By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
Gainako has obtained a copy of the Inspection Report on “the Fraud Allegations at the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC)” commissioned by the Ministry of Lands, Regional Government and Religious Affairs (MoLRG), then under the leadership of Minister Musa Drammeh. Back in June 2021, KMC Mayor Talib Ahmed Bensouda revealed that the Council had suspended five staff in relation to a fraudulent D12 million loan taken in the Council’s name without their approval.
Council is composed of elected Councillors, Mayor and Chairpersons; however, council staff are employed by the Government. In The Gambia apart from one council, the remaining seven councils are led by arguably the biggest opposition, the United Democratic Party (UDP). However, the Government is run by President Adama Barrow’s National People’s Party which has been at odds with his former party, the UDP.
In the lead-up to the December 2021 Presidential Elections, former Lands Minister Drammeh led the Government’s efforts to initiate an Inspection Report and a Commission of Inquiry into KMC’s D12 million fraud allegations. The Inspection Report finalised in October 2021 highlights that the team of Inspectors verified “the authenticity of the fraud allegations” by going through documents and conducting interviews and site visits.
Five KMC Staff Suspended
The suspended staff were accused of taking a loan to purchase a plot of land for senior staff of the Council, however, the Inspection Report reveals that apart from the suspended staff listed below, none of the staff knew that a loan was taken for their benefit. The five suspended staff are namely KMC CEO, Mrs Sainabou Martin Sonko, Assistant Waste Manager also the Treasurer for the KMC Staff Welfare Association (Welfare Association/ KMCSWA), Mr Baboucarr Sanyang, Finance Director Dr Alieu Keita, Deputy Director of Compliance Mr Bakary Jawo, the Deputy Collection Supervisor also the Social Secretary of the Welfare Association, Mr Mam Kabba Bass and the President of the Welfare Association Mr Modou A Njie.
According to the Inspection Report, a list of 35 senior staff were prepared who were supposedly interested in acquiring land, however, “apart from Dr Alieu Keita and CEO Sainabou who are on the list —the rest all claimed not to be aware of any plot of land being negotiated on their behalf nor have any of them discussed with KMCSWA to take a loan on their behalf to purchase a parcel of land”.
The scope of the investigation report focused on the D12 million Loan, an alleged forged letter which tied KMC as guarantor for the loan repayments, solicitation of a D30,000 bribe and much more.
With such a report in the hands of the government, it begs the question of why the MoLRG has not acted on the recommendations authored by their team of Inspectors including two from MoLRG in George Nyouki and Sainey Nding. The other three Inspectors were from the Directorate of Internal Audit under the Ministry of Finance, namely; Lamin Dibba, Burama Jatta and Modou Jobe.
On Thursday 24th February 2023 some of the aforementioned staff reported to work at the Council with security officers. After selecting an office of their choice a carpenter was observed removing the lock and replacing it with a new lock. Our reporter took this photo of the suspended KMC staff waiting for the carpenter to change the locks and hand them the keys.
Mayor Bensouda: Judge Ordered for Inspection Report
Speaking at the press conference organised by the Gambia Association of Local Government Authorities (GALGA), KMC Mayor Bensouda confirmed that after MoLRG “handpicked people they trusted to come into the Council, investigate Mayor, investigate Councillors, investigate staff and they came up with a report after three months of scrutiny. How come after that the report disappeared?”
In fact, according to Mayor Bensouda, the report only surfaced after KMC Lawyers challenged the Government’s decision to set up a Commission of Inquiry in court. “We challenged [the decision to set up a Commission of Inquiry] in Court because we wanted to know on what basis are you setting up this Commission of Inquiry”. In his view “for a Commission of Inquiry to [be] set up a report must be presented — based on a finding. So that is when the court ordered them [to submit] what basis are you using to set up a Commission. And the judge ordered them to produce the report that’s when the Inspector’s Report came out”.
The Inspection Report revealed that after AGIB Bank was contacted for the loan they recommended the services of a certified property valuation company named Agbon and Associate to conduct a property valuation. According to the report the property was actually valued at D10 million instead of D12 million; however, this advice was ignored by Treasurer Baboucarr Sanyang, in particular, who was unwilling to budge.
Treasurer Sanyang is quoted in the report insisting that their Association “have already agreed on the price with the landowner and that is what they were going to pay despite the valuation price of Agbon and Associate”.
D12 Million Loan Taken for D10 Million Plot of Land
After all the negotiations and valuations CEO Sonko and Treasurer Sanyang took “a loan of 12 million Dalasis while they agreed with the landowner to purchase the land at 10 million Dalasis”. The reasons they advanced for this are “that they wanted to use part of the monies to pay for the clearing of the parcel of land, pay for the demarcation of the plots and for the bank to deduct their charges”.
The land in question measures 100m x 100m and is located in Brufut belonging to one Mariama Fanneh.
Another irregularity identified by Inspectors highlights that although CEO Sonko led plans to secure the plot of land on behalf of the Welfare Association she was not an Executive member of the Association and did not have the authority to make decisions on their behalf. In fact, CEO Sonko went to the extent of becoming a signatory to their bank accounts which was against the Association’s constitution.
Determined to secure the loan without the consent of both KMC and MoLRG, Inspectors revealed how CEO Sonko and Dr Keita went ahead to forge a guarantee letter for the loan “committing the Council to take full responsibility for the loan in case of default”. After AGIB Bank received the forged letter Inspectors say they disbursed D10 million to Mariama Fanneh on the same day.
It’s also noted that the D12 million loan attracts an interest of D4,030,511. This translates to an interest rate of 33.59% which is extremely high.
Soon after the monies were disbursed Treasurer Sanyang withdrew D1.5 million which he claims to have paid “to Mr Sheriff Sarr of Sarr Construction Company situated in Kanifing, Jimpex Road who is a contractor and a former Councillor of KMC for clearing, demarcating and paving of roads in the acquired land and payment of capital gain tax to GRA”.
The report notes that payments to Mr Sarr “could not be substantiated by the inspection team nor could Mr Sanyang furnish the inspection team with any genuine receipt of payment emanating from Sarr Construction Company and GRA”. For such a significant amount, invoices would be required to ensure value for money, however, it appears Treasurer Sanyang cannot even prove that the payment was made to another former KMC Councillor which reeks of a conflict of interest.
Unsurprisingly, Inspectors have recommended that Mr Sanyang accounts for the D1.5 million “he personally withdrew from the KMCSWA account”.
More importantly, Inspectors note that “even when the land was bought those that are on the list were never informed of the availability of the parcel of land and they were never called to a meeting to discuss how the land will be demarcated and sold in order to repay the loan”.
In fact, after refusing to alert senior staff on the list, CEO Sonko revealed to Inspectors their contingency “plans to sell these plots to people outside of council who could afford them” in order to repay the loan if senior staff declined to purchase the plots.
This indicates that the plot of land could have been sold to non-KMC Staff for profit.
Recovering the Funds and Inspection Report Recommendations
On efforts to recover the D12 million loan, “Lord Mayor called AGIB [Bank] to cancel the loan transaction, the land owner returned the ten million Dalasi that was paid into her account.” This meant that the outstanding D2 million and over D4 million interest was outstanding.
It’s not clear if the interest was also deducted, however, Inspectors revealed that “there was some monies already in the KMCSWA account with AGIB prior to the D12 million being deposited into the account. Therefore, when the whole deal was frozen the bank was obliged to debit the main account of the KMC of D985,539.65 being the outstanding balance from the loan transactions”.
From the final signed Inspection Report, it’s clear that the Council has not been implicated by the report and the Mayor intervened prompting AGIB Bank to freeze the fraudulent transaction. This stopped the loss of more funds.
Most importantly, Inspectors recommend that “CEO Sainabou Martin Sonko, Baboucarr Sanyang, Bakary Jawo and Dr Alieu Keita must account for the monies that the AGIB Bank has debited from the KMC main account with the bank amounting to D985,539.65 being the outstanding balance of the D12 million Dalasi that the KMCSWA took from the bank”.
In addition to this, the Inspection report recommends that “Mr Baboucarr Sanyang must account for the D1.5 million that he personally withdrew from the KMCSWA account”.
Given that the Inspection Report was prepared by the Ministry of Lands it begs the question of how the same Ministry could insist that staff indicted by their report of gross corruption should report back to the KMC.
Our review of the Inspection Report will continue with more details on the alleged solicitation of a D30,000 bribe by CEO Sonko and the forgery of the guarantee letter which acquired the loan on behalf of the Council.
Follow the story from the news reports below.