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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Open petition to the PPC – National Assembly: remortgaging of Senegambia Bridge

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Dear Honourable Suwaibou Touray, I write with deep sorrow to learn that the Gambia Government has decided to mortgage the Senegambia Bridge for 25 years at a value of $100 million with an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 15 percent.

Honourable Touray, the minister of finance and economic affairs attended a meeting in Lomé, capital of Togo from Monday 3rd July to Tuesday 4th July 2023, where he signed two agreements with Africa50. One of these agreements is the Joint Development Agreement which relates to the mortgaging of the bridge and the other one, “Heads of Terms Agreement”, which he did not elaborate on.

Honourable Touray, these agreements are flawed in a number of fronts and I will break these down for you and for those who may not understand confusing economic jargons that so called intellectuals use to justify their unjustifiable actions.

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The agreements were signed in complete contravention of section 155 sub section 2 and 3 of the 1997 constitution of the Gambia and I quote: “Where any loan agreement is to be made shall be laid before the National Assembly and shall not come into effect until it is approved by the National Assembly”. Sub-section 3 states: “no loan shall be raised by the Government on behalf of itself or any other person or authority otherwise than by or under the authority of an Act of the National Assembly”.

There is no consideration from the government the long-term revenue loss to the country. I believe that the minister of finance did not take into consideration or even carefully evaluate the financial implications of putting Senegambia Bridge as a collateral to secure $100 million funding. Honourable Touray, the Senegambia Bridge currently brings in revenues of between D9 million and D15 million every month and this equates to at most D180 million per annum.

Considering the budget deficit of at least D6 billion consistently embedded in the budget year on year, this government has no serious plans to address the revenue loss highlighted above. The minister mentioned that the funds would be used for infrastructure development without indicating how he would substitute the loss of D180 million per year. I know the only option left with the government is to issue more treasury bills and Sukuks to meet their recurrent expenditure needs. This means more borrowing adding to the already bloated debt stock of over D100 billion (D102 billion per April 2023 figures).

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The 3rd flaw in the agreements is that the government has no effective regulatory frameworks and governance structures, which are essential to ensure appropriate oversight, risk management, and accountability in this asset recycling processes, which explains why they never showed any respect to the National Assembly by blatantly abrogating the spirit and letter of section 155 of the Constitution of the republic. Honourable Touray, despite empirical, speculative and theoretical evidence dictating that strong regulations and safeguards are necessary to protect public interests, prevent monopolistic practices, and ensure adequate service provision, this government has proven time and again that they don’t have it in them to serve the Gambian public adequately.

Honourable Touray, in any infrastructure endeavour, there is the need to consider potential social and environmental impacts. Infrastructure projects resulting from asset recycling should adhere to sustainability principles, address environmental concerns, and prioritize social benefits. This includes engaging with affected communities, assessing environmental risks, and promoting inclusive development. There is evidence that the mortgaging of Senegambia bridge will result in increases in toll charges and potential job losses and I will give a simple calculation below to support my prophesy: currently, we earn D180 million per year from the Bridge (This figure is quoted from Bai Lamin Jobe’s 2020 address to the National Assembly). For the next 25 years, we will potentially earn D4.5 billion (US$76.8m). For Africa50 to recover their US$100 million plus 15% IRR (a total of US$115m) equivalent to D6.7 billion within 25 years, they will have to either increase charges or to engage on massive redundancies to cut cost or both in order to achieve this. There is no assurance from the minister that Africa50 will not increase toll charges or embark on massive redundancies and as such, I am concerned that my people from Baddibu will mostly be at the receiving end of this government’s reckless borrowing spree.

Honourable Touray, I know there are so many so-called intellectuals in the country who for reasons best known to them are screaming at the top of their voices that this is a good deal for the country. Contrary to that Honourable Touray, they only look at what prevails in other countries with regards to Asset Backed Securities without noting that asset recycling practices and policies may differ among countries and regions, as they are influenced by local contexts, political priorities, and economic conditions. The specific timeline and development of asset recycling in different regions or countries may vary based on their individual circumstances and policy agendas. This concept works well in environments where the funds generated are re-invested into the productive base of the economy thereby generating consistent excess revenue for the government to substitute the lost revenue from the mortgaged asset and spend on social welfare.

Honourable, I am in agreement with Nyang Njie also re-echoing his concerns that the valuation of the bridge, the utilisation of the funds and the general governance mechanisms appear to be missing in this scheme and are worth considering. As a result, I am sending this petition for the following to happen:

Summon the finance minister to explain why he flaunted section 155 sub-sections 2 and 3 of the 1997 constitution;

Demand that the minister publish for public consumption the sensitivity analysis if any they have performed to arrive at this valuation of the bridge and conclude that US$100 million is the current value of the bridge; apply the powers vested in you as the sixth legislature to take action against those who are involved in this day light robbery;

Apply the provisions of section 155 sub-section 3 of the constitution and declare these agreements as null and void in accordance with the constitution of the Gambia; demand a public apology from the finance minister for giving you false information when he stated that the total public of the Gambia as at end of year 2022 was D99bn when actually, he submitted to the World Bank that the true figure was D101 billion.

I am writing this open petition but also giving permission to any and everyone who wishes to use this write up as a springboard to follow due processes to file a formal petition to the National Assembly. I am urging all well-meaning Gambians to support this petition to ensure that the National Assembly does the needful to protect our public institutions and national assets from scavengers.

No matter how you look at this scheme, fellow Gambians, it is nothing other than a scheme by our government to put more people in misery and destitution, whilst they continue to try and satisfy their insatiable desire to wreck the economy and eventually sell the country to the highest bidder.

Nuha Ceesay is a finance system specialist and PhD research fellow based in Leeds, United Kingdom.

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