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Assembly to invite Minister Sillah over D15M Covid-19 funds to media

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By Omar Bah

The National Assembly FPAC committee has said it will write to former Minister of Information, now at Works Ebrima Sillah over the D15 million Covid-19 relief aid given to the media. 

In 2021, a supplementary appropriation bill was passed by the National Assembly in which D15,000,000 was approved as support to media houses through the Ministry of Information which was delegated to manage the funds and distribute them amongst the media houses. The beneficiaries include; private, community, print, broadcast and online (newspapers, radios, TV, web). The money was later transferred to an account opened by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) as directed by the Grant Management Committee.

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But according to the National Audit Office (NAO) report on the government Covid-19 response phase 2, information on the management of the funds disbursed to media houses showed that there were unused balances amounting to D585,159.86 from the total amount disbursed.

“We could not confirm if this balance was subsequently used or paid back to the account as bank statements to verify the balances were not provided. Failure of the grantee to keep and maintain proper and up-to-date records of any transaction carried out is a violation of the grant agreement,” the audit said.

When this was brought to the attention of the current permanent secretary at the ministry of information Yankuba Saidy yesterday, he said he has not found any information regarding the Covid-19 relief to media houses.

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“I have made enquiries with the records but they said they don’t have such information so I cannot comment on it,” he told FPAC.

At that juncture, the National Assembly Member for Upper Saloum Alhagie Mbow said the new permanent secretary’s excuse is justifiable. He then suggested for the committee chairperson to recommend for the former Information Minister and his PS to be summoned.

Responding to the issue, the chairman of the FPAC committee Alhagie S Darboe directed that Minister Sillah and his former permanent secretary at the ministry of information be written to and summoned to appear before the committee to respond to queries made by auditors.

 However according to the auditors, based on the information and documentation obtained during the audit, the management of Covid-19 funds allocated to media houses has substantially complied with the laws and regulations that govern them.

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