By Makutu Manneh
The former Councilor of Baja Kunda Ward, Saikou Omar Garry, on Monday 6th November 2023 commenced his testimony before the Local Government Commission of Inquiry (LGCI).
Former Councilor Garry alleged that officials of the Council used to tamper with the records of the minutes of the meetings of their committees.
The Commission fondly called the Bah Commission is conducting a full and impartial investigation into the local government councils to enhance transparency and accountability, and is conducting a holistic and fair review of the financial and administrative operations of the councils.
Omar Garry was a former Councilor for Baja Kunda Ward in the Basse Administrative Area, who held this position from May 2018 to May 2023.
In his testimony before the Commissioners, Mr Garry said in 2018, the CEO of Basse Area Council was Muhammed Lamin Jaiteh, who was later replaced by Ousman Touray (2019), while the finance director was Baboucar N. Kanteh in the same year, and was also replaced by Lamin Suso (2021).
Mr Ngarry’s written statement dated 25th October 2023 with some attachments, was tendered and admitted into the records and marked as an exhibit in a bundle, and the documents he attached to the written statement were: i) minutes of a general council meeting dated 17 June 2021; ii) first audit report by the finance and accounts sub-committee; iii) vouchers from the director of finance; iv) audit finding report; v) task force report; vi) his resignation letter from the audit and finance sub-committee; vii) tax collection team report; viii) letter from the Ministry of Lands and Regional Governments to Lamin Suso; ix) response of Director Suso to the Ministry, x) and the monitoring and evaluation report of the development committee of the BsAC.
According to the witness, he was a one-time member of several committees such as the Development Committee, Education Committee, Taskforce Committee, and Child-Friendly Committee.
Counsel Patrick then asked the witness whether the committees of the Council were not functional, but the witness responded that the development committee was the most functional one. However, Counsel Gomez confronted the witness with the audit report which indicated that the committees were not functional, but the former Councilor Garry responded by saying the Development Committee was comprised four (4) members and the Secretary was Ebrima Danso, who was the custodian of all the minutes of their meetings. He also accused the Secretariat of the Council of tampering with the minutes of their meetings and not having a proper record-keeping mechanism. He said the minutes of the meeting of the committees are mixed up at the Council, and said the reason for tampering with the minutes of the meeting was because names of some people were mentioned by the Committees in their meetings.
Former Councilor Garry then provided six reports by the Development Sub-Committee and these include the sub-committees of the Development Committee; an Assessment Report; a Community Needs Report and a Monitoring Report.
“The reports sometimes implicate management and so they tamper with the reports,” the witness said.
“Who are you referring to as the management?” Counsel Patrick Gomez asked.
The witness responded that he was referring to the Chief Executive Officer (OusmanTouray), the Director of Finance (Lamin Suso), and the former Chairperson (FodayDanjo). He said the sub-committee on development has always sent copies of the minutes of their meetings to the CEO and the Finance Committee, saying that such has always been reported at the general council meetings.
“How many?’’ Council Gomez asked.
“All the Development Committee files were reported,” Mr Garry said. He said the first one was a report from the Wards regarding the monies given to Councilors for their projects, and said this was the first report of 2018 for the Council and for Basse and beyond, and another report.
“All the reports were removed from the records of the sub-committee meeting,” Omar Garry said. The witness said the first report was adversely against Goorgi Kandeh, the development officer of the Council, regarding his incompetence, the cleanliness of the Area Council and Basse Town. The witness said Gam Works awarded contracts and further explained that the report also highlighted the discrepancies in such contracts. The witness continued that after the 2019 audit report on Basse Area Council was published, he moved a motion in a general council meeting for a committee to be constituted to investigate the financial mismanagement within the Council and said his motion was approved and a committee was constituted, and that members of the committee were Saikou Omar Garry, Sanna Drammeh, Mariama Trawally, and Baboucar Sallah.
When asked what prompted the idea of forming such a committee, the witness responded that the audit report did not provide full details of the financial status of the council and there was need for a full investigation in order to understand the true state of the Council.
“We always have access to the audit report after two years of its publication,” Mr Garry said.