By Mamadou Dem
Executive Members of Gambia National Transport Control Association (GNTCA), namely Mumini Sey President, Jarga Faal Vice President, Sheriff Dibba Secretary, Foday Bah, Morri Kebba Janneh Treasurer, Sheikh Nyang Assistant Treasurer, Alieu Ngum, Ebou Lam and Kebba Sarr were yesterday arraigned before Principal Magistrate Momodou M.S. Jallow of the lower court in Banjul.
The nine members of the GNTCA Executive Committee are charged with a single count of ‘Economic Crime’.
Prosecutors alleged that the aforesaid persons, between the year 2006 and 2015 in Banjul and diverse places in the country, being executive members of GNTCA, intentionally and unlawfully levied payments to the drivers on manifest (manda), tariff and other unauthorised payments which showed to be detrimental to the economy of The Gambia or to the welfare of the people of the Gambia and have thereby committed an offence.
However the accused persons could not take their plea as the lower court lacks jurisdiction to handle such cases.
Applying for bail on behalf of all the accused persons, Lawyer Jainaba Bah Sambou, alongside Lawyer Dayoh Dagoh Small, said she wished to make a bail application on the basis that the accused persons were formally charged before the court. “We believed despite the fact that the court has made transfer of the case pursuant to section 62 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Section 9 of the Economic Crime Specified Offences Act, that you don’t have jurisdiction to try the case, but you are obliged to make an order pursuant to the transfer of the case to the high court,” she submitted.
She continued: “Since the accused persons are to answer to the law, we wish to refer the court to the provision of the law in the Constitution that protects their fundamental human rights to the preparation of their case.”
Counsel cited section 24 Sub (3) a, c which, she said, has provided for fair hearing, adding that if the accused persons are held in any form of detention then their rights under section 24 would be flying through the window because they wouldn’t have the opportunity to be able to prepare for their defence.
Barrister Sambou further contended that section 99 of the CPC has enjoined the Court what to do under this circumstance. She further argued that the offence for which they are charged with is a bailable offence and that all the accused persons are Gambians. “We are humbly applying that in applying the principle of natural justice you release the accused persons on bail,” said the defence counsel.
Concerning the family background of the accused persons, the defence lawyer disclosed to the court that only four among the accused persons have one wife while the remaining five have two each. “There is no way that these accused persons would be a flight risk,” she submitted.
She told the Court that the combined number of all the children of the accused persons is about seventy. She urged the court to exercise its discretion judicially and judiciously considering the facts that have been presented before it. “As his Worship is aware that if their liberty is curtailed, there is no way they would be able to defend themselves,” Mrs. Sambou submitted.
Responding to the defence’s application, Corporal Modou Lamin Kora opposed bail for the accused persons and urged the court to overrule it.
“All the accused persons hold high positions at the National Transport Association and all the prosecution witnesses we intend to call were one time working under the accused persons. If they are granted bail, they would interfere with prosecution witnesses. It is important to know that investigations are still ongoing,” he said.
The prosecuting officer said the accused persons have the powers to persuade or influence the witnesses not to cooperate with the investigating officer. He added that the accused persons are well known in The Gambia which will make it easier for them to jump bail.
“Based on this, I urged the court to deny all the accused persons bail and remand them in custody pending the transfer of the case to the high court,” he submitted.
Replying on points of law, the lawyer representing the accused persons referred the Court to a high court decision presided over by Justice Simeon Ateh Abi, as recently as 2014, in the case of Ousman Badjie and the state criminal appeal number Hc/640/14/cr/157/co which was based on the same charge of economic crime where the learned judge made some fundamental pronouncements on the issue of flight risk, interfering with potential prosecution witnesses as well as incomplete investigations. Counsel cited section 6 of the Economic Crime Act to the court which, she said, has absolute or unfettered discretions as to what to do when someone is faced with an economic crime charge. “We are therefore asking the court to use its discretion judicially and judiciously,” she said
Delivering the ruling, the trial magistrate said it is rather unfortunate that the court has no jurisdiction to try the case, otherwise counsel’s application for bail would have been granted. He, however, ordered the accused persons to be kept in police custody pending their appearance before the high court.
Consequently, the matter was transferred to the high court.
It would be recalled that the Government of the Gambia in January 2016, through the Ministry of Trade, issued a press release on State Television (GRTS) banning the GNTCA from operating.