By Tabora Bojang
The National Assembly Petition Committee investigating allegations of corruption at the GTBoard against Tourism Minister Hamat Bah and senior members of the board and the Ministry continued its sitting yesterday. The committee has summoned Minister Bah, who was due to appear yesterday, but a source close to the committee said they instead will continue with the testimony of former minister Benjamin Roberts who could not complete his testimony the other day. The assembly committee is probing allegations of graft reported by staff of the GT Board implicating former senior officials of the GT Board, the current Tourism Minister Hamat Bah and the permanent secretary at the Ministry Codou Jabang- Senghore.
According to the staff petition, the GTBoard had entered into an agreement with Construct Company Limited in 2014 for them to be allocated land and in turn they will construct an office complex for the GTB and the Ministry of Tourism at Kololi.
The staff further alleged that in 2018, when the Minister, the PS, director general and finance director of GTB travelled abroad, they decided that GTBoard would no longer occupy the complex and instead rented a place that it is currently housing the GTBoard at D3 million per annum. Continuing his testimony, Mr Roberts told the Committee that the contract agreement made between the GT Board and Construct Company Limited for the construction of an office complex was part of a public private partnership has been overcome by circumstances, and that the agreement may no longer be valid because what it provides for is not what is obtained on the ground today.
Roberts, who also once served as the director general of the Gambia Tourism Board, told the committee that the agreement was initiated during his time as the GT Board Director and later Minister of Tourism and Culture, adding that until his departure in January 2017, the contract was running smoothly.
He said GTBoard had agreed with the investor that they will give him land that will accommodate the office and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
According to him the agreement was premised on built, operate and transfer initiative.
“It was agreed with the investor that he was going to operate the complex for a period of 35 years after which it should be given to the Gambia Tourism Board to manage and own. Also, during the 35 years period GTB was going to make up to $750,000 from operational licence charges on businesses that will be operating under the Tropic Complex.”
Roberts noted that the deal was advantageous since it was going to save the GT-Board in terms of rents it was paying for its office. Asked whether the contract has been implemented as per the agreement with the investor, Roberts asserted that it was not implemented to the effect of the terms of the deal.
Mr Roberts further disclosed that the former GT Board DG Abdoulie Hydara had at some point informed him that both the GT Board and Ministry are “thinking of coming out of the agreement” because of certain complexities with the building.
“He [Hydara] informed me that the project was overcome by circumstances and it is unlikely that the GT Board will occupy the complex as its office,” Roberts told the Assembly petition committee.
He revealed that after the inauguration of the complex by the minister of tourism Hamat Bah last month, it was clear to all that both the GT Board and the Ministry of Tourism have not occupied the Complex.
“I don’t have any details as to why they opted out of the agreement,” he added. Asked if Construct Limited profited more from the agreement at the expense of GTB and the Ministry, he replied: “I do not know if this contract is still the existing contract or there is another agreement in place. This [old] agreement may no longer be valid because what it provides is not what is on the ground. If there has been a new agreement it needs to be compared to the old agreement and information can now be made as to whether the contractor has profited at the expense of the GT Board. When we conceived this contract, we had undertaken every step as required by the Board of Directors to ensure that we are not at the losing end. This was why we provided 35 years lease term to give the contractor the opportunity to recover his investment and at the end of the 35 years, GTB was supposed to fully own the complex as well as make a whooping $750,000 profit,” Benjamin explained.
The sittings continue with current Minister Hamat Bah among others expected to testify in the coming days.