By Nelson Manneh
Mama Fatima Singhateh, former Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Justice, has on Thursday, 29th April 2021 told the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) that she never took illegal instructions from former President Yahya Jammeh and his government.
Madam Singhateh testified on her role as former minister of Minister of Justice, her work as Chairperson of the Tax Commission and so on.
Born on 1st October 1974 at Bijilo, Madam Singhateh served as State Counsel and a Judge prior to her appointment as AG and Minister of Justice. She said while serving as a judge of the High Court, she was assigned by the Chief Justice to spearhead a project funded by UNDP on Access to Justice to All and in that process, they provided training to the support staff and cadis.
Singhateh said her mandate as AG expired in January 2017 after the government that appointed her lost the Presidential elections. She admitted that as AG, she was also a cabinet minister and therefore served as Principal Legal Adviser for the government.
The witness testified that as minister, she was responsible for the entire ministry and also served as a link between the judiciary and the national assembly to present bills on behalf of the judiciary. She said the chief justice cannot appear before the national assembly as the judiciary is an arm of government.
Singhateh said in criminal cases, it is the police that apprehend and investigate suspects, but it was the responsibility of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to come up with a legal opinion with recommendations to either prosecute or not.
However, Counsel Njie-Jabbie told her that the Commission received evidence that in cases were Yahya Jammeh had interest, he gave executive directives and even recommended the section of the law under which such accused persons should be charged. According to the witness, when she assumed office, the then DPP used to prepare a case file and sent it to her for approval. She testified she ensured the case file passed through the Solicitor General. She said section 17 of the 1997 Constitution vested or gave the President the powers to issue executive directives.
“I also want to add that the president is vested with the powers to act in the public interest,” she said.
Madam Singhateh said where executive directives were not in accordance with law, there were procedures to say whether they were in line with the law or not. Asked whether she recalled the case of Ousainou Darboe in 2016, she responded in the affirmative, adding that she cannot remember her conversations with members of the Bar Association. She said if she stated that Darboe and co committed an offense, it was correct because what they did was against the laws of the land. On the issue of refusing them bail, she said it was false information when the Commission was told that she advised the DPP to oppose bail, notwithstanding the offenses charged were bailable.
“I did not and I don’t have to micromanage the DPP, I did not instruct the DPP in anyway,” she said.
Madam Singhateh said it was completely false to say that she said if the Bar protested, they would be arrested, saying the power to arrest was not within her purview and that was not her language.
“My job was not to please the President. My job was to advise the President according to the law which I did. Let it be on record that I was not used by anybody and cannot be used by anybody,” she said.
Tax Evasion Commission
On the issue of the tax evasion commission, she said she headed the Tax Evasion Commission.
“The Commission was called ‘Commission of Inquiry into Tax Evasion and other corrupt practices of accountants, legal practitioners, engineers, and companies amongst others,” she said.
Singhateh denied that the Commission was set up mainly to target lawyers, adding that she did not conduct the affairs of that commission as alleged. She said they were mandated to investigate the manner and avoidance of tax on Personal Income Tax, Sales Tax, Groups and Individuals, capital gain tax in the avoidance of tax.
Shortly after the tax commissioner’s work, she was appointed as Minister in August 2013 when the implementation of that Commission was ongoing. However, she testified that she instructed the Solicitor General to take over all tax files because she did not want to be conflicted.
Ms Singhateh argued that she was not under any obligation to answer questions on the Tax Evasion Commission because there was already a report presented and the Supreme Court of The Gambia had upheld that decision.
“At the time of establishing the said Commission in 2011, Yahya Jammeh was not doing business but neither him nor any of his companies appeared before that Commission” asked counsel.
The Gambia an Islamic State
On the issue of Yahya Jammeh declaring the Gambia an Islamic State, the witness admitted that it was correct that she was the Justice Minister at the time and wrote an opinion to Yahya Jammeh where she advised him that certain procedures needed to be followed before The Gambia could be an Islamic State.
She said she had a meeting with Jammeh where she told him for the Gambia to become an Islamic State, there must be a referendum as the section making the Gambia a Secular State is an entrenched clause. However, she alleged that Jammeh insisted that he would still go ahead with his decision.
Arrest, detention of UDP Demonstrators in April 2016
On the arrest, detention and refusal of bail to the UDP demonstrators in April 2016, Counsel told her that the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time constantly told the court that his hands were tied as he has to consult the Attorney General (Singhateh) on the matter.
On the case of Fatou Camara of Fatu Network, she accepted writing opinion that there was no case, but it was false for it one to say that she went to the NIA to discuss the case.
Deputy Lead Counsel further put it to her that Ms Camara was held for 25 days at Bambadinka at NIA which was unlawful, but everybody was afraid to tell Yahya Jammeh the truth.
On her role and responsibilities during the political impasse as the Minister of Justice at the time, she said it is correct that the President accepted defeat in the elections, but later reneged on that.
The witness further stated that members of the African Bar Association came to The Gambia, but she was not aware of their coming. She argued that every law she passed was in the interest of the people and she performed her duties to the best of her ability.