Higher Education Minister Appears Before Lawmakers

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By: Kebba AF Touray

Pierre Gomez, the Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (MoHERST), told Members of the National Assembly that one million, one hundred and thirty four thousand, four hundred and twenty dalasi (D1, 134,420), was remitted to the Gambian Embassy in Algeria.

The above statement came in the wake of a question from the Member for Tallinding, Musa Badgie. According to him, audited report of the 2022 consolidated fund on Government’s COVID-19 Response funds, indicate that a total of D1, 134,420.00 was received by the Gambian Embassy in Algeria, in respect of relief packages to Gambian students in the North African country. He however said that the report indicated that no evidence of payments of COVID-19 relief package to students in Algeria and said that the above mentioned amount was discovered as un-sued funds for Gambian Embassies in Beijing, Addis Ababa, Madrid and Abu Dhabi. He thus asked the Minister to state why that was the case and the steps his Ministry took to ensure that the unused COVID-19 Funds returned to Government coffers.

Minister Gomez responded that COVID-19 payments were facilitated by a taskforce established at the Finance Ministry in which MoHEST had a representative and said the taskforce could not identify all the targeted students, and thus the Foreign Affairs Ministry was tasked to work with Embassies and Missions to identify the students in their jurisdictions. He said a student’s lists was generated from Embassies and Missions around the world and this was what was used to pay them, and after payment, the Director of Internal Audit went to these Embassies and Missions to verify the payments.

“After the verification, the Internal Audit raised issues to which the Ministry provided some management responses. We are of the view that the respective Embassies and Missions should balance their books and refund any unpaid balance to the consolidated fund through the Finance and Foreign Affairs Ministries,” he said.

He reported that on the 30th September, 2020, D1, 134,420 was remitted to the Gambian Embassy in Algeria, with a payment advice on Gambia Government COVID-19 Support to Gambian students in Egypt, and that the Embassy in Algeria later reported to have sent an email on 30th September 2020, informing the Accountant General’s Department that the Embassy did not cover Egypt and that the funds must have been sent in as an error. In response, the MoHERST Minister said his Ministry did not receive the information and therefore had nothing to clarify. The Member for Kiang West in his supplementary question asked the Minister about their constraints that the taskforce is unable to identify all the beneficiaries of the fund.

Minister Gomez replied that when the issue started, the objective was to take care of only the students that are supported by the Ministry. But said this was later extended to all the students studying abroad, and that the Higher Education Ministry cannot identify those students because they are not under their purview.

“So, it was coordinated by the Finance Ministry and therefore the different Embassies in different countries were tasked to identify those students in those countries, and that was the list used,” he said.

The Member for Banjul Central, Muhammed Njai, asked the Minister to state the steps taken by his Ministry in ensuring that follow up is made to ascertain where the funds are. In response, Minister Gomez said they have shared the responses already with the Finance Ministry and Foreign Affairs and the conclusion in their response is clearly indicating for Finance and Foreign Affairs to work together and ensured that the balance was sent to the consolidated fund.