GAMBIA: SAVE TOURISM ASSOCIATION FIGHTS BACK; AS IT CLAIMS THAT ” THE TOURISM SCANDAL IS NOW ABOVE D100 MILLION DALASIS !!!!”

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Tourism scandal now above D100 million Dalasis !!!!

We read with shame the press release from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture on the alleged 38.5 million Dalasis Scandal. In their effort to spin the story, the ministry informed the general public that rumors circulating on social media of a 38.5 million Dalasis is totally false and unfounded and that the amounts were part of funds to set aside for the construction of five eco lodges across the country. The Ministry went on to try to make Gambians believe that contract for those eco lodges were processed and awarded by Gambia Tourism Board following a vigorous bidding process.  I believe that the ministry was either deliberately trying to cover for a huge corruption scandal by the erstwhile Director General of Gambia Tourism Board and the Director of Finance of Gambia Tourism Board who had always used his wife’s position as the Permanent Secretary to flout rules and procedures and do whatsoever he desires whether in the interest of the Gambia Tourism Board or not.

As concerned stakeholders we have been carefully monitoring the actions of the Board and have discovered with first had information that indeed the construction of the eco lodges were part of the Ministry’s policy and we have had the Minister for Tourism and culture make such announcement in the presidents tour of the country. However we are also aware that this project should have been lunched immediately after the president’s tour but because there was a scandal in the bidding process and the awarding of the contract, some honest staff of Gambia Tourism stood up against the decision to award the contract and even went to the extent that a letter was written to the contractor to cancel the contract. If the Ministry of Tourism and Culture is ignorant or pretends to be ignorant of the scandal, then here is the true story.

How it all came about?

At a bilateral meeting in 2017, the Ministry of Finance and Economic affairs and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture proposed developing tourism in rural as recommended in the National Development Plan 2016 – 2021 and Gambia Tourism Board was tasked with developing tourism products and services in all regions in rural Gambia. They came up with a project to develop five ecotourism camps in five regions namely URR, CRR, LRR, NBR and WCR to be funded by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs. After several consultations the Ministry of Finance did not proceed with funding the project possibly because they have already sensed the greed and the intention to stifle the funds by the Gambia Tourism Board. Gambia Tourism Board then decided to go ahead and fund the project themselves from funds set aside as rightly mentioned in the Ministry’s press release

How it became a scandal

Gambia Tourism Board identified four out of the five sites for the construction of eco lodges in the following areas: Kunkiling Forest in CRR, Sotuma Smaba Koi River site in URR, Kiang West National Park in LRR, and Bambali in NBR , The identification of  these areas were done in collaboration with Local Government Authorities. An engineer was engaged to visit the site, and provide designs and estimates for the construction of the ecotourism camps that will each have a 20 bed capacity, a restaurant that can seat 50 persons, a reception and 3 craft shops for the community and a 3m by 6m jetty. This was estimated by the engineer to cost 12.5 Million Dalasi excluding VAT. In 2018 bids were invited for the construction of the eco lodges and six companies whose name we will not mention for now but will give them letters for privacy purposes. Company A  presented a bid amount of D12,121,746.50,  Company B presented a bid price of D14,628,032.80,  Company C  presented a bid amount of D13,188,075..00,  Company D presented a bid price of D13,839,309,  Company E presented a bid price of D16, 514,888.00 and Company F presented a bid price of D26, 199, 667.84. The contracts committee under the chairmanship and influence of the Director of Finance decided to award the contract to Company F who whose bid amount was not only double the engineers costing but also have no previous records of construction of eco lodges as oppose to some of the other bidders. At this stage one can sense the scandal beginning to take center stage (scandal number 1). This decision was challenged by a Director who was part of the  contracts committee but was asked to write his objections on a piece of paper that was not included in the report sent to GPPA (scandal number 2) some concerned staff also started ringing the alarm bells for the Director General and Director of Finance to not go ahead with the awarding of the contract but duo have already received kickbacks and were bent on awarding the contract come what may (Scandal number 3) after several threats, ridiculing and name callings the director of finance now became an engineer and said the costing by the engineer was under estimated and that all the other bidders were also wrong in their estimates. The question is how can 5 bidders whose cost estimates were close to that of the engineer be wrong and the only one bidder whose cost estimate is almost the double of all the other be correct? (Scandal number 4). To cut the story short, the matter went to the GPPA who advised that another engineer be engaged to give estimates. Two engineering firms were engaged and both agreed that Company F’s bid price of D26, 199, 667.84L was too high. In fact, one of the engineering companies gave a ceiling of nothing more than D19, 000,000.00 for the project.  At this point the duo sought the service of the engendering firm that gave a ceiling of D19,000,000.00 to redesign and the projects and include other facilities that were not part of the tender document just so that they can justify their decision to award the contract at such an overpriced cost . We are not procurement specialist but we believe that such inclusions will render that tender null and void and a new tender be opened (Scandal number 5).

Having ran out of excuses and options, the Director General and partner in crime Directors of Finance went silence over the ecotourism camp for more than one year and all of a sudden during the COVID 19 period decided to ask all staff of Gambia Tourism Board to stay at home and will be called when needed. Little did the staff know them that it was a ploy for the duo to enter clandestinely sign a contract of 97 million Dalasis with just one contractor (contractor F) and make an advance payment of D38.5 Million (Scandal number 6). We see this action of the Director General and Director of Finance as a gross financial misconduct because the signing of this contract and payment of D38.5Million to Company F did not follow proper financial and audit procedures. The Director of Finance had advised the contracts committee wrongly on the way they have evaluated the ecotourism projects and awarded the contract Company F on the basis that this contractor will pre-finance the project when that was not true (Scandal Number 7). Going by the estimates by the engineers all five eco lodges would have cost nothing more than D75 Million so why should Gambia Tourism Board pay D97 Million. This is an extra D22 Millions of Tax Payers’ money which during this COVID Period would have gone a long way in supporting some tourism businesses to survive pass the pandemic.

So Ministry of Tourism and Culture we have exposed seven scandals on the part of the Gambia Tourism Board that either your permanent secretary is trying to cover because it implicates her husband or may be some personnel of your ministry had benefited from the millions of Dalasis kickbacks for awarding the contract. How long will you attempt to cover the wrong doings of Gambia Tourism Board? How long will you tolerate the stealing of tax payers’ money for your personal gains? How long will you come out in the media and look into the faces of Gambians and tell a big lie? How long will you continue to deceive us and President Barrow by using the NDP to defend your corrupt practices? And for the Minister of Tourism and Culture you have gotten rid of the Director General but why are you still keeping the Director Finance? Is it because you receive financial incentives from him to cover for his corruption or is it because he is your best buddy that keeps your that luxury car you are keeping away from every Gambian’s gaze?

This piece is only on the scandals of the eco lodges. We advise that the Ministry of Tourism and the Office of the President through the State Intelligence Service investigate all the allegations we made and they will be sucked to see how the Directors at Gambia Tourism Board had been siphoning tax payers money since the ban on travel due to COVID 19. They were used to travelling and paying themselves huge perdiems and when that stopped they quickly create other avenues to continue their lavish lifestyles and yet still the Ministry of Tourism tries to cover these scandalous acts by these greedy executives.

We expect another press release to attempt to debunk our claims again and we shall release documentary evidences relating to this and other claims.

By Save Tourism Stakeholders Association

Editors note: The authors views do not represent the position of the Freedom Newspaper. We are treating the authors claims as mere allegations until it is proven otherwise.  Thanks for your kind attention.

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