By Makutu Manneh
Lamin Baldeh, a resident of Wellingara Ba in the Lower River Region and a revenue collector for the Mansakonko Area Council (MKAC), on Wednesday, 8 November 2023 testified before the Local Government Commission of Inquiry known as the ‘Bah Commission’.
Lamin Baldeh gave evidence regarding unaccounted council funds he failed to deposit resulting in his suspension. The witness statement of Lamin Baldeh dated 18 October 2023, copies of receipt of the Mansakonko Area Council dated 21 August 2022 and a payment agreement dated 17 December 2019 were all tendered and admitted in the records of the Commission and marked as an exhibit in a bundle.
Lamin Baldeh said he began working at the Mansakonko Area Council in 2002 as a market collector and was transferred as a revenue collector to Jarra Central after a few months. He said he was promoted in 2007 as a senior revenue collector, and in 2015, he was promoted as an accounts assistant. He added that as an accounts assistant he was still doing revenue collection.
“I go to the field from Monday to Friday unless I have an assignment in the office,” the witness said.
The witness said the Mansakonko Area Council had seven (7) revenue collectors and there are also market collectors. Each revenue collector, according to the witness, was responsible for the collections in a district. He added that the area has two (2) markets and another market which makes it three. However, the third market is 2 months old.
The witness said MKAC has tariffs for trade license, but has no tariffs for rates. He explained that the tariff for the rates depends on the assessment of the revenue collectors. He said the Council assigns each district with a revenue collector who moves from compound to compound to do the assessment.
“Who supervises the assessment?” Lead Counsel Yakarr Cox asked.
“No one supervises the assessment,” the witness replied.
He testified that the Alkalolu do the collection and the revenue collector receives the payments from the Alkalolu, adding that people are issued with the GTR receipts and the Alkalo is paid 10% as commission.
Lamin Baldeh said the Mansakonko Are Council did not use digital revenue collection devices like Basse and Brikama Area Councils. He added that the revenue collectors are required to bank the revenue collected daily.
“Are there instances you don’t pay the money to the bank,” Counsel Cox asked.
“Yes, sometimes the director of finance request for it. But for me anytime I give him money, I make sure he gives me a receipt,” the witness said.
When asked what his work as accounts assistant was, Lamin Baldeh said he has always been collecting revenue and spends less time in the office.
He said he signed the payment agreement at the time he was suspended in July 2019 to May 2022. He testified that he was suspended because of an audit report with respect to their cash book. The auditors discovered that the cash book account showed Thirty-Two Thousand Nine Hundred. The witness signed in the payment agreement for Thirty-One Thousand Two Hundred and Fifteen Dalasi (D31,215). He was reinstated in May 2020. The witness told the Commission that after his reinstatement, he received his salary and took loan from GT Bank.
“I paid the money to the bank. I went with the Director of Finance to the bank and deposited the money in the council’s account,” the witness answered.
The witness said in his entire 21 years work at the council, the only training he attended was a 3-day training organised by RDI under the Ministry of Regional Government under the Department of Community Development.
The witness said after resuming in 2020, he was not given responsibility in the accounts unit until 2021 when he began receiving a few duties.
“I am not full time working as an accounts assistant because they do not give me responsibilities,” the witness said.
The witness said he was aware of the presence of auditors at the Mansakonko Area Council, but he was not interviewed. He added he only presented his cashbook and the GTR book.
The witness denied the auditors’ allegation that there were missing receipts in his receipt book. He testified that he provided the auditors the receipt book and it was for the auditors to confront him provided there was missing receipts.
Counsel Patrick Gomez informed the witness that the audit reports for 2017 and 2018 mentioned he spent council funds without following due process.
“Of course, there was authority. The CEO asked me to pay the lunch for revenue collectors. It was not written, but it’s the instruction of the CEO,” the witness answered.
Counsel Gomez mentioned several instances where the witness spent council funds to buy lunch for lummo collectors.
“I will just be called by the Director of Finance or CEO to buy lunch for the lummo collectors. They don’t write to me,” the witness said.
The witness later admitted that the audit findings were true.
“Why will you give the director of finance cash?” Counsel Gomez asked.
“He is my boss. When he asks me to give him I will give him,” the witness answered.
The witness said the right thing to do was to deposit the monies in the bank.
“Do you know the number of times you gave money to the director of finance?” Counsel Gomez asked.
“Several times,” the witness answered.
“Can it be roughly around ten (10) times?” Counsel Gomez asked.
“It will be around that figure,” the witness said.
He was asked to bring his cashbooks and receipt books, but the witness said the books were kept in an unkempt store in the Area Council. The witness added that the books are usually kept in the store after the audit exercise. He gave testimony to the terrible state those books are and informed the Commission that it won’t be easy to get those records.