Ex-CEO Says Finance Director of Basse Area Council was Incompetent

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Ousman Touray, a former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Basse Area Council has put his weakness on display as he admitted to several financial malpractices that happened in the Council during his time.

“Our problem started in 2021. I must admit that I lost control of the whole system because the people under me were difficult to control,” he said.

“You created a monster and the monster became too powerful,” Commissioner Alagie Sillah asked.

“Yes, that was the case,” Ousman Touray replied.

The Commission noted that written witness statement of the former CEO indicated that Lamin Suso was engaged in dubious activities. When asked about this, Touray reiterated the statement saying Lamin Suso was actually engaged in dubious or shady transactions that were detrimental to the welfare of the Basse Area Council. One of the reasons he gave was before the coming of Lamin Suso to the Basse Area Council, the accounts at the bank were not “RED” but when Susocame in 2021, the accounts of the Council began having troubles. 

Touray’s testimony came as a surprise because he is the Chief Accounting Officer of the Basse Area Council as per the laws. He has the responsibility to check every payment before it is made and ensure that things work for the council. The law also places liability on him on expenditures of the council.

Touray said sometimes former Finance Director Lamin Suso used to bring him cheques and he will sign, but if Suso leaves, he regrets his action. 

As a former Senior Budget Officer at the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, Touray said he went to the Basse Area Council with his experience and wanted to elevate the council by changing the status quo. However, he could not succeed. 

Auditors actually held him and Suso responsible for the misappropriated funds of the council. The auditors exposed the weak administration that existed at the Basse Area Council during the tenure of Touray. The auditors further exposed the lack of respect of rules and procedures established in the laws during the time of Touray. 

Touray was appointed as the CEO of Basse Area Council in July 2019 while former Director of Finance Suso was appointed in February 2021.

“In 2019 and 2020, the council’s accounts were not red until 2021 when the problems started. This was around mid-2021,” Touray said.

Touray reappeared before the Local Government Commission of Inquiry on 24 October 2023 as an adversely mentioned person.

On how Suso was appointed, the witness said the appointment was done by the Local Government Service Commission upon recommendation by the Establishment Committee of the Basse Area Council. Touray said he challenged the recommendation of the Establishment Committee through a letter sent to the Ministry of Regional Government and Lands querying the decision of the Establishment Committee. Touray informed the Commission that the Ministry did not reply to him, but they instead went ahead to appoint Suso.

The former CEO submitted two letters to the Commission. One of them was written by him addressed to the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Regional Government dated 15 November 2022 with the heading “Unprofessional Behaviour of Director of Finance of Basse Area Council.” The other letter was from the Ministry addressed to all local government councils with the titled “Approved Salaries and Allowances Increments for CEOs” dated 18 July 2019. Both letters were admitted into the records of the Commission and marked as exhibits.

The former CEO said the audit and finance committee of the BsAC submitted a report of their findings regarding alleged financial malpractices in the council, but the general council rejected it. He added that a taskforce was established to investigate the matter. He explained that the report was also rejected by the general council. The former CEO suggested to the audit and finance committee chairman, Omar Garry, to push a motion for external auditors to be invited which eventually was accepted by the council. He explained that he was tasked to write to the Ministry requesting for auditors to come to the Basse Area Council to do system audit. 

On 3 April 2023, the witness on behalf of the Basse Area Council wrote to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry regarding the ‘unscrupulous behavior of the Director of Finance’, Lamin Suso. The letter was tendered and admitted into the records of the Commission, and marked as an Exhibit. 

On 8 September 2022, the witness wrote to the Ministry requesting for System Audit for the whole council of all persons and departments of the Basse Area Council. The auditors came in October 2022. 

Three letters concerning the implementation of the Internal Audit Committee report of the Basse Area Council were submitted. One of the letters was dated 8 November 2022 by Ismaila Saidybah – Clerk of the Council addressed to CEO and Director of Finance and another letter dated 19 April 2023. Additionally, there was another letter dated 28 April 2023 by Director of Finance Lamin Suso. They were all admitted into the records of the Commission and marked as exhibit in a bundle. 

PRE-FINANCING OF COUNCIL’S ACTIVITIES

Touray said pre-financing of procurement or other council activities used to happen at the Basse Area Council before he came and when he came in 2019, he observed it and put a stop to it in January 2020. 

The witness said sometimes expenditures are done in his absence and when he comes back, he would review it.

“When I am not satisfied with the expenditure, I don’t sign the voucher,” he said.

He said he used to sign empty cheques without indicating any amount on them and it was what the Director of Finance used to take and make withdrawals. He added that the last time he left a blank cheque that he signed was in October 2021. When pressed by Chairperson Jainaba Bah, the witness said his evidence was inaccurate.

“I could not remember at any point in time the Director of Finance pre-financing the activities of the Council,” Ousman Touray said.

The former Director of Finance Lamin Suso had testified that he used to pre-finance certain activities of the Basse Area Council in the tune of several hundreds of thousands of Dalasi. Former CEO Ousman Touray said the testimony of Suso is inaccurate because he has no knowledge on when and where latter pre-financed any of the Council’s activities. Touray said instead it was Lamin Suso taking the Council’s money unjustifiably.

Touray recalled one day when former Director of Finance requested a loan of Four Hundred Thousand Dalasi (D400,000) from the council, but the request was refused by him. Touray said Lamin Suso proceeded to Vista Bank at a time he travelled to the United States to attend a UN Conference and made the withdrawal. The witness said he informed the Chairman, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry and others about the unauthorised withdrawal. He explained that there was a Zoom Meeting held regarding the withdrawal and it was where the Director of Finance informed them that he had the cheque for the past seven (7) months and did not encash the money. He said the withdrawal was done on 23 March 2023, some months after the System Audit.

“Signing a blank cheque is like signing your death warrant,” said Commissioner Oreme E. Joiner.

“Yes,” Ousman Touray said.

“And you know that?” Commissioner Joiner asked.

“Yes,” Touray replied.

“Is that prudent after all these years of service?” Commissioner Joiner aksed.

“No,”Touray replied.

“You left 9 signed blank cheques with the Director of Finance,” Commissioner Joiner asked.

“Yes,” Touray replied.

“How influential was Lamin Suso over you?” Commissioner Joiner asked.

“I don’t have answers to this. Most of the times when he brings cheques to me and I sign it, it is only later that I realise that what I did is risky,” Touray answered.

The witness said they used to borrow from businessmen to pay staff salary. He added that there was a memo from council forbidding taking of loans from businessmen to pay salary. The 2021 Memo emphasised that “pre-financing has to stop with immediate effect”. After question and answer with Commissioner Joiner, the witness admitted that he flouted the Memo even though he stated that he misconstrued the Memo he personally prepared.

The CEO said he used to do weekly checks on the books of the council to understand the expenditures made, but when Lamin Suso took over in February 2021, that was not possible because he does not provide the books. He added that Suso’s predecessor used to bring the books to him on Fridays and he used to review them over the weekend.

“It was not possible to do that with Suso. It was difficult. You will request the books and he won’t provide you,” Touray said.

Vice Chairperson Dr Samba Faal asked the witness about the functionality of the finance committee, but the witness said they sit only when the need arises. Commissioner Faal told the witness that the council is the highest decision making body of the council while the finance committee of every council is the HEART.

“If you have a dysfunctional finance committee, you will have a dysfunctional council,” Faal said.

Commissioner Faal said a functional finance committee would ensure there is a proper system and ensures there are checks on everything.