The Thing with Gamtel/Gamcel

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Sometime last year, the government of the Gambia came out with a statement that it had resumed direct control of the country’s international voice gateway, terminating the services of intermediary company MGI. The move follows preliminary report by the ‘ICT Taskforce’ setup by the President for GAMTEL to directly collect international call termination fees from other operators – which should’ve been the case anyway!

In view of circumstances as to the scandalous contracts that MGI and ‘Spectrum international’ was, major questions still linger need clarifying by the management team at both GAMTEL & GAMCEL on why it chose to delegate the international gateway revenue collection to obscure & opaque firms. For a start, how did the deal come about, and who or whom approve of it? Excuse me, but can you try answer without the ‘Jammeh-card’ excuse label! A detailed forensic overview of Gamtel/Gamcel financial records is overdue; an independent audit is called for!

Back in 2008, we saw the then administration cancelled a partnership agreement with the Lebanese-owned ‘Spectrum International’, citing fundamental breaches of partnership agreement. The statement went on to elaborate underperformance of Spectrum blaming it for the deteriorating performance of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure under its watch. In writing this article, I found no trace to show that Spectrum had ever submitted financial statements, nor was the said contract subject to parliamentary scrutiny. As such, neither could one evidence if it had payed taxes to the state or that of other Gamtel-sanctioned contract under review – Please, there is need for clarity [PAC-PEC Committee in Parliament].

As things stand, suspicions run riot with regards to the financial regime & overall management of Gamtel/Gamcel super-structure. And if the ‘Janneh Commission’ is anything to go by, those intermediary firms contracted to the international gateway, making a fortune out of the deal, should be summoned before the judges. For all we know, Spectrum International and MGI could still be making money at the expense of Gamtel/Gamcel taking advantage of a poorly governed call termination collection system. The government of the Gambia better get its house in order, address wastage and leakages. Potentially, billions of dalasis may have been lost to corruption over the past many years, yet not a single head stand to pay a price. Yeah, I’m against privatisation, in case you ask, but I think it’s about time for a rethink on these fat-cat quangos being a drain on Gambian taxpayers.

Across Africa, change and progress continues, but so are bent officials are at it through dubious, selfish means to gain ill-gotten wealth. In view of the changing times and the many challenges ahead, Gambia need a regulatory mechanism ‘Telecoms Regulator’ to reign in changes & provide oversight over the country’s telecommunication industry.

In a recent interview with #ThePoint Newspaper, the managing director of Gamcel, Elizabeth Mendy-Jonhson, was quoted as saying, ‘MGI was to be paid the [ridiculous]amount of one million dollars, but that the company would not ask for it’. But when put to her by Counsel Bensouda that MGI has already deducted $1,093,600 for roaming; she replied to not being aware of that transaction. Hang on a minute, so a whooping fifty million dalasis deducted from a public-owned enterprise yet the person in charge knew nothing about it – well you do the math!

Soon after parting ways with MGI, Gamtel was losing a million dalasi a day. This is not my opinion, but government itself, raising further questions where all that money disappeared to? Government should adhere to public calls for a proper audit of all parastatals, especially GRA and Ports, because it worries see officials struggle to recollect transactions amounting to several millions they had signed for. That gives pause for concern; for a parliamentary probe into the telecommunication company’s financial history from 1994 to date.

Gibril Saine   Twitter: @gibbysaine

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