Former Finance Minister Explains Why He Became Signatory To State Aircraft Account

By Mamadou Dem

A former Finance Minister and diplomat, Mamburey Njie, yesterday appeared before the Janneh Commission of Inquiry to give evidence on the accounts he was signatory to, during his tenure. Though Mr. Njie said he could not recall all the accounts he was signatory to off head, he said: “I was signatory to the State Aircraft and Mobilisation Accounts and I became signatory because of my position as Finance Minister.”

Testifying in regard to the State Aircraft Account, the former finance minister and diplomat recalled that in his position as the then Minister of Finance, government was to receive grants from Qatar in respect of the state aircraft and was told by the former president to be a signatory to the account; that he had advised the president regarding the opening of the account, which was channelled through the directorate of National Treasury.

Mr. Njie who is now the managing director of Gambia National Petroleum Corporation asserted that it is the duty of the National Treasury to make sure that proper procedures are followed in the opening of  accounts; that due to circumstances laid down at the time of opening the account, it was included in the bilateral agreement between the Kingdom of Qatar and The Gambia, for the funds to be paid in a Central Bank account; that that was why he took it upon himself as minister to sign, rather than giving the responsibility to the Permanent Secretary; that as minister, it was his responsibility to ensure there was proper mobilisation of resources which he said was normal.

According to him, the grant from Qatar for the State Aircraft was not personal but rather it was for the State and the grant was supposed to go through the Central Bank for procurement purposes and that was why he was involved as a signatory, being the then Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs. But that the former President saw this as his personal request. He added that he did advise the former president verbally that he was not supposed to be a signatory to an account, but he (Jammeh) insisted that it was his personal request.

Mr. Njie however said that he did not know how the funds were disbursed into that account because he did not make a follow up when the account was opened or remove his name as signatory or close the account. When asked by Counsel about the acquisition of Boeing 757, coach buses and other luxuries acquired by the former President, he said he has no idea but was informed that it was from his personal money. He further told Commissioners that he is not also aware that the former President acquired luxury vehicles from Global Trading.

Earlier Mr. Njie testified that when it comes to bilateral relationship, the Minister of Finance can be a signatory to the account; that with regard to the Qatar grant, the protocols were not followed because the former president believed that the money was meant for him.

According to Mr. Njie, it was the responsibility of the Director of Treasury to know whether the funds were in the account and inform his ministry accordingly, provided that such funds were sent into the account. He said he did not know that the sum of €4,000,000.00 and €1.5 Million was withdrawn from the State Aircraft Account.

On the Mobilisation account, he said the account was purposely meant for national events and he was a signatory to that account too; that there was a committee chaired by the former vice president responsible for the mobilisation of funds, because what was usually budgeted and allocated was different; that this prompts them to look for funding from the private sector; but that funds derived from such sectors will not be deposited into a Central Bank account but instead,  into a commercial bank.

He said he was asked to assist with the Secretary, the National Organising Committee chaired by Isatou Njie Saidy on the mobilisation of funds for the inauguration of the former president.

When asked constitutionally as ministers if they should be involved in the opening of account, he replied that as government, they need to be innovative and it was due to circumstances, ministers had to be involved, but it was not normal. He told the commission that the reason why he became signatory to the account was basically to make sure that everything was documented, justifiable and reasonable and also to make sure that the proper procedures are followed especially after the audit exercise.

On the issue of whether there weren’t competent Directors or Permanent Secretaries in his ministry to head issues dealing with the organizing committee, he said the then VP was the one identified by the former President. Responding further to counsel, the witness said CBG has an authority to turn down requests from office of the president and the Ministry of Finance regarding opening of accounts. He finally testified that communications were not coming from the Kingdom of Qatar to his Ministry but rather to the office of the president. Mr. Njie is expected to reappear before the commission next week Tuesday.

Lieutenant Nuha Williams, former Military Police Commander, testified that he is related to the former President and are from the same village. He said General Badjie was the Commander of the Republican National Guard (RNG) and the D21, 000,000 he took to Badjie’s office was put in bags. “I got bags from the Central Bank, but in the event they did not have, I went with bags. I worked under Gen. Badjie from 2014 to 2016 and I was never his bodyguard, neither am I related to him,” he said.

When asked by counsel whether he bore in mind that he carried the sum of 250,000,000.00 in dollar and in dalasi respectively, Mr. Jammeh said he did not take account of the said sum; that he saw Gen. Badjie taking the bags of money to the former president but he can’t remember on how many occasions.

Commission counsel at that juncture, told the witness that the sums he carried to state house was quite huge; that it exceeded the yearly budget of some ministries put together; but the witness said he did not avert his mind on that. “I believed the money was for national development,” said Jammeh.

At that juncture, Commissioner Saine asked him whether the monies taken to state house through military aide was a positive way for national development and Mr. Jammeh answered that he cannot answer that. “My task was to escort the money from the governor’s office to state house,” he disclosed.

“On what reason did you base this idea of national development?” Commission Chairman, Janneh quizzed. The witness replied that Gen. Badjie is in a better position to answer that.

Earlier both former Governors of North and Lower River Regions, Lamin SI Jammeh otherwise known as Lamin Queen Jammeh and Salifu Puye, testified and acknowledged receiving the sum of D600,000.00 for the purchase of animals (cattle) and provide meat on sale to their respective communities at reasonable and affordable prices. Both witnesses informed the Commission that they transacted business at a loss.

Mr. Jammeh under testimony, surrendered a document bearing his hand writing, showing the account of D100, 000.00 as well as a deposit of D500, 000.00 to the Central Bank. These were admitted and marked accordingly. Mr. Puye intimated to commissioners that he wasn’t required to account for the D100,000.00. Hence the business was operated at a loss. However he said the butcher and three youths of the area who were involved in the business benefited. Counsel told him that he is required to account for the D100, 000.

The former NBR Governor said the former president expressed interest in boats after visiting a landing site at Samakung Tenda in Jokadou, where he met a Senegalese man making a boat and he opted to give him a contract for the same job.

According to Mr. Jammeh, few days later he wrote to the former president advising him to award the contract to Gambians for safety reasons and eventually four boats were contracted to Alagie Faye and Karfa Sarr of Barra; that he did not know the purpose of the boats but they were handed over in Banjul.  On the issue of tractors, he said he handed over three tractors to his successors.

Yankuba Colley, a former orderly to General Sulayman Badje but now Company Sergeant Major (CSM) attached to Farafenni Barracks, confirmed to the Commissioners that he used to see Lt. Nuha Williams at state house carrying suitcases but could not confirm what was contained in them as they were never opened in his presence.

Meanwhile Account opening information from the mobilization account and related documents from the period 11 January 2010 to 31st August 2016, were tendered through the Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank, Mr. Bolaji Ayodele, who is also requested to provide transaction documents of the same account, by next week.

Sessions resumes on Monday 25th September 2017.