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GAMBIA: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS REFUTES CLAIMS MADE BY MALAGEN

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In a response, the government of Communications and Digital Economy (Mocde) denied claims made by the investigative news site Malagen that the government had given a training contract to a school run by its minister, Ousman Bah.

The newly established ministry’s contract with the institute run by the minister, Ousman Bah, to train IT specialists from various government ministries on digital transformation and cyber security was marred by conflict of interest, procurement rules violations, and possibly exorbitant costs, according to Malagen.

However, a statement issued by Lamin Camara, the ministry’s permanent secretary, denied that any agreement had been reached with IIHT. The ministry reportedly “sent Government officials to be trained at IIHT” but nothing else.

“We frequently receive training proposal requests from other training organizations. When someone is pertinent to our training requirements, we choose them to participate with PMO’s consent. According to the statement, this also depends on the funding for staff capacity-upgrading training.

“In this particular case, we received two proposals from IIHT as usual from most training institutions,” it continued. We looked through the ideas and decided to send our ICT personnel there for the training since we thought it would be very relevant to expose them to the hot topics of digital transformation and data protection. Minister Ousman Bah did not influence or guide our choice, as the article (Malagen) falsely claimed.

Regarding claims that the cost of the alleged contract was inflated, the ministry stated that the intended 90-day training was to be done without meals or drinks two days a week, for two hours each day. “This equates to 48 hours spread throughout 90 days. The second suggestion was for a 10-day intense course that would last eight (8) hours each day. Following discussions between the technical staff of the ministry and the school IIHT, we decided on the 10 days, which provides 80 hours of training time with meals and drinks included for the participants, in order to assure value for money. Being the vote controller, PS Camara remarked, “I consented to this option since it was the most logical, cost-effective, and money-saving option.

However, according to Malagen-based investigative journalist Mustapha K. Darboe, it is undeniable that the ministry engaged IIHT, an institution that is 90% owned by the minister, to provide a service.

“Whether or not you signed a contract, the reality remains that you paid them to train your workers. You can explain that you only sent them there to be trained if you don’t want to call that a contract. The fact remains that you hired them, the journalist said, according to The Standard.

Mustapha Darboe claimed that the ministry’s statement by no means addressed the problems.

“Our story was about the fact that the Ministry of Digital Economy went and hired the college of a minister that is overseeing that ministry to train IT officers and that is a clear conflict of interest, and the statement failed to address that,” he claimed.

Mr. Darboe responded when asked why, more than a week after the Malagen discoveries, no one appeared to have been held accountable: “The bottom line is the government does not care about accountability, and we have published far worse stories in The Gambia yet nothing seems to happen.”

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