The Gambia Press Union (GPU) has issued a statement totally rejecting a recommendation by the National Assembly to refund more than half a million dalasi of “unconfirmed” expenditure of funds.
The funds from the government’s Covid-19 relief package were meant for media houses.
The GPU has denied responsibility at any point for the management of the Covid bailout fund for media houses and is demanding a public apology from the Assembly’s Finance and Public Accounts Committee (FPAC) for hurting the reputation of the Union, board and staff.
The GPU statement continues as follows:
“The recommendation, made on September 14 and read by the FPAC Chairman, Alhagie S. Darboe, following a review of the “Audit Report on the Government Covid-19Response- Consolidated Report Phase 2”, stated:
“The Grant Management Committee (GMC) and Gambia Press Union (GPU) must return to AGD [Accountant General Department] the sum of GDM 585, 159.86 being the unused money for the Covid-19 relief support to media houses, within 10 days; failure of which, the Inspector General of Police to launch an investigation for possible prosecution.”
“The GPU would like to clarify that the sum of GDM 585, 159.86 that the FPAC referred to as “unused money” which the audit report categorised as “unconfirmed” expenditure – are funds that were already disbursed to media houses by the GMC for which only five (5) media houses out of forty-three (43), were unable to provide substantial evidence on how the balances of funds allocated to them was utilised during the audit process late last year. The names of all the media houses found to be unable to account for the money are indicated in the audit report.
“The GPU wasn’t responsible for the management of the fund, and we neither received nor spend a dime from the fund as an institution,” GPU President, Muhammed S. Bah, said.
Instead, the fund was managed by the then Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure (MoICI), which worked with the GPU to put in place a policy to guide the disbursement process, especially on eligibility and allocation, and based on the policy, the Ministry established the GMC.
“While the GPU as a trade union which is working to improve the welfare of its members is disappointed that some media houses failed to utilise the funds for the intended purposes, we are not in any position to refund monies that we neither received nor spent as an institution,” Bah said.
The statement went further to state:
“If the FPAC does not understand the findings of the audit report or could not see that the report clearly indicated that the ‘unused monies’ was disbursed to radio stations or doesn’t fully understand GPU’s limited role and responsibility as per the grant – that is not our fault,” GPU Secretary General, Modou S. Joof, said.
The statement further added:
The Audit Report concluded that “the management of covid-19 funds allocated to media houses substantially complied with the laws and regulations that govern them – based on the information and documentation obtained during the audit.”
About the GMC
The GMC was set up and tasked with administering and coordinating the disbursement of the Covid relief funds to the media houses. It was made up of five officials from MoICI, two from GPU, one from the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, one from the National Audit Office, and a chairperson appointed by the Ministry.
The Committee was directly answerable to the then Minister of Information and his Permanent Secretary. Therefore, any course of action about the funds should be directed to the Ministry, and not to the GPU or the GMC. The parliament ought to know this.
The primary responsibility of the Committee was to administer and coordinate the disbursement of the funds to the media houses. The GMC wasn’t set up to follow the expenditure of the funds by the media houses to the last butut. It was an ad hoc committee that was immediately dissolved following the completion of the assigned tasks.
As long as the GMC is not found wanting for not distributing the funds, or for not distributing the funds accordingly, then it cannot be held responsible for the wayward expenditure of some media houses.
The GPU or the GMC cannot in anyway be responsible for following up on indefinite expenditures. If the National Assembly’s FPAC cannot ask the Ministry/Minister to follow up, they should then write to the media houses and demand that they individually return the funds for which proof of expenditure cannot be established.