Malagen investigative journalists have reported that the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy has awarded a contract of over D700,000 to the Indian Institute of Hardware Technology (IITH), a company in which its minister, Ousman Bah, holds 90 percent shares.
The contract was for training government IT technicians on digital transformation and data security.
According to Malagen “the deal was done under circumstances that raised questions about conflict of interest among other irregularities, such as flouting of procurement rules, and potential cost inflation”.
Malagen reported: “The minister, Ousman Bah, was the chief executive officer of IIHT, before he was appointed by President Adama Barrow in June last year to lead the newly created Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.
It is not clear whether he has resigned effectively from his CEO functions, but our sources said he is active in the running of the institute even though a woman claimed to be his sister, Awa Bah, currently serves as acting CEO. What has been confirmed though is that Minister Bah is the co-founder of the institute, holding 90 percent of the shares. Yet, he was actively involved in the negotiations for the contract to be awarded to the institute”.
According to Malagen Minister Bah did not respond to several requests for comments, but hours before going to press, he sent a typed written response saying that it was not true that he used his influence to get the contract for his institute and that when he joined the government a new management including board and new managers were appointed.
The permanent secretary at the ministry, Lamin Camara, said he had no knowledge that his minister owned the institute. “I did not see the need to enquire if the minister owns it or not,” he told Malagen. “All I understand is that it is a training institution operating in the country and specialised in ICT training.”
Malagen said it turned out that the contract did not go through any competitive bidding and even though the duration of the training has been reduced from three months to ten days, the total cost did not come down.
However, PS Camara clarified that such trainings are not subjected to procurement rules governing the award of other contracts. He also clarified that they received proposal for training for two time periods and chose the 10-day proposal.
The Standard contacted Minister Ousman Bah for clarification on the matter as we were about to go to press last night. He responded with a text explaining that the ministry will make clarifications on the matter in due course. He had just arrived from a trip overseas.