By Omar Bah
The Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs has said Gambia government doesn’t need the National Assembly’s approval in a concession agreement it signed with Africa50 to manage the Senegambia Bridge.
A few days ago, Seedy Keita announced on CNBC Africa that the government of the Gambia has signed a $100 million agreement with Africa50, an infrastructure investment platform founded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and African states, to manage and operate the Senegambia Bridge, a major crossing point connecting the south and north banks of the River Gambia. The government’s decision to sign the agreement without seeking the National Assembly’s approval generated a lot of criticism.
Addressing this and other criticisms at a media conference, Seedy Keita said there is no legal or financing agreement requiring the minister of finance to go before the National Assembly to ask them “I am going to do this transaction, can you allow me before I do it?”
He said, instead, the Public Finance Act, which empowers the ministry of finance, gives it the right and the legal authority to engage in and sign on behalf of the government any financing agreement, adding that what they signed is “not even yet a financing agreement because there is no obligation for the state to pay this from the consolidated fund”.
He said the $100 million will be paid through the cash flows at the bridge, and all the laws governing the agreement will be the laws of The Gambia, and Africa50 will pay tax.
“So, the arrangement we have with Africa50 is a concession agreement and not a loan or financing agreement. If the concession agreement is designed in such a way that a ratification is stipulated as a condition, definitely the National Assembly will be engaged,” he added.
“What we signed is only an MoU; we have not signed any binding agreement that has bounded this government to say this agreement must come into force. We just agreed on a framework, and that is what we have signed. Today, Africa50 has no right to the operation of the bridge. All we did was sign an outline to say this is the way forward. It is only when the concession agreement is finalised that it will come into effect,” he said.
The minister further disclosed government has signed two agreements with Africa50; Joint Development and Asset Recycling agreements.
“We want to make it clear that asset recycling is not a privatisation, sale, or mortgage. We are not doing anything like that. This is a nationally strategic and significant asset, and there is no way the government will undertake a process to sell it,” he said.
He added that the Senegambia Bridge was built by the African Development Bank (AfDB), and Africa50 is a subsidiary of the bank.
“We are not dealing with a private company that may be driven by private motives but a development partner, just like we deal with the European Investment Bank, the World Bank, the IDB, and other development partners. Africa50 is owned by 31 shareholders; the largest shareholder is the AfDB, and the other shareholders are African countries, of which The Gambia is a member. So, in terms of opening up to tender, procurement procedure, and conflict of interest, we are dealing with a development partner, and that is very reassuring,” he said.
He said the arrangement is that Africa50, as the key financier, will get 87 percent of the shareholding and The Gambia will get 12.5 percent.
“We haven’t paid for those shares; they are accrued to us because of the right we have given them in addition to the money they are going to pay upfront. Normally, when you do this type of transaction at arm’s length, you will have to pay for your entitlement to your shares,” he said.
Also speaking to the press, Minister of Works and Infrastructure Ebrima Sillah said contrary to widespread reports of job losses, the staff who are currently operating the Senegambia Bridge are staff of the Accountant General’s Office and that all relevant stakeholders were consulted ahead of signing the MoU with Africa50. Minister Sillah said when the bridge was newly opened, the government was collecting D14 to D18 million per month, but since the operation was transferred to the Accountant General’s office, the collection has risen to D45 million and now D30 to D35 million monthly.