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GAMBIA: IN CASE OF CORRUPTION IN THE HEALTH MINISTRY, THE STATE CALLS ITS FIRST WITNESS

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The first witness for the prosecution in the corruption and larceny trial of three health ministry officials has been summoned.

Muhammadou Lamin Jaiteh, Balla Kandeh, and Omar Malleh Ceesay are each accused of 19 counts, which include official corruption, neglect of statutory obligations, conspiracy to commission a felony, economic crimes, forgery, and larceny.

The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Yusuf, apprised the court of their preparedness to commence the proceedings and the presence of their primary witness upon the case’s resumption.

The accused’s attorney, Lamin S. Camara, expressed apprehensions regarding the state’s initial indictment’s exclusion of the witness statements that were scheduled to be presented. Furthermore, he highlighted the omission of the defendant’s voluntary and cautionary statements from the initial indictment. In reply, Honorable Justice Ebrima Jaiteh issued a directive to the DPP mandating the delivery of all essential documents intended for the defense’s perusal throughout the trial.
The State subsequently summoned its first witness to provide testimony. In her capacity as the initial prosecution witness, Satang B. Houma self-identified as the Financial Controller of the Ministry of Health’s Project Coordination Unit. The individual revealed her credentials as a chartered accountant and stated that she had been employed by the Ministry of Health since January 2018.

When queried about her awareness of the defendants, Satang B. Houma affirmed that she was familiar with two of them: Muhammadou Lamin Jaiteh (the third defendant) and Balla Kandeh (the initial defendant). Subsequently, Muhammadou Lamin Jaiteh was appointed Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, while Balla Kandeh served as the Project Manager of the National Malaria Control Program, as she elaborated further on their respective positions within the ministry.
“Before I began my tenure in the Project Unit of the Ministry of Health, Balla Kandeh held the position of National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) project manager.” Subsequently, Muhammadou Lamin Jaiteh assumed the position of Permanent Secretary within the Ministry of Health. “I have no recollection of what transpired thereafter,” the witness declared to the court.

Satang B. Houma elaborated on the role of the Financial Controller of the Project Coordination Unit within her department. This position entailed the supervision of the fiscal administration and fiduciary facets of projects undertaken by diverse development partners. The procedure she outlined involved the verification of program unit requests in relation to approved budgets, followed by the endorsement for fund disbursement, contingent upon the approval of the Permanent Secretary.
“In our capacity as the Project Coordination Unit, we bear the fiduciary responsibility and oversee the financial administration of all initiatives funded by the development partners. A request is submitted by a program entity to the Project Coordination entity on behalf of the program. We conduct the verification in order to ascertain whether the item is included in the budget that was approved. “We endorsed the disbursement of funds for the Permanent Secretary’s approval if it is included in the approved budget,” she informed the court.

Honorable Justice Jaiteh directed the witness to cease her testimony until the defense received the witness statements and the voluntary and cautionary statements of the accused individuals, which it was still pending to receive. The matter was postponed until 12 p.m. on November 8, 2023, in order to resume the hearing.

Context of the Case

Nineteen allegations have been brought against Mr. Balla Kandeh (the first defendant), Mr. Omar Malleh Ceesay (the second defendant), and Mr. Muhammadou Lamin Jaiteh (the third defendant).

The State has presented charges that include official corruption, which is a violation of Section 86(a) of the Criminal Code; non-compliance with statutory obligations as outlined in Section 115 of the Criminal Code; conspiracy to commit a felony as defined in Section 368 of the Criminal Code; and two counts of economic crimes, which are punishable under Section 6(1) of the Economic Crimes (Specified Offences) Act, cap 13:07.
In addition, the defendants are charged with five counts of larceny in violation of Section 252 of the Criminal Code and eight counts of forgery, as stipulated in Section 318 of the Criminal Code.

It is alleged that during their tenure at the Ministry of Health, these individuals embezzled and stole a significant amount of D24,313,332.26 (Twenty-four Million, Three Hundred and Thirteen Thousand, Three Hundred and Thirty-two Dalasis Twenty-Six Bututs). Furthermore, they are alleged to have pilfered USD 59,256.00, which is equivalent to D3,901,829.83 (three million, nine hundred and twenty-one dalasis eighty-three bututs), during their employment at the Ministry of Health.

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