapha Manneh, who received an amount of Three Hundred and Ninety Thousand Dalasi (D390,000).

“He did not have a business. He did not register it. We do not have a contract with him. We only hired him to provide us with more trucks,” the witness answered.

“Why will you pay someone who does not have a business and does not have a contract with the Council?” Counsel Gomez quizzed.

“We knew what we did was wrong,” the witness said.

“You paid over a million dalasi without any contractual agreement,” Counsel Gomez said.

“Yes, there was no contractual agreement,” the witness answered.

“Why did you and the CEO approve it?” Counsel Gomez asked.

“It was wrong. We knew it. The Financial Manual does not allow us to do that,” he admitted.

When asked who decided to make the payments, the witness said it was himself, the CEO, and Seedy Kunta, the Procurement Manager.

Chairperson Jainaba Bah asked what would warrant work on Sunday if the cleaners did their work in the 6 days, the witness responded that the situation sometimes gets serious. He was told that they were not doing their work as it was supposed to be from Monday to Saturday. The witness insisted that they used to pay them the honorarium because Sundays and public holidays do not fall within their work days.

The witness testified that he knew that some of the payments he made together with the CEO were wrong. 

 3.6 Million Withdrawal by CEO

The witness was questioned about a withdrawal made by former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Modou Jonga. The amount was Three Million, Six Hundred and Ninety Thousand and Twenty-Six Dalasi. The witness said the withdrawal was for salary payments and other council expenses.  He was asked to provide evidence regarding the 3.6 Million withdrawn by Jonga.

Conflict of Interest – Awarding Contract to Council Staff 

The witness admitted that Brikama Area Council contracts were awarded to staff without following due process. One of them was awarded to Malick Gaye to renovate the mosque in the council and the toilet facilities, and to renovate the main building of the Council.

“We knew he was a colleague and he had a construction company. We decided to award him,” the witness said.

The witness said he cannot remember how much was paid to Malick Gaye, operating as Gaye Builder. The Commission requested that he provide the details of the contracts to the staff of the council. 

Gaye agreed with the Council to be paid Seven Hundred Thousand for the renovation of the mosque and the toilet facility. The Commission noted that Gaye was paid about Six Hundred Thousand Dalasi (D600,000). The witness denied the claim that the remainder was what was received by him and others as kickback from a corrupt scheme. He said it was not a kickback. He was asked if Malick Gaye ever requested the balance. He replied that he could not recall seeing any claims of Malick Gaye. 

He admitted that there was a conflict of interest in awarding a Council staff contract, and accepted liability, saying the payment was illegal or unlawful since it did not follow the rules prescribed in the Financial Manual. He testified that the CEO and himself should account for the money.

The Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA) Act requires the Council to follow a certain method before making payments. This is to ensure there is value for money on the expenses made. However, when the rules are violated, as in this, this promotes conflict of interest and goes against the fundamentals of accountability and transparency. 

“You should pay this money,” Counsel Gomez told the witness.

“I agree,” the witness answered.

 Pre-Financing 

The witness said he used to issue cheques from his accounts to make withdrawals and take care of council expenses. The witness received an amount of more than 1.2 million in the name of payments he made to take a case at the expense of the Council. 

He was asked about his salary and other sources of living. The witness said he currently gets D37,000 monthly as a salary, and he used to operate a poultry farm, and he has a van that used to do taxi services.

The Commission informed the witness that he was not truthful because the Brikama Area Council in 2019 registered a total revenue of Eighty-Six Million with a total of Seventy-Seven Million as expenditure – this means they made a surplus (profit); in 2020 they made 88 Million Dalasi as income and made an expenditure of more than 78 Million and in 2021 they made 85 million Dalasi as income and made an expenditure of 86 million. He was asked how he was helping the Council when the Council was running a surplus budget. 

“On what basis were you giving credit to the Area Council?” Counsel Gomez asked.

“Sometimes our expenditure is more than our income,” the witness said.

He was told that his claim that he used to credit the Council money was baseless since he did not have evidence to back it. Jeng said his Eco Bank statement of account would show the cheque withdrawals.

He was given his bank statement from Eco Bank to show the Commission the cheque withdrawals made by Omar Saidykhan, an Accounts Clerk. The witness checked and said there was none. Lead Counsel Patrick Gomez informed the witness that what the bank statement showed was that the Accounts Clerk, Omar Saidykhan made some deposits into his account. One of the deposits was dated 16 April 2020 for an amount of Five Hundred Thousand Dalasi (D500,000), and another transaction showed that Omar Saidykhan deposited Eight Hundred Thousand Dalasi (D800,000) into the account. 

The Commission gave the witness a chance to show from the statement cheque withdrawals he claimed to justify the deposits made into his account. The witness was unable to show the Commission. 

“Here is the Eco Bank account statement. Let’s see the cheque withdrawals,” Counsel Gomez told the witness.

“It was not reflected in the statement. Unless I go back,” the witness said.

“Go back to where? You need to provide an explanation,” Counsel Gomez said.

The witness admitted the accounts clerks are employees of the Brikama Area Council, and it was wrong to assign them to do deposits into his account. 

“It was a corrupt scheme that you were engaged in. This is a person who should deposit monies in the council’s account and not your account,” Counsel Gomez said.

The witness could not show the Commission at least one transaction in which he credited the Council funds. He insisted that he issued cheques to Omar Saidykhan to withdraw from his account and spend it on Council’s business.

The Commission informed the witness that Omar Saidykhan alone withdrew about 30 million Dalasi (D29.952,152.37). The Commission further informed him that Omar Saidykhan made deposits in his account and the account of the CEO.

The witness said the credit he gave to the Council was only known to him, and the Council has never requested or approved it. He added that the CEO knew about only one of the credits he made while the rest was not known to him. 

“Is the CEO aware of this?” Gomez asked.

“I think only once,” the witness said.

“Did the Council approach you to give them money?” Gomez asked.

“No,” the witness said.

The witness admitted that the payments he received were unlawful.

“Nowhere and at no given time has the Council requested that you should be giving them money,” Gomez told the witness.

“Yes, that is correct,” the witness answered. 

“You cannot produce evidence to support your claim,” Gomez said.

“Yes,” the witness answered.

“The money you received from Omar Saidykhan was the council’s money,” Counsel Gomez said.

“Yes,” the witness answered.

The witness said his act was an “error”. He was told it was not an error but an unlawful arrangement. He was accused of stealing the Council funds. 

“You stole the money from the Council. You know that is an offence,” Counsel Gomez said,

“Yes,” the witness replied.

“You know you are liable for that,” Gomez told the witness.

“Yes,” the witness answered.

The witness said he has 3 properties, including a storey building. He added that the poultry farm he started in 2020 was closed down in 2022 because he was bankrupt due to lack of funds to purchase the feed. The poultry farm was situated in his 300 meters by 100 meters land. 

The Commission noted that his wife, Fatou Gaye, made deposits of a huge sum of money into his Supersoniczs Microfinance account. Some of the deposits in 2021 were D122,000 on the 6th of January, D101,000 on the 7th of January, D200,00 on the 4th of February, D320,000 on the 12th of February, D150,000 on the 23rd of February, 207,500 on the 15th March, D400,000 on the 27th April and D209,000 on the 7th September among others. 

The witness claimed that they were the gains he made from his poultry farm and commercial van. 

The witness was asked about the D950,000 proceeds realised from an auction sale in 2022. He showed the Commission a transaction of the same amount in the BAC Access Bank Account dated 21st March 2022. In the earlier auction held in 2020, there was an unaccounted amount of over a hundred thousand dalasi. He was asked to provide the details to the Commission.

99 Receipts Missing 

The witness was asked about the missing 99 receipts from the book of revenue collector Kebba Jammeh. He was asked to provide the evidence.