Counsels at the Local Government Commission of Inquiry have blamed staff of Green Vision for aiding staff of Basse Area Council to engage in corrupt practices.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the Finance Director of Green Vision International both admitted making payments to personal accounts of people working at the Basse Area Council.
CEO Modou Jaiteh and Finance Director Bunja Janneh both appeared on Monday and Tuesday before the Local Government Commission of Inquiry. The Commission is carrying out a full and impartial investigation of the local government councils for the period 2018 to 2023.
Green Vision International, a real estate and construction company founded in 2012, entered an agreement with the Basse Area Council for the construction of the Baja Kunda Bridge in 2021. The company said they saw an advert on the newspapers regarding five (5) projects by the Basse Area Council and they purchased the bid documents and participated in the bidding process. They were only successful to get one of the projects, which was the construction of the Baja Kunda Bridge.
The contractual sum for the bridge was Three Million Nine Hundred and Twenty-Eight Thousand Four Hundred and Five Dalasis (D3,928,405). The auditors discovered that the Basse Area Council made an over payment of Two Million and Sixty-Four Thousand Two Hundred and Ninety-Five Dalasis Twenty Bututs (D2,064,295.20). The auditors said the implications of this bridge transaction showed that there is a risk of collision, embezzlement of funds and waste of tax payers’ money.
Green Vision first made payment of Three Hundred Thousand Dalasi (D300,000) into the personal account of one Naba Krubally, the cashier of the Basse Area Council. The reason for the payment, according to Bunja Janneh, was a request by the CEO of Basse Area Council (Ousman Touray). Janneh claimed that CEO Ousman Touray of the Basse Area Council asked Green Vision to support the area council with their borehole project. This was how the funds were transferred to the account of Naba Krubally from Green Vision’s Vista Bank Account.
The contract between the area council and Green Vision caters for a payment plan of 40% (first installment), 30% (second installement), 25% (after completion of the work) and 5% (after work is done). The Basse Area Council made a deposit of One Million Five Hundred and Seventy Thousand Three Hundred and Sixty-Two (D1,571,362). The second installment paid by the Area Council was One Million Nine Hundred and Forty-Five Thousand Eight Hundred and Eighteen Dalasis Twenty Bututs (D1,945,818.20).
From the second installment, Finance Director Bunja Janneh said his company discovered that the Basse Area Council made an over payment of Seven Hundred and Sixty-Seven Thousand Dalasis (D767,000).
“We discovered the overpayment first before the Basse Area Council,” Bunja Janneh said.
Deputy Lead Counsel of the Commission, Patrick Gomez queried the evidence saying the witness’ statement was that it was the director of finance who called to inform Green Vision that there was an overpayment. The witness said he made a mistake in his written statement saying “I was the one who informed them that there was an overpayment.”
“The CEO authorised us to pay the finance director through cash,” Bunja Janneh said.
From the overpaid amount of D767,000, Green Vision admitted making cash payment to Finance Director Lamin Suso Three Hundred and Seventy-Four Thousand Four Hundred and Fifty-Five Dalasis (374,455).
“Why did that happen?” Lawyer Gomez asked.
“It is the finance director of Basse Area Council who did the calculation,” Bunja Janneh said, adding “The funds belong to the council and it should not have been paid to the finance director. It was wrong. It was an oversight.”
Lawyer Gomez said it could not have been an oversight because Green Vision knew that it was wrong.
“You knew it was wrong and you did it,” Gomez said.
“Yes, that is why I accepted [liability],” Janneh said.
He said the remainder of the overpaid funds was paid into the Allatentu Account, a private company owned by the Finance Director of Basse Area Council. When asked why they made payments to the private account, Bunja Janneh said both the CEO and Finance Director of Basse Area Council said the overpaid money should have been paid to another contractor. He added that the account provided to them by the two officials of the area council was the same account they made the transfer.
“Why was that your business? It was Basse Area Council that was supposed to pay that contractor and not you. You should have returned the money to the area council because you know the area council has an account” Lawyer Patrick Gomez said.
Bunja Janneh admitted that before doing the transfer he knew that the Allatentu account was an individual account.
“I did not have the authority to transfer to an individual account,” Janneh said.
Lawyer Gomez emphasized that the contract between Basse Area Council and another contractor was not the business of Green Vision, adding it was not for Green Vision to transfer funds to another contractor’s account. The Lawyer added that the money should have been refunded to the Basse Area Council. Bunja Janneh admitted that what he did was wrong.
“What they do with the contractor has nothing to do with you,” Gomez said.
“Yes,” Janneh answered, adding “The CEO and Finance Director were aware of everything that was happening.”
“You did cash transfer to the finance director and you knew that it was wrong,”
Basse Area Council again made a transfer to Green Vision when payment was not due. The amount was One Million One Hundred and Seventy-Eight Thousand Five Hundred and Twenty-One Dalasis (D1,178,521).
“It was a ghost transfer,” Lawyer Gomez said.
“Yes,” Bunja Janneh answered, adding “We did not request for it.”
Janneh said after the transfer, the Finance Director of Basse Area Council called again with the information that it was a mistaken transfer. This time around, Janneh said Green Vision demanded for a written letter from the area council indicating that there was mistaken transfer before the funds will be refunded. Janneh said Finance Director Suso sent him a letter via WhatsApp indicating that it was a mistaken transfer and demanded that the refund should be made to the Basse Area Council Trust Bank account. He testified that CEO Ousman Touray was aware of every detail of the transactions. He said Green Vision refunded the money to the Basse Area Council account.
“For the first two transfers, it was made into a personal account. I knew the Basse Area Council had an account,” Janneh said.
For the borehole cash transfer, Bunja said the payment was made to an individual account and not the area council’s account.
“I don’t know the owner of the account,” Bunja said.
“This is why the auditors are saying it is a collision,” Lawyer Gomez said.
“That was our contribution to the area council,” Janneh said.
Lawyer Gomez said if it was a contribution to the area council, why was it not paid into the council’s account? Managing Director Modou Jaiteh replied to say his company does not normally give out cash.
“These payments were highly irregular,” Gomez said.
“Yes,” Bunja Janneh answered.
Bunja Janneh said the D300,000 cash transfer was not part of the contract since it was their corporate social responsibility.
“We can pay to anyone,” Janneh said.
When pressed by Counsel Gomez, the witness said the fund was supposed to be paid into the account of the area council.
“The one who demanded the money was the one who gave you a personal account,” Gomez said.
“Yes,” Bunja Janneh said, adding “That was right.”
Bunja Janneh said he does not know who received the money or the holder of the account. When pressed further by Lawyer Gomez, the witness said he knew where the monies were going to.
“You were aiding a corrupt scheme and money was going in individual pockets,” Gomez said.
“I was not aware of this,” DG Jaiteh said.
“You cannot pay monies that were meant for area councils to personal accounts,” Gomez said.
DG Jaiteh said they did not aid or abet the CEO and the finance director of the Basse Area Council, adding it was their first engagement with the Basse Area Council.
“On three (3) occasions, you failed to do what is expected of you as a finance expert. Considering the nature of the transaction, there is high risk of collision as indicated in the audit report,” Gomez said.
“Are you convinced that cash payment was right?” Commissioner Oreme E. Joiner asked.
“Paying cash was not right,” Janneh answered.
“The CEO and Director of Finance asked you to do things out of the norm and you accepted?” Commissioner Joiner said.
“Yes,” Bunja Janneh stated.
“You are not supposed to be part of any corrupt scheme to help individuals in the area council in anyway. You cannot help them to secure funds illegally,” Counsel Gomez said, adding “You helped them in their corrupt scheme in enriching themselves that is the hard fact.”