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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Lamin Kaba Bajo President, Gambia Football Federation

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With Alagie Manneh

In this second part of Bantaba Question & Answer session with Lamin Kaba Bajo, president of Gambia Football Federation, anchor Alagie Manneh asks him about allegations of corruption and inefficiency that are beclouding whatever achievements he said his executive has achieved as administrators of ‘the beautiful game’ in The Gambia.

The Standard: What have been the failures of your administration?

I would say challenges. We couldn’t get the women’s team where we wanted to get them. We just missed getting into the forthcoming Women’s Afcon. Those are the challenges. As we celebrate the males, we equally wanted the females to succeed. For us, the biggest challenge has been infrastructural development. Even though it is not our core activity, we focused on improving infrastructure. We have helped improve the standards of some of the pitches that we play our leagues and that are also sometimes used by local nawettan teams. Except for the turfs at the National Technical Training Centre at Old Yundum, the one in Jarra Soma, none of them belonged to GFF, but we thought since we are using them, it is part of football development and came up with a concept to develop them all. We were very ambitious, but because of the tedious bureaucracy and administrative bottlenecks, we ended up realising this is not as easy… Those are the areas that we deeply regret for the past two years. I wouldn’t call them failures. Those are challenges. We are very hopeful come April or May, Banjul, Brikama and Serekunda East will be used before the end of this league. We have approval for programmes in other regions, but the administrative processes and other things haven’t been finalised just yet.

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What are you doing to increase the revenue base of the GFF?

That’s another big challenge. I was coming to that challenge as well because our challenges are not only limited to infrastructure. We have some challenges in terms of raising funds, or accessing other sources of revenue other than depending mainly on Fifa and Caf subventions. The senior national team is being supported by the government in a big way now. But that’s only the senior national team. We still have a lot of work to do in our marketing area. Unfortunately in this country, the issue of sponsorship and partnership across the board [is difficult]. All sports are complaining. You’ve seen it in the recently-concluded fundraising initiative of our Road to Afcon. If the government didn’t come in, we would have failed because what we received from partners and sponsors were far less than our expectations. It’s not only the GFF, maybe the government should come up with a holistic approach because businessmen also don’t give their monies like that. They deserve something in return. Remember, I was youths and sport  minister when we organised the last Zone II Tournament here in 1996. I think when the economy improves, the government will come up with some policy that will ensure businesses and other corporations fulfil their corporate social responsibility towards the society especially in investing in sports. The GFF has been shouldering a whole national league for far too long now. We couldn’t find a sponsor.

Your critics said that your achievements have been stained by allegations of corruption especially in your infrastructure projects. Is that a fair observation?

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I think people have their own… [laughs]. As I told you, [regarding] corruption, I didn’t see any evidence. [Let] anybody produce one good example, as small as it may be, that there is corruption. Anybody talking about it, nobody can prove it. If you are accusing a person, put it on the table. We are bold enough because we are comfortable. Every aspect of our projects has been accounted for. In fact, there are now enough accountants in this country, and the contractors and consultants are also here in this country, but up till date nobody came to us complaining that something didn’t add up. And we have stakeholders. We go to an AGM. Governance is one of our biggest achievements. Since we assumed office in 2014, we never missed out on a single AGM, where primary stakeholders come in, look at the evidence and scrutinise it. According to our constitution, most of the documents are sent to stakeholders and within a maximum of two weeks they have the financial statement which is the auditor’s report of the previous year, the activity report, the draft budget and the minutes of previous meetings. We have never seen any incident where our financial statement was never approved even though they have the mandate to do so. We have never seen anywhere where our budget has been thrown into our face. The primary stakeholders put us on our toes and ask questions. It’s very easy in this country to talk about corruption. It’s very sad, it’s very endemic. People don’t understand issues. People just sit down and say whatever they like. If you accuse me of being corrupt, bring evidence. There are courts. We are also accountable. This institution is audited twice a year. Fifa sends in international auditors who don’t know anybody here. They come in and look at every bit of Fifa money. For Fifa, if you cannot account for even a 100 dollars, it withholds everything until you explain that. We also have our local external auditors who audit us every year. These are all presented to the general assembly. Maybe we corrupt the auditors also. And it’s not only GFF. How many times have you heard about corruption in government, everywhere? It’s easy to say it. The most important thing is, the primary stakeholders, the 34 clubs who sit at the AGM, are the members of the GFF. The five allied associations are members of the AGM and get to scrutinise everything and ask questions. The seven regional associations are represented at the AGM. These are what constitute GFF. These are the people who gave us the mandate, and they are the people we are working closely with. Anybody outside, if you want to have any information, please, consult these people otherwise, you will just be misleading yourself or allow yourself to be misled. We respect everybody who is a citizen of this country and has interest in football or GFF. We respect their views -even the ordinary football fans. But please, let’s get the facts right. It’s a small country. We also have our families. We have people around us. Accusing us of corruption, corruption … I don’t know, but that’s Gambia! I appreciate their views and criticisms, but we want them to come out and show us where they found corruption. Let them take action. We have civil society groups here who went to court. I thank God. After what I went through in this country, Alhamdulillah, I cannot come to the GFF in the twilight of my active service and stain that record. I was at the Janneh Commission, and I am not bragging, you all listened to it. I was at the TRRC, alhamdulillah. Sometimes, with all due respect, I don’t blame some people. I know it’s personal sometimes. But that’s life. They will allege, and they will continue to allege. In other countries, we will still be celebrating our Afcon achievements. We shouldn’t allow anything to distract us. But look at us now, as if nothing has happened, as if though going to Afcon is a crime for The Gambia.

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