Up to six candidates are vying to become president. Whoever wins on December 4 will manage taxpayers’ funds. But how much are the people seeking to make decisions over taxes in themselves paying in tax?
In this investigation, Malagen digs out the tax records of the presidential candidates for the 2021 presidential election and reveals how much each of them has paid in income tax – taxes paid on a business or deducted from salary – covering the period 2017 to date.
It is a six, all-men race for the country’s top job. President Adama Barrow, a real estate developer before becoming president, is seeking reelection after five years in office. He is being challenged in the polls by Ousainu Darboe, former vice president and veteran politician; Mamma Kandeh, a former National Assembly Member who emerged third in the 2016 presidential election; and Halifa Sallah, another veteran politician and National Assembly Member. Two newcomers Essa Faal, a lawyer and Abdoulie Jammeh, a career civil servant, have all been cleared by the electoral commission to contest.
Barrow is the president and commander-in-chief, but he may not be the taxpayer-in-chief. Investigation by Malagen reveals that Essa Faal has paid more taxes than any other presidential candidate. He has paid an estimated D842,905 (pay as you earn) being tax deductions from his salary. Mr Abdolulie Ebrima Jammeh comes in a distant second, having paid D238,732. Jammeh is followed closely by Darboe, who paid D232,968 and Sallah who paid D224,273, excluding the corporate tax paid by Foroyaa, D465,893 – a company in which Sallah has 10% shares. President Barrow occupies fifth position, having paid D79,250 on his real estate business. With no taxable income – business or employment, Mamma Kandeh paid zero tax.
Adama Barrow, candidate for National Peoples Party
President Adama Barrow earns a monthly salary of D255,000 as president. This is an increase from D170,000 in 2018. However, the president is exempted from paying tax on his salary (Pay as You Earn – PAYE). Section 68 (3) of the 1997 Constitution states: “The salary and allowances, and pension and retirement benefits, as prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly, shall be exempted from taxation, but the President shall be subject to taxation on all other chargeable income.”
However, as part of the assets declared before the electoral commission, President Barrow presented Majum Estate Agency as his business. Official records seen by Malagen confirm that Majum is a sole proprietorship registered in March 2016.
The estate agency paid D79,250 in taxes from 2017 to November 2021. The taxes paid are as follows: D8000 in 2017; D12,000 in 2018; D14,250 in 2019; D31,000 in 2020 and D14,000 as of November 2021.
The fortunes of the President Barrow’s business have seen an exponential growth during the past five years. The company’s estimated turnover has increased by 287.5% from 2017 to 2020 – D266,666 in 2017; D400,000 in 2018; D475,000 in 2019; D1,033,333 in 2020; and D466,666 in 2021.
However, Majum has never filed tax returns or its audited accounts with the revenue authority, authoritative sources confirmed to Malagen. This means the tax payment is largely based on an administrative assessment which is based on tax authority’s “best judgment” on how much revenue his business receives in a year.
Barrow is worth a little over D50 million, according to his declarations to Independent Electoral Commission. He has also declared 16 vehicles and Majum as his assets but did not value them. He has in his business accounts D8.5 million.
Meanwhile, on his declaration forms to IEC, Barrow claimed that he spent D8.1 million on acquiring three properties in 2016, a suspiciously higher earnings for Majum Estate, the only business he is publicly associated with until his election in 2016.
Mamma Kandeh, candidate for Gambia Democratic Party (GDC)
Based on available information, Mamma Kandeh is not doing any taxable business. He is also not on any paid job. So, we found no income tax records of his. We have reached out to MC Cham, a youth leader of the GDC and Omar Ceesay, the party’s spokesperson, but haven’t got any response. We were also able to verify through company registry that he is not a shareholder of Baobab Hotel.
Essa Faal, independent candidate
Based on his declarations to Independent Electoral Commission, Essa Faal is worth D1.4 billion. He owns an estate business in Senegal and properties in The Gambia. However, there are doubts over the accuracy of the initial estimates of Faal’s worth. For example, the international lawyer declared Matrix Properties Gambia Limited as a business he owns. The Matrix Properties is valued at D250 million. But we could not trace the existence of the company in either the registry or the GRA database as a tax paying business.
Faal also declared a land situated in Sanementereng, valued at D250 million on his IEC declaration form. This is a land in the process of being allocated to him by the Gambia Tourism Board to “build a hotel”.
When Malagen asked him about the said property, Faal explained: “Matrix Properties is allocated land at the TDA to build a hotel. I gave a basic estimate of the value of the land at D250m. Although the process of the allocation is not fully completed, I paid D6,250,000 for the allocation and a cumulative total of close to D10m in order to secure the allocation. I declared the property because it is my believe that not doing so would be misconstrued as me hiding it or that if I win that I acquired it later than stated in the documents which either way is not good. Matrix has not done any business in Gambia other than the acquisition of this property as such it has no tax obligation. Once the allocation is finalised the construction of the hotel will commence.”
His taxes paid within the period is the deduction from his salary (PAYE) as an employee at Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. His monthly deduction at TRRC where he served as lead counsel from October 2018 to August 2021, according to records obtained by Malagen, is D24,083 a month, an estimated total of D842, 905.
Halifa Sallah, candidate for Peoples Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism
Halifa Sallah owns a 10% share in Foroyaa Publishing Company Limited, the publisher of Foroyaa newspaper. The company is up-to-date on its corporate tax, with a payment of D465,893 from January 2017 to November 2021. This is nearly five times higher than taxes paid by Barrow’s estate agency from 2017 to 2021.
The veteran politician’s total salary deduction from April 2017 to December 2018 D59, 493. His deduction from January 2019 to November 2021, when the lawmakers’ basic salary increased to D22, 500, is D164, 780.
Ousainu Darboe, candidate for United Democratic Party (UDP)
Ousainu Darboe, who declared a little over D31 million worth of assets to IEC, was appointed foreign minister from January 2017 to June 2018. His tax deductions during this period total D115,506 from a basic salary of D527,994. Up to December 2018, the foreign minister’s basic salary is D29,333 with a tax liability of D6,417.
The vice president gets D70,264 a month, beginning 2019 — when 100% increment on basis salary came to force — attracting a monthly tax deduction of D17,566. Darboe served for three months as vice president under this new salary structure. His tax deductions total D52,698. And from July 2018 to December he served as vice president, his tax deduction is D64,764. From 2017 to 2018, the vice president’s salary was D46,843 a month with a tax liability of D10,794.
Darboe has a legal chamber called Basansang Chambers, founded in 1980 but such institutions in The Gambia are registered with General Legal Council. Lawyers under the chambers pay their taxes in their names. We have not found any tax payment done by Darboe as a legal practitioner after he left the office of the vice president.
However, judicial sources informed Malagen that Darboe still practices as a lawyer at the Supreme Court. We made attempts to reach him through phone calls and WhatsApp but he did not respond to our questions.
Tax arrears: The Tax Commission established by Yahya Jammeh has found that Darboe had failed to pay D1,981,296 in taxes. The commission was looking into tax evasions, avoidance and related matters from 1999 to 2012. The UDP spokesperson, Almami Taal, told Malagen that Darboe has paid the fines cited by the commission.
We have no records with GRA taxes that Darboe paid for legal practice after leaving office as vice president in 2019.
We have no records of his involvement in any taxable business other than his legal practice.
Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh, candidate for National Unity Party
Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh has no business, according to official records accessed by Malagen. His only tax payment is the deduction from his salary while he served as managing director of Gambia Civil Aviation Authority which is D4,591 a month. His tax deductions from 2017 to April 2021 total D238,732. He was on a basic salary of D22,031.
Jammeh was director of the authority from 2012 to April 2021, when he was relieved from his job.
Is Barrow illegally in business?
Malagen investigations reveal that President Adama Barrow has not put Majum under a trusteeship as required by law.
Barrow was elected president in December 2016, taking an oath on January 19 at the Gambia Embassy in Senegal, the day the term of Yahya Jammeh expired.
Since then, the estate agency that he was running has not been put under a trustee.
“Where the President was engaged in any trade, business or other undertaking before assuming the office of President, he or she shall, if he or she wishes to continue such trade, business or other undertaking, do so under a trusteeship,” states Section 68 of the 1997 Constitution.
Malagen confirmed through a search request, that this requirement was not fulfilled by Barrow as of 11th November 2021. “He should have done what is called a trust deed to appoint somebody to manage the affairs of his business. That person will manage the business until Barrow leaves office,” a lawyer who does not want to be named, told Malagen.
“And when you do that, you inform the registrar’s office. [The Registry] puts the person’s name as a trustee. But as it is, he is still the legal owner…” The business has been up-to-date with filing of its returns.
Malagen has reached out to Amadou Sanneh and Njaga Sanneh, two people in charge of Barrow’s business, but they have not responded to our queries. We have also sent questions to Amie Bojang, the director of press in the office of the president.
No reply either.
Published with the kind permission of Malagen.