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HomeBreaking NewsGAMBIA: A FORMER BSAC CEO ACCUSES FORMER FINANCE DIRECTOR SUSO OF FORGING...

GAMBIA: A FORMER BSAC CEO ACCUSES FORMER FINANCE DIRECTOR SUSO OF FORGING SIGNATURES

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During his testimony before the Commission, Ousman Touray, a previous Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Basse Area Council, said that Lamin Suso, the former Finance Director of the aforementioned council, had engaged in the act of forging Touray’s signature on some vouchers.

During his appearance before the Commission on Monday, the former CEO, Touray, reiterated his acknowledgment of the wrongdoing that occurred during his tenure, although failed to provide a comprehensive analysis or resolution of these issues.

The Basse Area Council had a significant financial problem throughout the period of 2018 to 2023, as shown by witness statements and audit results. The Local Government of Inquiry is now engaged in a comprehensive and unbiased examination of the local councils. The objective of this inquiry is to improve transparency and accountability by conducting a thorough and equitable assessment of the financial and administrative activities of the councils.
The findings of the audit reports have substantiated the assertion that Lamin Suso, the former Finance Director, engaged in the practice of withdrawing cash from the accounts of the Basse Area Council and then transferring them to his personal company account, which was identified as Alatentu Agency. The sum exceeded 6 million Dalasi. The examination of account statements obtained from the banks has indicated that some individuals responsible for revenue collection within the Basse Area Council, as well as staff of the Finance Unit within the same Council, have made deposits into the Alatentu account.

According to Ousman Touray, the primary factor contributing to the issue of revenue collection at the Basse Area Council is the behavior shown by the revenue collectors, coupled with the inadequate oversight provided by the Finance Unit of the Council. According to the witness, several councillors were seen engaging in tax collecting activities alongside the revenue collectors. During a council meeting, Ousman Touray said that several colleagues expressed reservations over the direct collection of taxes from the populace, arguing that such an action was beyond the scope of their designated responsibilities. The rationale provided by Garry and a select few individuals was that tax collectors have to be granted more authority in order to carry out their collecting duties. In the event that they are unable to fulfill these responsibilities, it was suggested that they should be replaced with more capable individuals. According to the witness, the lack of support from other councillors resulted in the failure to make a resolution about the cessation of income collecting activities by councillors in the Basse Administrative Area.

According to the witness, throughout the year 2021, their yearly budget included several development initiatives; however, none of these projects were successfully implemented.

According to the witness, considering the income and liabilities at hand, it was clearly not feasible to allocate any funds towards development initiatives at that period.

The estimated budget for the projects in 2021 exceeded 32 Million Dalasi. The Commission observed that the Basse Area Council acquired loans totaling 15 Million Dalasi from financial institutions in late 2021, funds that were not included in the Council’s budget. According to the previous Chief Executive Officer, the reason might be attributed to inadequate strategic planning.

According to the witness, a significant issue encountered was attributed to inadequate preparation.

According to the testimony of Ousman Touray, the loans in question were presented to the general council for approval, but it should be noted that not all of the loans underwent this formal process. According to Touray, he was granted power of attorney by the council to pursue money via loan arrangements.

According to the witness, the general council is not notified of the provision of overdraft capabilities at the bank.

According to the witness, he would use Council assets documentation as collateral for the loans obtained from financial institutions.

Lead Counsel Yakarr Cox inquired the witness to elucidate the rationale behind the Council’s decision to provide him a power of attorney for the execution of duties that were already included under his professional responsibilities. However, the witness was unable to provide a response to the posed query. Counsel Cox posited that the responsibilities of the Chief Executive Officer include the execution of contracts on behalf of the Council. In light of this, if the power of attorney was intended to confer upon him the authority to sign contracts on behalf of the Council, what rationale would it hold? According to the witness’s testimony, the power of attorney in question was obtained from the general council. However, the witness was unable to identify the specific individual or individuals who urged the council to grant him the power of attorney.

Do you not believe that the implementation of a council decision would have sufficed, rather than resorting to the establishment of a power of attorney? The inquiry was made by Vice Chairperson Samba Faal.

Indeed, the adoption of a council resolution proved sufficient. According to Ousman Touray, the reason for the situation may be attributed to a deficiency of appropriate guidance, as we should have halted our actions upon the council decision to ensure loan security.

In regard to the council projects, the Commission observed that the Basse Area Council successfully executed about 28 projects over the specified period of evaluation. When queried about the inclusion of any of the projects in the Council’s procurement strategy, the witness expressed an inability to provide such information. According to Ousman Touray, the Council lacks the necessary financial resources to execute the proposed initiatives.

Was there a genuine anticipation that these initiatives would be financially supported when they were conceived? Lead Counsel Cox inquired.

The witness expressed their opinion that it is not feasible to provide funding for all of these initiatives.

According to the Commission, the Basse Area Council estimated that the cost of implementing the projects for the year 2023 would amount to 33.5 Million Dalasi. The witness was informed by Chairperson Jainaba Bah that the forecasts lacked a foundation in actual data.

Chairperson Bah criticized the act of making assumptions and hastily creating a paper.

The witness concurred, acknowledging the accuracy of the statement.

According to the witness, several initiatives outlined in the 2023 budget were already included in the budgets of preceding years. According to Ousman Touray, some projects were included in the budget despite a prior determination that particular wards would not get any projects during that year.

Why do you create the perception among others that they will get something, yet being aware that they will not have any kind of benefit? Lead Counsel Yakarr Cox inquired.

The witness responded by expressing their disagreement with the situation.

These individuals are the same individuals from whom you get income. If one were to find himself in a similar situation, would they have chosen to fulfill their tax obligations while lacking knowledge on the allocation of their tax payments? Counsel Cox inquired.

The witness responded by expressing that extracting information from them would be a challenge.

According to Ousman Touray, it is essential that the council’s budget be grounded in realism in order to ensure that initiatives are effectively aligned with both programmatic and resource considerations.

Lead Counsel Yakarr Cox said that had Mr. Touray adhered to the established regulations, he would have obtained a favorable budget. Consequently, Mr. Touray now finds himself in a state of anticipation for a new system, although lacking familiarity with its operational mechanisms.

The witness said that the root cause of all these issues may be attributed to a deficiency in the process of reconciliation.

Lawyer Cox expressed dissatisfaction with the individual’s failure to fulfill their obligations.

The witness responded affirmatively.

In light of the Council’s inability to adhere to the existing system, how do you anticipate its ability to operate effectively under a new system? If one is unable to do a task now, what is the rationale for the need to complete it at a later time? Lead Counsel Yakarr Cox inquired.

The witness responded by expressing the anticipated challenge.

Lead Counsel Yakar Cox said that the root of the issue is with individuals rather than the institution.

The witness acknowledged that the individuals involved, including themselves, were the source of the issue.

According to the findings of the Establishment Committee of the Basse Area Council in the year 2020, it was reported that there were a total of 218 individuals employed as staff members. However, the Establishment Register revealed a different figure, stating that there were 124 staff members and 24 individuals receiving pension benefits. The chairperson inquired about the discrepancy, to which the witness responded by stating that the accurate count of staff members was 124, while the number of pensioners was at 24. As of June 2023, the Basse Area Council disburses a sum of D871,772.51 (Eight Hundred and Seventy-One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Two Dalasi Fifty-One Butut). A total sum of D76,000, consisting of Seventy-Six Thousand Dalasi, is disbursed via over-the-counter transactions, while the remaining amount is settled by bank payments as of June 2023.

According to the witness, he is now on administrative leave and continues to receive his entire pay, including all associated allowances. The individual said that they continue to get the IFMIS stipend amounting to Ten Thousand Dalasi (D10,000), notwithstanding their current lack of employment.

The witness emphasized that because the technology is not being used, it would be inappropriate to get compensation for it.

According to the witness, the purpose of the IFMIS System is to enhance operational efficiency inside the councils, while also ensuring alignment between the councils and the central government. According to Ousman Touray, the system is provided at no cost.

Therefore, what is the rationale behind the decision to remunerate oneself for using a system that is provided at no cost and designed to facilitate one’s work? According to Lead Counsel Yakarr Cox, there has been a consistent practice of self-compensation from the inception of the venture.

According to Ousman Touray, the rationale for granting themselves the IFMIS System allowance was based on the principle that the central government compensates its employees, thus implying that the Basse Area Council should similarly provide remuneration for its personnel.

According to the witness, the Director of Finance receives a remuneration of Eight Thousand Dalasi (D8,000) as an allowance for the IFMIS System. Conversely, the other staff members in the accounting unit, as well as the engineer and planner, each get a compensation of Five Thousand Dalasi (D5,000).

The former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) became aware of the business accounts of the former Director of Finance subsequent to the completion of the system audit. Ousman Touray does not own ownership of any commercial enterprises.

The inventory of landed properties owned by the Basse Area Council was formally presented and accepted as evidence, thereafter designated as an exhibit. According to the witness, none of the aforementioned lands have been subject to leasing agreements.

The Commission observed that the Basse Area Council allocated a greater portion of its budget towards the construction and maintenance of administrative facilities, relative to the amount allocated for overall development initiatives. In 2019, the expenditure allocated to the finance section exceeded 4 Million Dalasi.

According to Deputy Lead Counsel Patrick Gomez, an analysis of the financial records of the Basse Area Council reveals a significant allocation of funds towards administrative expenses, while very few or no investments have been made towards developmental initiatives.

According to Lawyer Patrick Gomez, the expenditure allocated to the finance office in 2019 was three times more than the expenditure allocated to development.

According to the witness, the yearly expenditure for salaries amounts to around 7 Million Dalasi. A total of 1.4 million units of currency were allocated for transportation expenses, while an amount of 2 million Dalasi was exclusively designated for the Finance Department.

According to the witness, it is essential that the development beyond just recurring costs.

According to the witness, the state of affairs at the Basse Area Council was deemed abnormal.

Deputy Lead Counsel Patrick Gomez provided the witness with the vouchers ex-Finance Director Lamin Suso tendered before the Commission. Lamin Suso already informed the Commission that those vouchers should be discarded since he already discredited them.

The Commission noted that the vouchers do not meet the requirements as they have several discrepancies in terms of date, voucher numbers, signatures and information.

The witness said some of the vouchers were signed by the director of finance.

“The signature on the column I was supposed to sign is not my signature. The signature was forged,” the witness said.

Ousman Touray said the reason why he did not sign some of those vouchers was because the finance unit could not justify those claims for payment. The witness said the compliance auditors from GPPA flagged that during one of their exit meetings after carrying out an audit of the Basse Area Council procurement activities. When asked whether he reported the matter to the general council, former CEO Ousman Touray said he did not report the matter to the general council for decision to be taken. The witness insisted that Lamin Suso used to forge his signature to sign on vouchers.

“To me you created the Finance Director,” Gomez said.

“Yes,” the witness answered.

“You made him who he was,” Gomez said.

“Yes,” Ousman Touray answered.

“That was why it was difficult to report him,” Lawyer Gomez said.

“This was why you could not report him,” Lawyer Gomez said.

“Yes,” the witness answered.

The witness said he was not aware of any instance when the former director of finance Lamin Suso pre-financed the activities of the Basse Area Council.

He was asked about a 400 Thousand Dalasi withdrawal by Ndabah Krubally. The witness said the 1 by 6 salary payments are from the revenue collected and the rest are from bank overdraft. He explained that the Director of Finance has never pre-financed salary for the 1 by 6 salary. The former CEO said the former finance director was not truthful to the Commission when he mentioned that he pre-financed the 1 by 6 salary payments.

Ndabah Krubally, who withdrew the money, said the money was given to Lamin Suso as a refund for the 1 by 6 salary payment. The witness said that was an arrangement between Lamin Suso and Ndabah Krubally, of which he was not involved and not aware.

Lawyer Gomez informed the witness that there have been several instances when the Council’s monies were withdrawn and deposited in Lamin Suso’s business account – Alatentu Agency. The Commission noted that Bubacar M.J. Kanteh, also a former finance director used to withdraw huge sums of money from the Basse Area Council accounts. Deputy Lead Counsel Gomez listed some more people who withdrew monies from the Council’s accounts

“You were part of the problem until it got to a certain level that you couldn’t take control,” Lawyer Gomez said.

The lawyer dismissed the witness’ testimony that he was not aware of those withdrawals and the witness admitted that he was aware of the withdrawals.

The auditors indicated there was weak governance at the Basse Area Council and the committees were not sitting regularly. The dormant committees were the agriculture sub-committee, education sub-committee, finance sub-committee and development sub-committee among others.

“What had happened to the Basse Area Council under our tenure was not fair to the Basse Area Council and the people of the area,” the witness said.

Deputy Lead Counsel Gomez told the witness that Basse Area Council prepared a budget without development activity.

“Correct. We were indebted because of the liabilities,” the witness said.

“For you people, development was not a priority,” Gomez said.

The witness said they had the intention to implement development plans, but they don’t have the funds.

“You guys were busy spending monies in your offices and you did nothing for development,” Counsel Gomez said.

The witness admitted that a huge chunk of the money was spent on their offices instead of development.

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