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DG DENIES TERMINATING OR REDEPLOYING STAFF FOR PETITION AGAINST GTBOARD

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By Tabora Bojang

The director general of the Gambia Tourism Board on Friday told the Public Petitions Committee of the National Assembly probing corruption allegations at the tourism board that senior product development officer, Lamin Bojang, got his contract terminated because he sent an email to the GTBoard management using the phrase “bureaucratic baloney.”

Bojang, who holds a master degree in business communication, was among staff who petitioned the National Assembly in 2021 alleging corruption and irregularities in the award of contracts for the construction of ecolodges among other things. The petition implicates senior staff of the board and Ministry of Tourism, all of whom denied any wrong doing and called the allegations false and misleading.

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In addition to the termination of Bojang, other petitioners Adama Cham, research and development manager, and Lazar Kujabi, senior activities and promotion manager, were moved from the GTB head office and redeployed to the regional offices.

Appearing before the National Assembly Petition  Committee Friday, DG Abubacarr S Camara was asked by committee chairman and member for Wuli East Suwaibu Touray, whether these senior staff were redeployed because management was displeased with them for opposing the conduct of contracts awarded for the construction of eco lodges and disclosing such information to the public. In reply, DG Camara denied this and explained that the redeployment was necessitated because GT Board wanted to promote domestic tourism.

“We were in a state of emergency. Covid-19 was here and domestic tourism was the only way out because there were no international tourists,” Camara argued.

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Another member of the committee, Kebba Lang Fofana asked the DG whether   the GTBoard relied on a strategic document that justified the redeployment of such senior staff at a crucial moment in the tourism sector and Camara replied that even though management ‘did not refer’ to any specific plan, the promotion of domestic tourism has always been on its radar but not implemented.

“Tell me, what have they achieved after redeploying them?” NAM Fofana further pressed, and Camara responded: “They were able to monitor some of the tourism facilities in the regions to coach them to maintain their standards and they were also able to identify some historic assets in the regions. That is a good thing.”

DG Camara however admitted that the said staff were later confronted when he learnt that they were the ones behind many publications on social media about the GT Board and the Tourism Ministry but he said they denied it.

 “That was where it ended,” he said. “So, we did not redeploy them because they were part of the petition. In fact, some other staff like Ida Jeng and Alagie Leigh were redeployed and they were not part of the petitioners. And in the same vein, Ida Lowe Njie, Foday Kujabi and Haddy Darboe were part of the petitioners but they were not redeployed. So it is not correct that these people were deployed simply because of their involvement with the petitioners,” Mr Camara said.

The lawmakers further inquired why many of the staff redeployed have now ceased work with the GT Board but Camara clarified that while two of the redeployed staff have resigned, one of them, Lamin Bojang got his contract terminated for the use of ‘foul language’ against the management.

 “He [Lamin Bojang] sent an email that he needed fuel to do some follow up assessments in Kombo which nobody gave him the permission to do. Then we asked him what assessment he wanted to do and how much fuel he would need. He wrote an email to us saying that we were engaged in bureaucratic baloney. We wrote to him that he cannot use such foul language especially when the DG was copied and asked him to withdraw but he refused to withdraw his statement,” Camara explained.

The DG further alleged that Bojang was later called for a disciplinary hearing at which he maintained his stance, banged the door and left during the hearing. “When they sent me the report [disciplinary hearing] I decided that it is either he is terminated or I was going to leave and that was when we relied on legal procedures and terminated his contract,” Camara said.

However, committee chairman Swaebou Touray said he did not think using the word baloney can warrant the removal of a very highly qualified staff member who is yet to be replaced.

The DG Camara replied: “Nobody wants to keep an indiscipline staff however qualified you are. If he had come and apologised with remorse, we will not have terminated him.”

NAM Kebba Lang Fofana told DG Camara that his reaction over the whole matter even right at the assembly suggested he is angry with the staff he presumed were taking information from GT Board and sending it to the public. “You said you have asked them to apologise and they refused but it is not a coincidence that  three of these staff [who petitioned  parliament] were among the five people you redeployed and their conclusion is that their redeployment was not merit- based but because management was not happy with them,” Honorable Fofana told DG Camara, who vehemently denied that such was the case.

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