Gambia’s first daily newspaper founded by veteran Liberian Journalist Kenneth Y. Best and later seized by the Military Junta in Gambia has been ordered closed with immediate effect. On Wednesday afternoon June 14th enforcement agents of The Gambia Revenue Authority -GRA- came to the Daily Observer Newspaper and ordered the staff to vacate the office on closure order from Gambia’s Revenue Authority.
The powerful revenue authority claimed that the Observer has been owing them exorbitant arrears accumulated over time in the span of the last two decades. The agency ordered the closure of the daily paper operations until when they settle the arrears amounting to over 17 million Dalasis approximately $380,000 US dollars. The arrears are believed to have accumulated since Gambian Dictator Yahya Jammeh seized the vibrant paper and deported its founder to his native Country Liberia.
Since the deportation of Kenneth Y Best Observer’s legal ownership has been a mysterious unanswered question. Many Gambians continued to speculate that the newspaper was owned by Gambia’s former dictator Yahya Jammeh, after he forcefully took over the country in 1994 and subsequently started operating the paper under his watch. After ordering the deportation of the experienced Journalist and proprietor of the paper, Jammeh started hiring his own staff to run the paper.
Liberian born Kenneth Best was arrested and subsequently deported to his native country. The government then turned the paper into a pro-government newspaper until the fall of the APRC regime . Since then, the exact legal ownership of the paper remained mysterious. Some speculated that President Jammeh did compensate Mr. Best for up to 1 million dalasi thereby turning the paper to his own personal company. Others said the daily paper was purchased by Amadou Samba Gambia’s business tycoon who was a close ally of the former President. There were additional speculations that the Observer in fact belongs to the late Baba Jobe, a business man who was prosecuted by the Jammeh regime on financial crimes. Mr. Jobe was convicted and died while serving jail term. Sources say one of Mr. Jobe’s wives is currently in possession of Observer’s legal documents.
The closure of the paper has raised many questions on whether the GRA has the authority to arbitrarily close companies without a court order. Others are quick to call it an attempt to stifle on the press by the new government after 22 years of brutal suppression of free speech under the former regime. Gainako has reached out to the ministry of information, the GRA leadership and the Daily observer editorial for comments. A senior staffer we spoke to confirmed the order for them to shut down and called it an attempt to silence them without warning. The Barrow government must clarify on what ground such actions are being taken else they risk being labelled by opponents and media practitioners as a government that is being intolerance to the press.
This is a developing story and more details will follow…
Report file by MS Bah and & Demba Baldeh