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HomeBreaking NewsGAMBIA: TOURISM MINISTER FACES PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE PROBING CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS AT GT BOARD

GAMBIA: TOURISM MINISTER FACES PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE PROBING CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS AT GT BOARD

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Hamat Bah, the minister of tourism, testified before the committee of the National Assembly that is investigating allegations of corruption at the GTBoard. Concerns were raised in a petition to the Assembly by some staff regarding the conduct of senior officials of the GT Board and the minister himself, among other things, with regard to the allocation of lands in TDA, the awarding of contracts for the construction of ecolodges, and abuse of office. The petition contained the allegations.

Environmental lodges
Mr. Bah testified before a public petition committee presided over by Wuli NAM Suwaibou Touray that despite presiding over the placement of the foundation stone in Barra, he was unaware of the specifics of the contract for the construction of ecolodges.

Furthermore, he asserted that he was unaware of the rationale behind the awarding of the contract to Lerr Group, but that the experience was “catastrophic” due to the contractor’s “unpredictability.”
As per his statement, upon learning that the contract had been granted to Lerr, President Barrow contacted him to caution that the contractor, who had a negative experience with the government, could not be relied upon and would fail to fulfill its obligations.

Land allotments and advertising

The minister refuted any personal involvement in land allocations, stating that the process was carried out by a lands committee in consultation with the GT-Board. He added that the ministry becomes involved only after decisions have been finalized.

He stated that he cannot recall the number of investors allocated to the estates committee or its composition.

Exemption from levies

The petitioners contended that Minister Bah intervened in the process of waiving levies that MOAB Capital and Kaijiang Holding Group were obligated to pay, resulting in a financial loss exceeding $450,000.

When asked whether he had written to the GT-Board DG requesting that levies be waived, the minister responded that the authority to do so—at the discretion of investors according to their financial resources—had been granted by a ministerial decision.
“A paper proposing that all investors make a pre-work payment of 10 percent was submitted to the cabinet; however, it was met with strong opposition; we acknowledge their apprehensions. “Therefore, the cabinet instructed me to be flexible and set it at 5 percent, but I retain the discretion to grant a discount to any investor who requests one,” he continued.

When asked if he is familiar with Kaijiang Holding Group in particular, the minister responded, “I may not know who writes; however, I take action if their writing is authentic.”

A divergence of interests

The petitioners further contended that a conflict of interest existed on the Governing Board of the GTB due to the marital status of the ministry’s director of finance and permanent secretary.

Minister Bah responded, “When asked if he was aware of any conflicts of interest on the board, he stated, “The spouse served as the PS and the husband is the director of finance.” While it was an accident, these individuals are experts. Their actions are dictated by their occupational obligations.

Sulayman Saho, a NAM for Central Baddibu and committee member, questioned the minister on whether he is cognizant of the fact that familial obligations can have an impact on professional relationships.

“However, that did not occur,” Bah responded.

The resolution of a board

The petitioners contended that Abdoulie Baks Touray, the former board chairman, was removed from his position subsequent to his acceptance and grant of an audience to the staff who were dissatisfied with the manner in which the contract for environmental lodges was awarded.

Minister Bah, on the other hand, stated that the board was dissolved for failing to carry out his directive to send GT Board employees home during Covid-19.

“Upon the arrival of Covid, tourism dropped to zero.” A dime did not arrive. All individuals became destitute. It was critical that the GT-Board, as the principal body whose stakeholders were located at ground zero, exhibit compassion towards them. Therefore, in order to demonstrate that we also value our stakeholders’ opinions, I mandated that the entire staff return home and be compensated at half of their regular remuneration. I expressed my dissatisfaction with the level of implementation in a letter to the chairman, so I resolved to exercise my authority to dissolve the board and establish a new one in order to execute my decision. It is my firm stance until tomorrow. “I possessed those constitutional powers,” stated Hamat Bah.
Additionally, he asserted that the dismissal of Baks Touray was executed after consulting with the president.

Suwaibou Touray, chairperson of the committee, questioned the minister regarding the source of his authority and power to discharge the staff. “As the minister, it originated from me,” he responded.

Interference with

Additionally, the minister faced allegations of exerting influence over the hiring decisions of certain personnel at the GT Board.

He informed legislators, however, that he had no say in the employment decisions of others. Citizens with the ability to apply who were subsequently qualified and appointed.

Fatoumatta Jawara, vice-chairman of the committee, inquired, “Are you acquainted with Fatou Sowe and Jackie Josephine Ashante, and if so, for what duration of time?”

Minister Bah replied, “About a year prior to the election, I was acquainted with them. They accompanied us throughout the campaign. They advocated on our behalf until I brought them to my office in my capacity as an office and protocol assistant, where we proceeded to assign them to the GT-Board. GT-Board employed and compensated them.

When asked which portfolios the GT-Board members were appointed to, he responded, “I have no idea. I simply instructed them to assess their suitability in light of their credentials.

GT Board funding for travel of the ministry

The minister affirmed that GT-Board allocates funds for ministry-related travel, should it be associated with tourism.

“Such is typical. “The fact that the ministry receives the least amount of funding from the national budget aids us in our endeavors,” Hamat explained.

“Are per diem payments made?” inquired chairman Touray.

“Yes, so long as it pertains to the tourism industry,” Minister Bah replied.

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