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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Communications ministry refutes Malagen’s revelations

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By Alagie Manneh

The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (Mocde) has released a statement denying revelations by investigative news site Malagen that the ministry has awarded a training contract to a school owned by its minister, Ousman Bah.

“Conflict of interest, violation of procurement rules, and possible inflated costs have characterised the contract that the newly created ministry awarded to the institute owned by the minister, Ousman Bah, to train IT technicians from various government ministries on digital transformation and cyber security,” wrote Malagen.

But a statement signed by Lamin Camara, the permanent secretary of the ministry denied they signed any contract with IIHT. According to the statement, the ministry only “sent Government officials to be trained at IIHT”.

“We normally receive training proposals from various training institutions. Once relevant to our training needs, we then identify people to participate with the approval of PMO. This also, depends on the availability of funds for training to upgrade the capacity of staff,” the statement said. 

It added: “In this particular instance, we received two proposals from IIHT as normally done by most training institutions. We reviewed the proposals, which were found to be very relevant to expose our ICT staff to the trending digital transformation and data security issues, hence, our decision to send our ICT staff there for the training. Our decision was not directed or influenced by Minister Ousman Bah as the paper (Malagen) erroneously alleged.”

On allegations of inflating the cost of the supposed contract, the ministry said the proposed 90- day training was supposed to be conducted two days per week and 2 hours per day without food and refreshments. “This corresponds to 48 hours over 90 days. The second proposal was 10 days intensive course to be conducted over eight (8) hours per day. Following discussions between the ministry’s technical staff and the school IIHT, to ensure value for money, we settled for the 10 days, which gives 80 hours training time with food and refreshments inclusive for the participants. Being the vote controller, I agreed to this option, because it was the most pragmatic, most cost effective and guaranteed value for money”, PS Camara said.

However investigative journalist Mustapha K Darboe of Malagen, said the fact of the matter remains that the ministry hired a college, IIHT, which is 90 percent owned by the minister to offer a service, and that fact is not in dispute.

“Whether you have signed a paper or not, the fact remains you hired them to train your staff at a fee. You do not want to call that a contract but you can say that you merely sent them there to be trained. The fact remains you have contracted them,” the investigative journalist told The Standard.

Mustapha Darboe said the ministry has failed to address the issues in their statement.

“Our story was about the fact that the Ministry of Digital Economy went and hired the college of a minister that is overseeing that ministry to train IT officers and that is a clear conflict of interest, and the statement failed to address that,” he said.

When asked why more than a week now since the Malagen revelations no one seems to have been held responsible, Mr Darboe said: “The bottom line is the government does not care about accountability, and we have published far worse stories in The Gambia yet nothing seems to happen.”

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