REACTIONS TO THE ALLEGATIONS BY THE FREEDOM NEWSPAPER AGAINST THE MINISTER AND THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT WORKS AND INFRASTRUCTURE
On 4 and 6 May 2020, the online Freedom Newspaper published consecutive articles alleging that millions were stolen through corruption, nepotism, among other things, on part of the Minister of Transport Works and Infrastructure, in connivance with other named “culprits.”
On 4 May 2020, the Paper wrote: “Gambia’s Works Minister Bai Lamin Jobe has been named in a fraudulent contract bidding scandal, Freedom Newspaper can reveal. His Ministry had awarded a landscaping contract to the son of Hadim Gai, without following the bidding requirements as stipulated by the Public Procurement Act.”
First, the Minister of Works, like all other Government Ministers, cannot award, sign, or let alone sit even in the evaluation or selection Committee of contracts. The Minister, as a matter of rule, has no role in the day to day procurement process of The Ministry, including the award of contracts; this is the role of the Permanent Secretary. Second, the slandered “landscaping contract,” which is actually a sub-contract of the main Chinese contractor - JPC, responsible for the construction of the Centre, is managed by the Projects Unit of the OIC Secretariat, and not the Ministry of Works. In the same vein, the Gambia Procurement Authority has no business in or authority over the award of sub-contracts by the Chines contractor, JPC.
So, on all four counts of the allegations, regarding the role of the Minister, the role of the Ministry of Works as the contract client, and the role of the Public Procurement Authority as overseer in the award of this sub-contract, are either fabrications or misconceptions, bearing nothing of the truth or reality; in other words, they are a complete set of falsehood, but nonetheless likely intended to disrepute a successfully implemented project by the Ministry, with the assistance of the People’s Republic of China, in the form of a grant of US$50 million. Given the nature of grants, the donor country, agency, or contractors are normally responsible for procurement matters with respect to the funded project.
The Sir Dawda Jawara International Conference Centre is a successfully implemented project, constructed within time and budget, and inaugurated by HE the President since 11 January 2020. It therefore appears, that the Paper, using quadruplet of falsehoods, conjured several other related statements, with the apparent aim to tarnish the image of the Ministry of Works, and by collateral extension, the present Government,
On 6 May 2020, the Paper published what it dubbed as breaking news “…millions stolen from Laminkoto and Trans-Gambia Bridge Road Projects; Gambia’s National Road Authority (NRA) and Works Ministry officials are at the center of the corruption scandaL.” Excerpts from the content of this headline read: “corrupt National Roads Authority officials had allegedly conspired with the Works Minister Bai Lamin Jobe for Hadim Gai to be awarded the Trans-Gambia market shops…NRA insiders, who contacted us said the NRA Manager, Momodou Senghore… is Works Minister Jobe’s front man in that office… according to the insider, a lot of corruption has occurred at the Laminkoto project. NRA officials have been accused of soliciting money from contractors before they would be awarded contracts.”
These allegations also concern mainly two successfully implemented projects: the Senegambia Bridge project, which was a grant from the African Development Bank, completed and inaugurated by HE the President since 21 January 2019, and the Lamin Koto Passimas road project, which was a loan from a consortium of Arab donor agencies, completed and inaugurated by HE the President since 29 February 2020. Just as in the case of the International Conference Centre project, the Paper is seen here spinning spurious narratives on completed projects, and few on-going smaller ones, reportedly prompted by insiders in the NRA; but if the facts are to speak for themselves, they are as follows:
Aside the rigorous checks and balances normally instituted by funding agencies to ensure that project transactions are implemented with high standards of accountability, especially as regard payment certificates against works done by service providers (consultants and contractors alike), these main projects succeeded in ways that should dispel any suspicions of corruption.
As well known, a project, whenever subjected to acts of corruption, including significant negative changes of its scope, usually suffers significant time and cost overruns; both projects passed these tests. Both projects were accomplished within schedule and cost, and with savings to enable the projects to be expanded in scope, to achieve greater results.
The Senegambia bridge was initially designed to be 900 meters in length, spanning from one bank of the river to the other, mainly over water. The bridge was built twice that length, 1800 meters, not only to cross the water, but to cross over additional 900 meters of swamps, which would not have supported the road or sustained heavy traffic without the road sinking and subjected to frequent maintenance. This feat was accomplished within the grant money available for the project by the AfDB.
The Laminkoto Passimas, on the other hand, was designed for 122 kilometers; it was constructed within scope, time and budget, and with enough savings to kick start new construction of road of 18 kilometers linking Kaleng Junction on the Laminkoto Passimas and Bansang, and another new construction of 13 kilometers road linking Yorobaol and Basse, both of which were not part of the original project scope.
It is quite possible that the articles in the Paper were sponsored by people with axe to grind, for any number of reasons, against the Minister, the Ministry, or Government of The Gambia. But even if this were so, this gives no right to any Paper, however tabloid, to publish statements, without attempts to secure proof of their veracity, especially given the likely harm they could cause to individuals, institutions, and country, all of whom rely on their good image to attract investments, for both the public and private good. If such acts, especially in the latter sense, are not economic crimes, what else could be?
The Ministry of Transport Works and Infrastructure holds that there cannot be any justification on the part of any practitioner in the journalism fraternity or sorority to thrive in the business of false publications and defamation, just because they can do so, as if indemnified to commit such acts, without responsibility. The Ministry holds that to whom much is given, much is also expected, and all media practitioners are hereby challenged to improve standards, seek the truth, and regulate themselves better, in the interest of the greater good.
Hon. Bai Lamin Jobe
Minister of Transport Works and Infrastructure