By Baba Sillah
The lead lawyer at the Janneh Commission has written to the Justice minister and Chairman Sourahata Janneh that the commission secretary, Alhaji Mamadi Kurang or herself should be replaced as a matter of urgency as they cannot continue to work in their current roles in the interest of the commission and the nation.
In a missive dated 3 July, and copied to President Barrow among others, Amie Bensouda wrote: “I do not think it would be in the best interest of the commission’s work or the national interest for me to continue to work with a person who harbours such negative feelings and perceptions [towards me], or who is willing to compromise the truth in pursuit of an uncertain agenda, having regard to the key role[s] we are both supposed to play in the commission…”
Mrs Bensouda’s letter was in response to a letter dated 2 July sent by Secretary Kurang to her and copied to President Barrow, the commissioners and others, in which he accuses her of having conflicts of interest which are affecting the integrity of the commission.
In the letter, Mr Kurang accused Bensouda of “orchestrating political interference in frustrating” the sale of impounded tractors of former president Jammeh; manipulation and interference of the commission’s budget by authorising or engaging in “wasteful and unnecessary foreign trips… while commission staff salaries remain unpaid; selective questioning of witnesses at commission hearings; poor professional judgment by attempting to “secure [a tractor] for herself, and that she is “clearly conflicted in a way that is fatally dangerous to commission’s mandate” with regard to certain state-owned enterprises and companies like Gampet, SSHFC, Nawec, Gamtel, MSA and the crude oil lifted from Nigeria.
Mr Kurang said investigations into the dealings of former president Jammeh and public corporations “cannot be objectively completed while [Bensouda] remains in charge”.
He said as events of the past week showed, “as [a] supposedly independent counsel”, Mrs Bensouda is “not capable of not allowing [her] political objectives from clouding [her] professional judgment. He said as “a citizen and stakeholder in all the above issues”, it is imperative for Mrs Bensouda to “reconsider her role as the lead counsel”.
In an earlier letter sent to Commissioner Janneh dated 27 June, Secretary Kurang criticised the decision to suspend the sale of the tractors after four days of auctioning during which 43 items including scraps were sold netting D10.5 million of which over D10 million was deposited at the Central Bank.
Kurang said the tractors should be expeditiously disposed off as the rains have started and that “there is a certain level of urgency in [sic] farming equipment at the drop of the first rain…”
Kurang noted that “after the auction of tractors in the Fonis… it is politically prudent to apply the same to the rest of the country.”
In her letter of response to Mr Kurang’s barbs, Amie Bensouda stated she was “saddened” by the allegations “at a time when such enormous work has been done and the commission can be said to be winding down.”
She continued: “I am of course concerned about the deep-seated resentment and even hatred towards me… I failed to understand how the suspension of the sale of the tractors so that the communities’ interest can be considered should warrant such vitriolic attack [on me]. Nor the fact that the secretary was queried for making unauthorised discretionary expenditure from the proceeds of the sale of the tractors.”
Mrs Bensouda stated that her legal team and herself conducted themselves with “extreme professionalism at all times”.
“I have had to move significant resources from my law firm including personnel, computers and hardware, and provide funding to facilitate the commission’s work. In fact [my] team is doing a significant part of the work that should ordinarily be done by the secretary all in a bid to avoid delays and expedite the work of the commission. I therefore do not believe I have anything to defend or explain and do not intend to enter into any communication with the secretary on these matters.”
On Mr Kurang’s criticism that hundreds of thousands of dalasis are being paid to Team Bensouda, she explained: “For the record, the monthly fees for the legal team from my firm (3 lawyers and 1 intern) paid to my law firm for our services is D450,000 net including all expenses that should not otherwise be incurred. It is not a secret. The legal professional work that my team had to put in almost 7 days a week to support the commission proceedings was beyond our expectation. I have not complained because I consider this a sacrifice for my country.”
Mrs Bensouda urged Kurang to desist “from further slanderous urges” against which she would “not hesitate to take necessary action”.
Meanwhile, Secretary General at the Office of the President, Habib Drammeh, wrote to the commission chairman expressing his “disappointment and disquiet” that Secretary Kurang would make “unwarranted insinuations” that he was “in cohort with the lead counsel of the commission [his sister by birth] to interfere in the proceedings of the commission”.
He demanded Kurang immediately retract his “gratuitous allegations to avoid undesirable consequences”.
Drammeh also informed the commission that it was the cabinet that decided on 21 June to suspend the auctioning of the tractors “given the concerns raised by the Ministry of Agriculture that the tractors will benefit the farming communities across the country.”