By Omar Bah
The National Audit Office has requested the Gambia Tourism Board to recover D4, 683,283.00 paid to Lerr Group for onward payment of a consultant for the construction of eco lodges across the country.
According to the NAO, audit of procurement and financial transactions for the construction of eco-tourism camps/lodges, the GTBoard has not provided any documentary evidence to suggest that the consultant
was indeed hired/engaged by them.
The report highlighted that the transfer of D4, 683, 283.00 to Lerr Group for onward payment to the consultant suggests that the consultant was hired by the contractor contrary to the claims made by GTBoard.
“Unless evidence is provided to show the contractual relationship between GTBoard and the consultant, we maintain our position that the consultant is contracted or engaged by the contractor and GTBoard has no obligation to make any payment for consultancy services,” NAO said.
Responding to NAO queries, the GTBoard management wrote: “We have noted the auditor’s observation in this situation. However, we want to clarify that the consultant was not hired by the contractor but rather the consultant was engaged by the GTBoard management in the first instance to design the project concepts for the five (5) identified Eco-Lodges to be built. This service was successfully carried out by the consultant but due to some reasons the consultant was not paid for his service, as it happened during the peak period of Covid-19 when almost all staff were asked to stay at home.”
According to the GTBoard, the contractor upon receipt of the 40% advanced contract sum, could not begin work on the sites as the consultant was holding on to the designs because GTBoard failed to pay for his services.
“Thus, in order to avoid further delay as the foundation was laid earlier and time was running against the contract that was signed, the contractor decided to pay the consultant and obtained the designs from him. Therefore, the two payments made to the contractor Lerr Group totaling D4, 683, 283.00 were actually payments in respect of the design work done by the consultant. Be informed that we intend to regularize the situation at the initial stage as advised by the visiting Audit team in November 2021 but the office felt the need to fully terminate the contract and sue the contractor to Court for failing to adhere to the contract agreement,” the GTBoard added.
Meanwhile in a related matter, the auditors said discussions with officials at the GTBoard revealed that the board had cabinet approval to utilize revenues generated from the Tourism Development Levy (TDL) account for tourism related infrastructure development, although the cabinet paper was not provided for their confirmation up to the day of writing this report.
“Further discussion with the officials confirmed that the construction of the proposed eco tourism camps will be financed from the same funds. Our review of the bank statement showed a transfer payment of D 44,676,210.00 made to Lerr Goup representing 40% of the total contract price for the construction of five Eco Lodges across the regions, leaving a balance of only D28, 266, 721.60 in the account which would be insufficient to cover the outstanding balance to be paid to the contractor (D67,014,315.00 at the time of writing this report. This figure excludes the cost variation in Barra, Sotuma Samba Koi and Kunkiling forest,” the auditors said.
According to the NAO, there is risk of litigation as GTBoard might fail to make outstanding payments and the government might be forced to step in and make unbudgeted payments.
“Other potential tourism infrastructure development might be affected since nearly the entire revenue generated from the Tourism Development Levy is directed towards financing the Eco lodge project,” the NAO added. The GTBoard in response said every year it prepares a budget covering its activities to be carried-out during the period and that includes all TDA projects. “There are in place TDA accounts maintained where funds generated from TDA lands allocations are deposited to and these funds are utilized for TDA related development activities as indicated in our yearly budget in which eco-lodges are part of,” the GT Board said.