In our line of work, editing your work is as annoying as gathering information. And the simpler question is the most annoying one. How do we know this? It is a question you don’t want to hear. It makes you want to yell your lungs out!
But the editor just wants to know what evidence supports every word. And for every critical work, this standard applies. A piece of evidence must be produced to support the story. ‘How do we know this’ helps the editor and later the fact-checking team to verify the veracity of facts in the story.
It is seeking precision. A murder suspect gives an alibi. He was in Banjul. The police gona want to know where exactly he was, the time, the people he met etc. Because they want to verify the information they are given. Did the suspect in fact lie about not being at the murder scene?
We can’t have a blanket, yet loose conversation about the audit. ‘Auditors can make mistakes. Auditors made mistakes in the past. Does that even mean anything? Because you can say that about anyone. That is too low and dishonest— even foolery— for a professional. To have any such conversation, we must go specific.
The National Audit Office has a website full of audit reports. We must go specific. Pull their reports and begin to tear our way through them. Our team did it several times and we respect them for it. Let me hasten to say that we do things differently as journalists. But we rely heavily on audit work. But also rely, basically, on the same evidence they rely on.
In September, we published this story:
A couple of weeks later, the NAO published its audit on the matter. And folks who read our work came to tell us there is a striking similarity in the content of the 2 works. Except for us, we tell a story. We verify. We retrace contacts and explain disagreements as there may exist, bribes or allegations of it, introduce the characters and who played what role. Ours is a story!
If you read this audit, you will realise that the auditors said the Securiport got an unjustifiable payment of D164 million. This was a payment plan for what the company considered arrears for their late operations, as they could not collect revenue from October 2019 to August 2020. This is 11 months delay during which the company operated without collecting the security fee.
But if you read our story, we reported that D218m of $4.5m was already paid. We were at the Accountant General’s office after the auditors left months earlier. The payment should have completed in December 2022.
But why did the auditors call it an unjustified payment? The first thing is that the payment was given a go without seeking legal advice, just as the contract started against the advice of the Ministry of Justice. Secondly, the popular opinion among state and independent lawyers I spoke to was that the contract suffered what they called a ‘frustration’.
Gambia and a private company signed a contract to collect a levy for their services at the airport. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) told them we can’t have this levy in the ticket because a security fee is already being charged. A senior state lawyer told me that a conflict arising from a third party that affects the implementation of a contract is ‘frustration’, something that was no fault of government.
Thirdly, the private company already got a 5 or 10-year extension for the same 11-month delay. A frustrated contract, a contract extension to 5 and if the state does not cancel 10 years for the delay (caused by IATA), and a payment of USD $4.5 million for the same delay. And worse, you did not get to seek a legal opinion before you do this, just as they did at the beginning: getting the country into a contract against the best judgment of its Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
Who has so far come out to provide evidence showing the auditors are wrong? At least everything we look at shows they were right and that their decision was based on facts available to their team, from government institutions. This is just one critical piece in their report. What did the government do? They instructed government agencies to investigate our sources and punish them. Hell, they even announced a policy that they will start marking public documents in an effort to punish journalists’ sources.
They refused to even entertain anything is remotely wrong! We have a government a private company can write to, to investigate their own statutory institutions for doing their job. Are these auditors ‘making mistakes’ and forming opinions or a simple display of low-life, undignified behaviours from public officers who ought to know better?
Now, this is what we should be talking about: specific cases that were subject to audit work and see, whether based on evidence and best judgment, they were right or wrong. The least we expect is a professional turning what is supposed to be an evidence-based conversation into an emotion-driven, circus.
There are lots of things you can criticise former auditor general Karamba Touray for. Or even his boys at the NAO. But being after unconscionable public THIEVES in this country for some time, I can give a free advice: accountability work comes at a huge cost in this country. Emotionally draining. Daily lamentation. Little or no social life. Wading off the temptations of a bribe and having to deal with life’s own challenges. All risks that come with that. The least they have to deal with is a FOOL on their back!
The only thing more dangerous than an unconscionable leader is an uncritical mass and an ‘educated’ clown!
Mustapha K Darboe