By Makutu Manneh
Mr OusmanTouray, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Basse Area Council (BsAC) has told the Local Government Commission of Inquiry, that Chairman Foday Danjo had interfered in procurement activities at the Council.
Touray admitted that the Director of Finance was directly answerable to him and was obliged to follow his instructions.
“Did you ensure the Director of Finance performed his responsibilities?” Deputy Lead Counsel Patrick Gomez asked.
“I tried my best,” the witness answered.
“These were chronic problems. They were persistent. They were happening on a daily basis,” Counsel Gomez said.
Gomez cited the lack of bank reconciliation, which according to the auditors, affects the credibility of any financial report because of the high risk of errors.
“What will be your excuse?” Counsel Gomez quizzed.
“There is no excuse,” the witness answered.
“Not even one month have you requested for bank reconciliation to be done,” Gomez said.
“Yes,” the witness answered.
“Bank reconciliation should be monthly,” Lawyer Gomez said.
“Yes,” the witness answered.
The witness testified that “It will be impossible to account for council funds.”
The witness further admitted that the asset register of the Basse Area Council is incomplete. He added that the lack of a complete asset inventory poses high risk because the Council’s account won’t all be accounted for. He also admitted there were no IT policy, training policy, procurement plan and database for procurement activities.
“It was due to a poor recording system,” the witness said.
Speaking on the Compliance Review Report for 2020 and 2021, former CEO Touray said the members of the Contracts Committee were himself, Finance Director, Procurement Officer, the Planner and Engineer, and Councilor, Sainey Kanuteh. The witness explained that the Chairman used to attend the Contracts Committee meeting.
“It was wrong for the Chairman to attend the Contracts Committee meetings. You cannot be the judge and the jury. He [the Chairman] should have only supervised us and therefore, he should not have attended the meetings,” the witness said.
Counsel Gomez said the Chairman used to influence some of the decisions of the Contracts Committee.
“The Chairman used to influence some of our decisions,” the witness said.
On the procurements, the Commission noted that in 2019, 2020 and 2021 there was no open tendering for procurements. Almost all procurements were done through single sourcing – without subjecting any procurement to competition.
“Why will you commit the Council’s funds to non-competition?” Counsel Gomez asked.
“It was not proper,” the witness said.
“We know it is not proper. You decided to give contracts to whosoever you want to give it to through single sourcing. You award contracts to people as it pleases you. Why did you allow that?” Counsel Gomez asked.
“It was a wrong procurement method,” the witness answered.
“The idea was you were doing your usual business of awarding contracts for kickbacks,” Gomez told the witness.
The witness disagreed saying he did not receive kickbacks for any procurement activity done by the Basse Area Council.
“Why was there no competition?” the Lawyer asked.
“We were not doing competition,” the witness answered.
“You gave contracts at will. No wonder, the Chairman used to attend your Contracts Committee meetings,” Counsel Gomez said.
“Yes, I agree with you,” the former CEO replied.
“Why were you not following the GPPA rules? Gomez asked.
“We were not following it,” the witness said, adding “We thought that single sourcing was the right procurement method.”
“You and the Chairman knew about the procurement rules,” the Counsel said.
“Yes,” the witness answered, adding that “It was not intentional.”
Lawyer Gomez asked the witness to provide evidence to show that what they were doing was not intentional, but the witness said he has no proof to provide.
“We just ask the vendors [suppliers] to send their quotation, but we do not advertise it,” the witness said.
The witness testified that the members of the Contracts Committee were not appointed stating that “the conditions were not fulfilled”.
“The Contracts Committee was a group of friends who came together to direct and manage the council affairs,” Gomez said.
However, the witness disagreed with Counsel.
“You have been awarding contracts without following due process,” Gomez put to him.
“That’s right. You are right,” the witness said.
The Commission noted that one of the sisters of the former Chairman Foday Danjo, has been awarded some contracts by the Basse Area Council even though she did not register her business with GPPA, contrary to the law that prohibits a company that is not registered with the Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA) to get public contracts because of the risk of non-tax payment.
“That was a conflict of interest,” the witness said.
“Why did you allow yourself to be involved when you knew it was wrong?” Counsel Gomez asked.
“It was wrong,” the witness answered.
The Deputy Lead Counsel gave a list of names of businesses that were awarded contracts by the Basse Area Council which were not registered by the GPPA in line with the provision of the law.
“Do you know whether they pay tax?” Gomez asked.
“I don’t know,” the witness answered.
For 2022, the Compliance Report by GPPA indicated that there were no single procurements that were subjected to open tendering as all were conducted through single sourcing.
“[What we did] was not correct. It should have followed due process,” the witness said.
The Deputy Lead Counsel told the witness that former Director of Finance, Lamin Suso, found a broken system at the Basse Area Council and he capitalised on it. Counsel Gomez said the problems of the Basse Area Council dates back before the coming of Lamin Suso because they were not following procurement and other rules.
“You are right,” the witness said.
For the system audit by the Internal Audit Directorate, the witness said it came after the general council of Basse Area Council rejected the report containing the findings and recommendation of the Finance and Audit sub-committee of the Basse Area Council regarding financial malpractices. The System Audit revealed that the Finance Director was taking council funds directly from the revenue collectors.
The witness said the problems of the Basse Area Council compounded in 2021 after the coming of LaminSuso. He recalled that the Gambia Government transferred 2 Million Dalasi (D2,000,000) to the Basse Area Council as subvention. Former CEO Touray, said he received One Hundred Thousand Dalasi (D100,000) from the sum, but he has repaid it. Ex-Finance Director Lamin Suso received One Hundred Thousand and Three Hundred Thousand was given to the Cashier of the Area Council, Ndabah Krubally. He disputed the evidence of Lamin Suso that the money he received was a refund to a pre-finance he made for salary payment.
“LaminSuso told us he had a problem and we gave him D100,000 as loan. It was not a refund for any pre-finance he made,” the witness said.
The witness said when the council received subvention from the Gambia Government, he remembered Lamin Suso encouraging him to withdraw the money and share it among them.
“Lamin Suso told me when he was working at the Brikama Area Council they used to share the subvention. He [LaminSuso] used to say this man [referring to me] does not want anything [riches] and he doesn’t want anyone to have something [money]. This was because I refused the idea of sharing the subvention,” the witness said.
When asked further why he gave Lamin Suso D100,000, former CEO Touray said it was meant to settle his personal liabilities, which was a loan.
“You allowed it,” the Counsel told the witness.
“Yes,” the witness answered.
“D300,000 was given to NdabahKrubally and never accounted for,” Counsel Gomez said.
The witness said that amount was meant to pay the Council’s liability to Supersonicz Microfinance. When asked whether the payment was made to the financial institution, the witness said he cannot confirm but he believes that the amount was paid to Supersonicz.
At this juncture Chairperson, Jainaba Bah asked the witness whether due process was followed at the time of giving Lamin Suso the loan of D100,000. Former CEO Touray said due process was not followed.
The auditors noted that the Basse Area Council was taking loans from different banks without approval from the General Council and the Ministry of Regional Government. The former CEO said he used to make the decision together with the former Chairman (FodayDanjo) and former Finance Director (LaminSuso).
Touray said the loans were used to pay salaries, but when he was asked to provide evidence, the witness said he did not have the evidence. Counsel Patrick Gomez told the witness that the loans taken after bypassing the General Council were illegally obtained and it did not bind the Council. The witness said it was a case of emergency because salary payment was due. When asked to justify the claim, the witness could not provide an answer.
The Chairperson of the Commission referred the witness to the Financial Manual which provides direction as to how to obtain loans in the name of the Council. The witness admitted that what they were doing was wrong.
“For me, there was no case of emergency,” Counsel Gomez said.
“Yes, you are right,” the witness said.
He said former Director of Finance (LaminSuso) made unauthorized withdrawals, saying at one instance he withdrew One Hundred and Forty-One Thousand Dalasi (D141,000) from Vista Bank Brikama Branch.
On the suspected kickbacks Green Vision International paid to Ndabah Krubally’s account, the witness said it was their corporate social responsibility. He added that he was informed about the Green Vision transfer by Lamin Suso.
“Lamin Suso came to me and told me that Green Vision gave us D300,000,” the witness said.
The witness was asked how they determined the budget estimation. In response, he said the information they provided was based on the figures the revenue collectors provide them after the assessment.
In 2020, they have an estimation of 39 Million Dalasi but the actual amount was 27 Million Dalasi. The variance was 12 Million Dalasi.
“Why was there variance?” the Counsel asked.
“It was because of the revenue that was not collected. Maybe, also, the revenue that was collected and not deposited,” the former CEO said.
In 2021, the variance was 13 Million Dalasi and in 2022, the variance was 14 Million Dalasi. The auditors said there was risk of revenue suppression, corruption, tax evasion and administrative inefficiency.
“I agree with them [the auditors],” the witness answered.
The witness admitted that the financial statements for 2021 and 2022 were prepared in 2023.
“It would not reflect the true financial state of the council,” Gomez said.
“Yes and that was what the auditors said. I agree with you,” the witness said.
The auditors noted that the Basse Area Council failed to maintain a Cash Book. The witness concurred saying “I agree.”
On the withdrawals made from the ward development accounts amounting to Two Hundred and Twenty Thousand Dalasi (D220,000) without following due process, the witness admitted that there were withdrawals from the Sabi, Gambisara and Baja Kunda Wards.
In explaining the issue, the former CEO said the monies were meant for development of the wards, but the withdrawals were meant for the activities of the Council.
“These monies were withdrawn to finance the air ticket for Chairman and the Vice Chairman trips on different times,” the witness said.
For the Baja Kunda Ward account, the witness said he made the suggestion to the ward councilor Omar Garry. He added that the decision to withdraw from the Baja Kunda ward account was made by him and the former Director of Finance Lamin Suso.
He testified that the money was deposited back to the ward account through Ndabah Krubally. The amount was Seventy Five Thousand Dalasi (D75,000). He said the withdrawal from the Sabi Ward was also in relation to the trip of the Chairman. The amount was One Hundred Thousand Dalasi (D100, 000). Former CEO Touray said the money was paid to a vendor who sold a Milling Machine to the ward. He added that the request to pay the vendor was made by the ward councilor.
“Why will you use illegal means to make withdrawals from the accounts?” the Counsel asked.
“We were two signatories to the accounts,” the witness answered.
Chairperson Jainaba Bah asked the witness whether it was right to use funds meant for ward development to fund air tickets.
“No, it was not right,” the witness answered.
The witness said he never mandated the former Finance Director to use the GTR receipts to do revenue collection, adding that the council was only supposed to use the revenue collection device. He added that this was why after the audit report came out; he went ahead and impounded all the GTR receipts.
The witness said the Basse Area Council brought new revenue collection devices from Innovative Technology and used them at the “Lumos”. He added that the 5C Energy revenue collection devices were also in use. When asked the difference, the witness said they can monitor the 5C device from the dashboard in the office while the other devices from Innovative Technology were not connected to the office.
The Basse Area Council was paying Forty-Five Thousand Dalasi (D45,000) as honorarium given to the witness, the Chairman and the Director of Finance.
“It is for retirement,” the witness said.
“Did you retire?” Gomez asked.
“Yes,” the witness answered.
The witness said what was given to them as honorarium was used as imprest. After question and answer, the witness said the honorarium was used as imprest and they have retired the funds.
The auditors said the honorarium was paid to some council staff without justification. The audit report further indicated that some of the staff receiving honorarium stated that they do not know why they were paid honorarium.
The witness said they were paid an honorarium of Five Thousand Dalasi (D5000) and it started in 2021.
The witness said the only time he came to know that his former Finance Director, Lamin Suso and Finance Manager, Malafi Badjie, were doing revenue collection was after the system audit on the financial and administrative operations of the Basse Area Council.
The witness said he was aware of the claim by Manku Manneh, one of the revenue collectors that the device he was given was missing. He added that he received the information that the device was found with Manku Manneh, who later said he left the device in his house.
“We all knew that the device was with Manku and the records at the IT Unit showed that he was having the device,” the witness said.