By Baba Sillah
The former managing director of Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation has claimed that institutions like Nawec, GPA and GPTC would have been bankrupt without the intervention of his company.
“We were stifled because of the Corporation’s Act which mandates it to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country and it was based on that mandate that loans were given to certain institutions as a form of investment,” Edward Graham told the Janneh Commission yesterday.
He further claimed that the management of the SSHFC has built the corporation from zero to a multi-billion dalasi corporation despite the loans given to institutions which were yet to be paid.
Continuing with his evidence for the second time, Mr Graham said if they had sat without taking action, the corporation would not have been where it is today.
He however made it clear to the commission that they were powerless and professionalism was ruled out when it came to executive directives.
He was reminded by the Commission lawyer Amie Bensouda that the SSHFC Act was amended in 2010 but Graham said he was referring to the 2015 Act which separates Social Security from Housing and Finance. He was then handed a copy of the Acts, 1981 and 2010 respectively to peruse and after a careful perusal, he said all the Acts talked about the appointment of managing director and the governing body of the corporation by the President.
However, upon perusal of the 2010 Act, Mr Graham discovered that the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance acts as the vice chair of the board of directors of the corporation and section 20 of the same Act stipulates that even where the managing director of SSHFC delegates his deputy to act, he/she (MD) is still responsible of the action or actions executed by the person delegated.
According to him, on 27 September 2014, they received directives from the office of the president for the purchase of tents amounting to D88, 000,000 and Central Bank of the Gambia served as guarantor. He said they later received letters from CBG and Trust Bank that they received the bill of lading indicating that the tents have been received and their account was debited to that effect.
The office of the president according to him informed theCorporation that CBG will be responsible for the payments of the tents but he said there were no documents to show to the commission regarding the transactions of the tents.
He said the money used for the purchase of the tents was a loan but could not confirm at that moment whether the board prior to disbursement approved the loan.
Mr Graham also told the Commission as per the Act, the board has no mandate to approve or disapprove directives from the minister of finance much more directives from the executive. He said the loans given were guided by the policy of the corporation while citing Section 39 of the 2015 Act to strengthen his evidence.
The Commission Chairman, Sourahata Janneh put to him that he did not introduce himself as a legal practitioner and said to him someone who is not a legal practitioner is not compelled to answer legal questions but because of his act of citing various laws, the commission counsel is forced to ask him legal questions and then advised him if he wants, he can get a counsel to write a legal opinion on his behalf regarding the laws he cited based on his responsibilities as the former MD.
The chairman further told Mr Graham that as commissioners they are interested in facts and not law because they will come up with the position of the law at the end of the day.
Commission counsel at that point also reminded Mr Graham that when he was reinstated in 2010, several loans were given to Nawec amounting to $7.9 Million, $5.6 Million, $6 Million and $300 Million respectively.
When asked whether he advised that the National Provident Fund was almost in jeopardy, Graham said he has discussed the issue with the former secretary general but they were asked to go ahead giving loans, as it was an executive directive.
However he said some payments were made by NAWEC for the loans given to them and has documents to back his testimony.
He further informed Commissioners that they have met Nawec in order to offset the debts they owe to the corporation since they don’t have money to pay as a strategy which he said was in 2016.
Documents relating to debts repayment agreement between the corporation and NAWEC were admitted as exhibits.
On the purchase of fire tenders and ambulances, he said he was called by Njogu Bah and the Corporation was asked to give a loan for the safety and security of the airport which will be paid but he intimated to them that it has to be in writing.
Documents relating to work about resolution of NAWEC, fire tenders and ambulance were admitted as exhibits. He said he did not have the resolution of the loans for the Tobaski rams and aircraft.
He disclosed that action had been taken verbally and in writing for the payment of loans given by the corporation to institutions.
At that point, documents relating to actions taken by the corporation for the repayment of loans in form of letters were produced by the witness and applied by counsel as exhibits.
Next to continue testifying was Belgian-Lebanese businessman, Muhammad Bazzi, who informed the commission that he has written to the commission through his lawyer for the withdrawal of his application to testify in camera, adding that after consulting friends, partners and family he has decided to come plainly as they have nothing to hide and his safety and security has been guaranteed by the government.
According to Mr Bazzi in all the countries Euro Africa Group invested, they always applied the long term investments for about 15 to 25 years and it was the case in The Gambia too. Several letters in respect to NAWEC outstanding sums to EURO Africa as well as a folder brought by the witness showing payments into the former president’s dollar and dalasi accounts were all admitted as exhibits.
On the payment of D14million into the account of Jammeh in 2011, he said this was in regard to the payment made by Ali Charare and was made by himself in order to avoid problem for Mr Charare.
According to Mr Bazzzi, the former president asked Mr Charare to be paying $500,000 into his account every month, which he said was neither a bribe nor an incentive.
Mr Bazzi at that point promised to provide the commission with all the documents relating to his company’s exclusive importation of fuel into the country. He however denied monopoly over fuel importation noting that the price was determined by the ministry of finance.
He also appealed to the commission for him to call witnesses who might be in better position to shed light on certain issues surrounding his company which was granted by the commission chairman.
Next to appear was the former managing director of SSHFC, Tumbul Danso who is also the current managing director of Gambia Public Procurement Authority [GPPA].
Mr Danso was summoned on the payment of $1,000,000 to the office of the president and confirmed that the request was made during his tenure as the director of the corporation and the board approved the request.
Mr Danso said upon receiving the directive, he wrote to his finance director for relevant procedures to be taken before payment. He said the office of the president is not classified under investment policy as it is part of the government and the loan given to the office would not be classified as investment rather an intervention by the corporation.
According to Mr Danso, the loan was granted three weeks after he moved to the GPPA.
Sittings continue today.