It is always a joy listening to Gambia’s Finance Minister present the country’s budget. It is one such occasion that the entire country looks forward to hear the health of our economy and what government plans to do in the next 12 months particularly related to development projects and expenditure outlay. However beyond the rhetoric that defines the annual budget presentations lie one of the biggest of scams which President Jammeh and his government engage in to swindle hundreds of millions of Dalasis of tax payers’ money. And it all has to do with what Fatu Radio has discovered to be “a cunning strategy where holes of spending on repeat projects” are deliberately and continually inserted in the budget where spending on such projects are never accounted for.
Fatu Radio investigations have revealed that many of such repeat projects have appeared in eight budgets since 2005 eventhough evidence shows that they were already funded years back. This monumental fraud first came to light during Fatu Radio’s weekly Thursday program with journalist Ebrima Sillah who admonished Fatu Radio to develop interest in the way Gambia’s budgets are prepared and spent.
Mr Sillah said for two decades now the APRC government has been using a highly subtle, a highly delicate spending culture where on the surface, it claims to be using people’s tax funds to work for them. But in reality he said, a further investigation reveals one of the biggest scams in the way a country’s tax revenue is managed.
Mr Sillah’s exposé focussed on construction and other infrastructure projects funded by the Gambia government some of which have already been funded and work said to have been validated and verifiably completed. Yet those same completed projects repeatedly appear in subsequent budgets with huge of chunk of tax payers’ money allocated to them.
Fatu Radio investigations discovered that this is one big area where the dictatorship in the Gambia has absolute control over and where it continues to commit fraud against the Gambian people. Many of the repeat projects include construction of feeder roads, refurbishment of police and military barracks, refurbishment of public schools, hospitals, etc.
In 2013 for example, the entire budget of the Gambia was D3, 612.67 billion out of which the government had allocated D1, 693.03 billion for infrastructure projects. However a further investigations showed that the government ended up spending D1, 882.55 billions on infrastructure projects representing almost D200 million as excess expenditure. The justification for excess expenditure came as a form of supplementary budget which was submitted to the National Assembly by the Finance Minister but on the authority of the Office of the President.
Subsequent investigations by Fatu Radio also show that even the contractors of some of these projects, have questionable profiles making it difficult to trace their sources of expenditure as per the work that they say they have done.
Our investigations also show what one of our government sources drew our attention to as “mispricing” where the contractors quote usually higher than normal prices for services but still such services rendered are of substandard quality.
Fatu Radio is also in possession of credible evidence that show corrupt practices in the way Gambia’s tax funds are managed. For example the way funds are allocated to the different ministries where we see the office of the president is allocated the chunk of funds in the budget which are never audited.
Looking at the figures in the 2013 budget, the office of the president was allocated D345 million out of a total budget of D7279.20 billion. However the Ministry of Defence which also is directly under the Office of the President was allocated D372 million, Fisheries ministry which was also under the Office of the President at the time in 2013, was also allocated D323 million, Agriculture also under the Office of the President was allocated D413 million. And remember Yahya Jammeh was the Minster designate for all these ministries. The ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources also under the office of the president was allocated over a 100 million.
Our investigations show that in actual fact if you look at what the State House alone controlled in the 2013/2014 budget, stood at 37.8% of the entire budget. This is a big chunk of our nation’s funds in the hands of one person.
The situation is even worse in the 2014/2015 budget because now we have seen that the Office of the President was allocated D556 million, Ministry of Defence D558 million, Ministry of Agriculture D151 million, Petroleum Ministry about D85 million. Now interesting the Ministry of Fisheries which now has a functioning minister, is now allocated only 59 million in the 2015 from D323 million when Yahya Jammeh was handling the position.
Now all throughout particularly from year 2000, we have seen the difficulties our farmers are going through to the point that the government could not buy their nuts. We have seen the difficulties the people engage in the fisheries sector are going through. Now many Gambians have started seriously asking where all these millions accolated to the Office of the President have gone to.
From the foregoing, Fatu Radio investigations have concluded that even if the international donor community tighten their rules as to how their funds are spent in the Gambia, the President Yahya Jammeh still has vast amount of sources that he can lay his hands on. Within our budget alone, one in every three Dalasis that we collect as tax actually goes to the office of the president.
In our next report on this investigation, we will bring to fore how Jammeh uses infrastructure projects to award contracts to special friends and business fronts where the large chunk of our expenditure funds actually go back to Yahya Jammeh.