By Edrissa Jallow, @EdrissaJallow10
There has been significant criticism and misinformation this year around the fleet of fifty-eight brand-new Toyota Prados costing millions of Dalasis, provided to elected and nominated members of the Sixth Legislature. Questions have always remained around the actual cost of the vehicles, whether taxpayers are footing the Bill or if the Parliamentarians themselves are paying for the vehicles outrightly.
This article clarifies the misinformation and presents the facts about the fleet of Luxury Toyota Prado TX-L (4×4) vehicles procured by the National Assembly Service to provide transportation to Representatives and enhance their constituency engagements and oversight functions.
Speaker Responds to Luxury Vehicle Criticism
One of the biggest critics of the luxury vehicle scheme is the popular online news platform WhatsOn Gambia. According to their highly followed Facebook page, the luxury Toyota SUV Prados cost taxpayers D3.5 million dalasis. However, as many would come to know, the vehicles actually cost D2.5 million and come provided with insurance from Royal Insurance, a number plate and all the required vehicle registration documentation.
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon Fabakary Tombong Jatta, responded to critics of the luxury vehicle scheme during the handing-over ceremony. During his speech, Speaker Jatta noted that the purchase of the vehicles is “actuated out of necessity”.
“I am fully aware of the concerns raised by the public regarding the provision of mobility for the members of the National Assembly. However, while I appreciate this concern as it shows the interest our people have taken in the governance of the state, I wish to assure every Gambian that due process was followed throughout the process and the best value for money has been achieved,” said Speaker Jatta.
Previously the majority member of the fourth legislature Hon Fabakary noted that in the past “Honorable members of the National Assembly faced significant challenges in commuting to the assembly chambers for sittings that resulted to a lack of quorum or late start of the sittings.”
However, of late the Sixth Legislature has not been starting as early as the Fifth Legislature but they have not had significant issues around lack of Quorum as opposed to the Fifth Legislature.
Speaker Jatta at handing over ceremony (c) Yusef TaylorThe National Assembly constitutes fifty-eight National Assembly Members, fifty-three are elected from constituencies with the remaining five being nominated by the President which includes the Speaker and Deputy Speaker.
Each National Assembly Member (NAM) received their highly anticipated SUV Toyota luxury Prado TX-L (4×4) vehicle on Friday 18th August 2023 after waiting for more than fourteen months. Lawmakers are currently in the second year of their five-year term following their election and nomination into Parliament in April 2022.
The fleet of vehicles was supplied by Cooperation for Africa and Overseas (CFAO) Motors Gambia Limited situated at Mamadi Manjang Highway, Kanifing. Below is the first page of the agreement.
The Loan Vehicle Agreement
Section 3 of the loan vehicle agreement document obtained by Gainako, clarifies that the Toyota Prado TX-L (4×4) purchased, costs D2.5 million which is equivalent to US$41,111 at the Central Bank rate of 60.81 per dalasi. The loan vehicle agreement is signed by Lawmakers and the Clerk of the National Assembly Mr Momodou A Sise.
Meanwhile, sections four and five of the same documents explain that lawmakers will pay fifty per cent 50% of the purchased amount which is D1.25 million by instalments, and section eight dictates that “payments of instalments shall be made monthly for the period of five years from July 2022 to April 2027”.
In this regard, our reporter questioned the Deputy Clerk, Legal and Procedural Matters Kalipha MM Mbye on the actual amount deducted from the salaries of each lawmaker. In response, Mr Mbye revealed that lawmakers have been deducted “twenty-two thousand and one hundred and twenty-four dalasi (D22,124)” monthly. Gainako has confirmed the amount after reaching out to two NAMs.
Additionally, Mr Mbye highlighted that “no transport allowance” was given to representatives since being sworn in. However, one of the NAMs confirmed to Gainako that transport allowance has been “part of our [NAMs] salaries since 5th and 6th legislatures”.
Looking at the 2023 Approved Budget and the 2024 Draft Budget shows that transport allowance is budgeted for staff who are usually considered different from Parliamentarians. Regardless our budget research reveals that over D4.1 million was budgeted to be spent on Transport Allowance for staff in 2022, 2023 and for 2024.
According to our budget research basic car allowance approved for Parliamentarians came up to D34.8 million dalasis in 2023 and 2024. However, in 2022 the total amount approved to be spent on basic car allowance was D27.36 million dalasis, which means basic car allowance increased by 21.4% from 2022 to 2023.
Who Pays for the Vehicles?
According to the vehicle agreement document, the cost of the vehicles will be split in half, with one-half of the cost going to the state and the other part of the cost going to National Assembly members. Our research reveals that Parliamentarians will have to pay a total of half of the cost plus 3% interest on the principal from July 2022 to April 2027.
However, in the beginning, taxpayers will be responsible for paying up the money while half of the cost will be recovered from Parliamentarians through their monthly repayments.
The Procurement Process?
To shed more light on the procurement process, Hon Alhagie Mbow for Upper Saloum and Vice Chairperson of Parliament’s Finance and Public Account Committee granted Gainako an interview on the newly delivered vehicles. Hon Mbow confirmed that members didn’t determine the type of vehicle to be purchased and this was left to the Office of the Clerk who launched a bidding process.
“Members of parliament did not determine the type of vehicle, we did not say [to the Clerk to] go and buy Prado, Pajero or Toyota,” said How Mbow.
Regarding, maintenance of the fifty-eight luxury vehicles, Hon Mbow explained that members are responsible for “taking care of the vehicle in terms of maintenance, in terms of the driver and in terms of the fuel. Even the insurance, members are actually responsible and that’s the reason why the member is paying 50% and takes care of all the other things. At the end of the 5 years, then the member actually owns the vehicle”.
As a returning member of the previous Fifth Legislature, Hon Mbow revealed that the initiative was conceived by the Fifth Legislature who “put together a budget loan scheme” which also applied to other government institutions that is “if you work for the government and you qualify for [a] car loan depending on your salary and your grade you are able to take one once approved and then you pay 50% and then the rest is paid back to the government”.
Clerk: “Vehicles are Sourced Through Open Tender”
During the handing over ceremony held on Friday 18th August 2023, the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr Momodou A. Sise told members, dignitaries and the press present that the procurement of the fleet of luxury vehicles was determined through an open tender, followed by a vetting process.
“The vehicles are sourced through an open tender with a very competitive vetting process. All the documents were processed and reviewed and approved by the procurement authority,” said Clerk Sise.
In addition, “the vehicle loan scheme is facilitated by the resources of cooperation with the Ministry of Finance and the National Assembly [and it] is anticipated that the provision of these facilities shall encourage members to continue undertaking their duties and responsibilities effectively and efficiently”.
Who Are CFAO Motors?
CFAO Motor Gambia Limited brands itself as one of the leading mobility service suppliers in The Gambia. According to its website, the office was established in The Gambia in 1888 and “is the exclusive Gambian distributor for Bridgestone”. This means that the company is currently 135 years old since it began its operation in The Gambia. Bridgestone is the world’s largest tire and rubber company.
CFAO 2023 profile report states that the company is currently present in thirty-nine African countries and an additional six overseas territories namely; France, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Dubai, and India with €7.9 Billion of which 90% is revenue earned in Africa from April 2022 to March 2023.
CFAO’s main office is based in France and the current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CFAO group is known as Mr. Richard Bielle.