By Tabora Bojang
The former director general of the Gambia Tourism Board, Abdoulie Hydara has told the National Assembly Public Petitions Committee probing corruption allegations at the GTB that Tourism Minister Hamat Bah instructed him and his management to renegotiate a contract agreement signed between GT Board and Construct Company Limited for the construction of offices for the two institutions. Testifying via a video link from Nigeria, Mr. Hydara said the deal with Construct Company Limited was signed in 2014 by his predecessor and stipulates that the company will be allocated land at the Fajara sea front in exchange for them to construct an office complex for the GTB and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. The agreement stipulates that Construct Limited owned by Fara Shamz will build and operate the complex called Tropics for 35 years after which it will be owned and managed by the GT Board.
However, the plaintiff GTB workers alleged in their petition that the deal was scrapped by Minister Hamat Bah, Permanent Secretary Codou Jabang Senghore, Finance Director Ousainu Senghore and Director General Abdoulie Hydara in 2018 when they travelled abroad and instead rented an office for the GT Board costing D3 million every year while alleging that proceeds for the rentals at the Tropics are shared among the quartet.
Responding to questions as to why the GT Board failed to occupy the Tropic Complex as agreed with Construct Limited, Hydara who now works for the Gambian Embassy in Nigeria, said the Board did not relocate as per the agreement because another contract was signed in 2018 under the backing of Minister Bah which renders the previous agreement “null and void.”
“This [request to abandon the old agreement] was a policy pronunciation from the Minister of Tourism and Culture in 2018. He [the minister] believes the arrangement for GT Board to be at the Tropic Complex was not the best arrangement and we want a change. As a result, he convened us to a meeting and said that we need to renegotiate the contract. When that was done, we had no other option but to take it to the Board of Directors for consideration and approval and we [ the management] were given the approval to proceed as the Minster alluded to,” Hydara revealed.
He said this resulted in discussions with Mr. Fara Shamz, the proprietor of Construct Limited for a new deal.
“But these discussions were very very difficult because the contractor had gone very far in terms of executing the first agreement,” he disclosed.
Hydara said Minister Bah was convinced that the office was not fit to serve the “corporate interest” of the GT Board. He said as per the new agreement, Construct Limited would build a new 2000 square metre office complex for the GT Board at a new location, while the contractor takes charge of the Tropics, all its offices and collection of rentals with a 50-year lease period.
“But we also agreed that he [contractor] will be annually contributing D900,000 towards the payment of GT Board office rentals until the construction of the new office at the [Palma Rima] area is completed and handed over to the GT Board,” former DG Hydara added. Hydara was appointed director general of the GT Board in 2015 and served until May 2020. The NAM for Wuli East and member of the committee, Suwaibu Touray asked the witness to explain if it was better for GT Board to maintain the old contract instead of going for a new deal as proposed by the minister. Hydara said he agrees with the minister for the GT Board to have its own sovereign office to avoid compromising its regulatory mandate. In support of the Minister’s proposal for a new deal, Hydara charged: “The contract was beautiful with good financial benefits but I think it is more than that: the GT Board has a mandate and that mandate was not only to go into financial negotiations. The contract did not look at the regulatory aspects of the GT Board; it only concentrated on GT Board having its own offices, avoid rental payments and take ownership of the whole Tropics complex but what about other qualitative analysis such as the mandate of the GT Board and that is to market, promote and manage the tourism industry. GT Board is a regulator and it cannot be seen as venturing into business because that will compromise the mandate of enforcing, marketing, regulating and promoting tourism. It has other means of earning revenue to maintain its marketing and other programs,” Hydara said.
He said the GTB cannot be housed in a business entity with restaurants, supermarkets and tourist centres. “It will lose its sovereignty. Furthermore, the structure of the complex is not fit for office purposes. So when the minister announced a renegotiation, I think it was not a bad idea to have a separate identity for the GTB to focus on rebranding and increasing tourist arrivals,” he said. Asked what criteria were used before the decision for them to abandon the Tropics and renegotiate a new deal, he replied: “There was no cost benefit analysis for the new agreement. Our assessment was a qualitative one but I cannot recollect any cost benefit analysis.”