The Commission of Inquiry set up by Gambia government to probe assets tied to former Gambian leader is coming across a series of troubling revelations that have left many people wondering whether the country was run by criminal syndicates or drug cartels. In an exclusive interview with journalist Abdoulie JOHN, former Gambian Minister, and a popular blogger Sidi Sanneh takes a critical look at the irony of Gambia’s commercial banks that had taken part in a ‘criminal scheme’ that totally betrayed the key principles of good governance, allowing the looting of public funds by senior civil servants and top military officers.
As troubling revelations continue to come to light at the Janneh Commission, do you think Gambia was really a Mafia State under dictator Jammeh?
Sidi Sanneh: As startling as some of revelations are, to us at sidisanneh.blogspot.com, they served as validations of claims we made against the Jammeh regime over the years. We have been saying that the influence of international criminal syndicates, some with ties to the drug cartels, arm and human traffickers including some who have been accused by the United States government of financing terrorism, have had a firm grip on the regime of Yaya Jammeh. These syndicates are being exposed by the Commission to have penetrated the regime of
Yaya Jammeh to the point of assuming the powers of the presidency. They effectively ran the affairs of state from their corporate offices in Banjul, London and Beirut. I short, they ruled The Gambia with the active participation of local Gambians that included businessmen as well as civil servants who were as guilty of the obscene level of corruption we are witnessing being revealed at the Commission of Inquiry.
You are among the country’s leading voices that had been warning Gambian authorities over the plethoric number of commercial banks in the country. Can the banking sector survive the new democratic dispensation?
Sidi Sanneh: Yes, I have been the leading voice, if not the only voice, who have been warning about the need to check the astronomical growth of the commercial banking sector, most of them regional (primarily Nigeria) banks and only one world class bank i.e. Standard Chartered the oldest serving – since colonial period. 14 banks
serving a population of 2 million works out to a ratio of approximately one bank for every 143,000 Gambians which must be the highest ration in Africa, and perhaps anywhere in the world. These number of banks serving a small population in our part of the world suggests one thing and one thing only – money laundering. And money
laundering is inextricably tied to illicit business activity of one form or another, some of which I have mentioned earlier.
Do you foresee any of these commercial banks being closed down because of criminal activities?
Sidi Sanneh: Yes I foresee the closure of some f these banks which we have come to learn that they relied heavily on the illegal operation of at least 22 current accounts at the Central Bank alone. We do not know the exact number of such illegal accounts were being operated by the Office of The President at the 14 commercial banks, although some have testified to the existence of multiple accounts in local and foreign currencies of which Jammeh is the signatory. The financial solvency of some these banks were guaranteed by the maintenance of
these accounts. The moment these accounts are closed by the Barrow administration, some of these banks will fold. They were kept afloat by these accounts associated with illegal illicit.
Is it high time for Barrow government to introduce tough policies in the financial sector in reforming the banking sector? What are the main areas in need of reform?
Sidi Sanneh: The only banking reform I see, based on the limited information at my disposal, is at the Central Bank of The Gambia (CBG) level where the Banking Supervision Department must be strengthened, properly staffed and trained. The requirements for opening Commercial Banks must also be tightened.
Written by Abdoulie JOHN