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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Yusupha M Jobe, Director General of PURA

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Part 1

The Standard: You hold a very important position in government, but not many people know who Yusupha Jobe is. Can you give us some biodata and some interesting information about yourself? 

Yusupha Jobe: I was born in Serekunda in 1965. I’m a member of the original Serekunda Njoben family. I went to Serekunda Primary School, won a scholarship and went to Nusrat High school were I had the best marks in The Gambia and later went to St Augustines High School for A Levels. At the A Levels I had the best marks in The Gambia and won a West Africa Examination Council prize in 1985. After graduation, I worked at the Accountant General’s Department and was encouraged to do AAT at MDI. Unfortunately, I didn’t do accounting in school; I started straight at intermediate level without doing accounting. That year in the intermediate, I had a merit, the highest score with one other guy, Alfusainey Camara. And in the finals, the British Council gave a scholarship for the two best students. Alfusainey and I won the scholarships and were fully paid for to study accounting in England. It was very tempting at that time to stay there with all the offers of jobs we had, but we decided to come back home. I worked at the Accountant General’s Department for one-and-a-half years. Things were not going right, and I moved to the private sector. First, I worked at Gacem as the financial controller of the newly established cement company. After three years I was hired at the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority as chief accountant. Three weeks after my appointment in 1994, the coup d’etat happened. I was held at gunpoint by the rebels who directed me to the control tower to take it over. I was the only officer held at gunpoint because I was the only one with a pickup truck… I later became the director of finance at the civil aviation. Subsequently, things got really bad. There was too much interference. We were always asked to do things that were not right, and the NIA was arresting here and there. So, I opted to go overseas and was offered a job by the World Bank. I went to East Timor. I was promoted from financial management specialist to senior financial management specialist. From the World Bank, because of my aviation job at the civil aviation, I was offered a job by the International Civil Aviation Organisation in Montreal. They told me to leave the World Bank, and I moved with my family to Canada in 2000. I worked there for eight years, and later came back here but it was still not conducive… I settled in Dakar doing some private practice business, until the government asked me to come, first at GGC as adviser, and then here [at Pura] after the untimely demise of the former DG.

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Exactly why were you chosen for this much-coveted job?

I’m a chartered accountant. I hold both ACCA and CIMA – [Chartered Institute of Management Accountants] qualifications. I’m one of few Gambians – not more than five – who have both qualifications, and I have an MBA in business and finance. With the experience I have in regulation, from civil aviation to all the energy things, it was very clear that I understand the sectors involved. But regulator being what it is, you needed somebody who has vast experience, both external and internal, and somebody with integrity who can be ready to withstand the pressure because Pura is not an easy job and when I was taking this job I knew it was going to be very difficult because I know a lot of Gambians, and I am related to a lot, here and there. But when you are a regulator, you have to be very strict but also flexible where you can do things rightly without trampling on the laws and regulations. And the grey area is very grey, so to speak. And sometimes people don’t understand and they would think, oh I know this guy, so things will just move, when there are rules guiding policy and procedures. I was fortunate enough, but I think also the country is fortunate because I was willing to run my private things which I was doing very well and being paid more than what I’m getting here. I’m still young. I can help my country.

There was talk in the grapevine that you are a supporter of President Barrow and that was why you were singled out.

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Well, you know in the grapevine, we always hear all kinds of stories. I know President Barrow long ago, but I tell you, I didn’t even remember him when I met him. He remembered me. He reminded me who I was when we met before. But he is one person I respect because he keeps history in his head. And I am not afraid if I am touted as a supporter of President Barrow. As a regulator, one doesn’t have to be a supporter of one party or another. The president is given a mandate to hire the regulator. All regulators in the past were appointed by presidents. You won’t see my NPP membership card but one thing I can tell you I won’t be ashamed if I was an NPP supporter. But the job I was given was to serve The Gambia. And since I started this job, I can tell you unequivocally that the president has never called or directed me to do this or that. That was something that I asked of him before I accepted this job. I know how challenging it was going to be. Some things you will do in order to do the right thing, people will get up and go to the highest authority. And the highest authority here is the president who gave me this job. So, if you don’t do things their way, the first thing they do is go to the president to destroy your image or to get you fired…

As DG of Pura, what is your remit?

Thank you. I have quite interesting powers, but most people have a complete different perspective on what I do, or what my powers are. I see it always on the social when people quote certain things and said what is the Pura DG doing about it when it is not even Pura’s role or responsibility. Our power and responsibility is to serve as a conduit and intermediary to ensure that the public is served properly, and that all facilities that have public authority are executing their roles properly and within Pura’s mandate. Like for example, the telecoms companies are within Pura’s mandate. What they do, we have to be concerned to check. Are they charging people properly? Are they giving quality service? We need to be able to ensure that that is being done and done properly. Sometimes the problem is, Pura’s mandate is so huge and the powers that it was supposed to have, it doesn’t have those powers for it to enforce effectively. But we are getting there. We are comparing ourselves to other regulatory bodies. Like for example, RURA [Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority], they have full powers, they issue licences, they evaluate, they decide, their funding comes to them. Unfortunately, we at Pura, have no power to issue licences. We evaluate and recommend to the minister to issue the licence. Therefore, there is a limit to what we can do. We can recommend and the minister can refuse. We can decide not to recommend and the minister issues. Petroleum, the same. ICT [sector], the same. So, a key important thing people need to be aware of is that Pura cannot even revoke a licence. We only recommend. For the regulator to be respected, it must be given those powers and mandate for people to take it seriously.

Why are the prices of Internet and telephone calls in The Gambia among the most expensive in Africa?

Many factors, key among them is the size of our market, which is very small. What does that do? You lack what is called economies of scale. Economies of scale refer to the power when you purchase things. For example, if you are ordering goods and materials and bought 100,000 of that material, and I buy 10,000 of that material, the person buying the 100,000 can get it for two dollars, maybe. I, buying 10,000 might end up paying five dollars because I am not buying in big volumes. So, if an operator is buying things for The Gambia, because of the size of our coverage, clientele and everything, he is restricted. The one in Senegal can buy ten million of the same items of which The Gambia can only buy a million. The fact that we have a small economy in this country also means that the operators have difficulty in getting the services that they need to bolster what they are going to achieve. Like for example, operators in The Gambia have to pay Nawec energy cost. The energy cost of The Gambia is not the same like Senegal, there’s a massive difference. The incessant power cuts which Nawec is trying to address – they are doing a lot of good jobs but there’s still more to be done – means that most of the operators have to buy heavy duty, high-powered generators to ensure that their operations are on-going. They have generators installed even on their towers. That cost a lot of money. An operator in Senegal doesn’t have to do that because he has no power cut problem. I’m not justifying that the price is right; I’m giving you some of the examples of why you cannot compare The Gambia to Senegal, or Guinea because it’s not apple and apples. There is a big discrepancy. Again, in Senegal, we have per-second billing. When you use your phone to make a call, it will charge you based on the seconds that you spent. When you use the Internet, it will charge you the same based on what you consume. Here, we have a PEG. We are not using per-second billing. When Pura wanted to introduce that during the Jammeh era, it was shut down so fast because the operators used their political muscle to shoot it down, and Pura people had to backtrack. Now, we are in that conundrum; it is who will bell the cat. The danger that Pura encounters and which we are trying to resolve, is the fact that the operators have money and equipment. If you are regulating them, you need the same equipment or money or even higher capacity than they have in terms of personnel. Otherwise, you will always be bamboozled or thrown away by what they are saying or doing because you don’t have the capacity. So, we need to capacitise the Pura staff, trained them adequately with the right equipment. We are getting there…

People say the two biggest GSM operators in the country have undue influence over Pura, and therefore as a regulator you are not able to do your job properly.

I think that’s very unfair, and that’s fake. I don’t know what happened in the past when I was not here, but I guarantee you since I came here one year now, I have not been muzzled by any GSM operator. And to tell you, no GSM operator wants a competitor. You could see the uproar when a licence was issued to another operator… I understand the concept because it’s a small market, but it doesn’t mean that there’s no facility for another operator, and it doesn’t mean that we cannot let other people do business in this country in the sector just because there are two big operators operating… There is a fact here that people need to understand. The operation of GSM is based on the spectrum that they have, and that spectrum is owned by the government, it is not owned by any operator. The government allocates the spectrum to operators. A lot has happened that when you look at it, the operators have more than what they need. It’s called hoarding, and it is done to prevent others from entering the market. Is it right? Is it correct? If you take a resource belonging to the state and you keep more than you need to prevent others from entering the market, that is wrong. That is illegal. Now we are trying to change that…

The interview continues Friday 8th July.

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