Gambia’s Health Minister Dr. Amadou Lamin Samateh has confirmed that some staffers of his Ministry have been selling fake COVID-19 test results to the public, particularly travelers. He said the matter is currently being investigated by the police. His statement followed an undercover investigative work carried out by a local Gambian Newspaper, which alleged that some Health officials have been selling fake COVID test results to travelers. “Some time ago, an individual, was arrested and was under police custody, and then the process is still on, which has not been concluded yet and since it is under police investigation, we wouldn’t want to comment further, but yes that has happened,” Samateh told me in a telephone interview on Sunday.
Samateh said one of the Health workers arrested works for his Ministry, while the other person, was a former sacked employee of the Health Ministry.
Now that accusations have emerged that linked his Ministry to sale of fake COVID test results, questions have been raised in some quarters on the credibility of the country’s present and past test results.
But Samateh has reassured the outside world. He says Gambia’s COVID test results are reliable.
“People should accept the COVID test from The Gambia because the generality of the test would have been genuine. Once in a while you see these cases, but I am sure you heard bigger countries with most sophisticated equipment having complain of false COVID test certificates and we have equally received patients or passengers in the country, who were later tested by us and they were also found to be positive. So, it would have been difficult to ascertain whether their certificates were genuine in the first place,” Samateh remarked.
Samateh describes the incident as an isolated one.
“So isolated incidents like this certainly do not retry the authenticity of the good work that the people of the laboratory are doing and the public health officers, the nursing officers and all the health workers are doing in this country,” he said.
“I will describe it as a rare incident because I am aware of all the good tests that are being done, I am aware of all the good certificates that are being issued to individuals, I am aware of a good system that is going on in this country with regards to what is happening, but I think one thing is very important, in as much as we have few bad individuals like this, the population should also be willing to the right thing,” he added.
The Gambia recently imposed another COVID 19 regulations, one of which restricted public gatherings. Travelers have also been required to possess COVID test results before flying out.
“When we put down rules and regulations, the population should be willing to follow rules and regulation because government is taking those steps for the good of the people. But you have people coming out especially those that comes from some countries, they come there, that the laws wouldn’t dear break in the west, the rules that they dear wouldn’t break in the West, they come to Gambia and they say, well Gambia anything goes, let just go there and they come to Gambia and they don’t want to obey the rules,” he said.
Samateh has denied the complicity of his Ministry in the sale of the fake COVID results.
“No, no, we are not being complicit in it, and a press is coming, it is being look at, it is being drafted, and we want to be careful what we put out there is the right story, we didn’t want to jump, we wanted to find out first, so that we talk to the people who are potentially involved in this. So, the Ministry is not complicit in this. We are doing quite a lot of hard work in our COVID response,” Samateh clarified.
When quizzed: Is it correct for anyone to make the preposition that, you Ministry instead of trying to save Gambians from the Coronavirus, instead you are trying to infect Gambians by selling fake COVID test results. Will you take responsibility for any deaths as far as COVID is concerned?
In response Samateh said: “Well, when you say trying to save the country, I think we have done a tremendous job when it comes to the COVID response, you can attest to that. Why do you think people are running to Gambia to come and holiday here? Why do you think Gambians are running from all over the world to come back to Gambia? You know that very well that think that Gambia is safer, is a safer place when it comes to COVID than many countries in the world, that is because of course the help of the Almighty Allah, but a lot of hard work by the people in this country, our efforts, we believe have save a whole lot lives in this country, our interventions, our quarantine regime, when we started some people were making noise, we tried to contain the disease as much as possible.”
When this reporter further retorted: Indeed, Dr. Samateh, your Ministry deserved to be commended, but if you ask the average observer in Banjul, he, or she, will tell you that The Gambia is an open door, Gambia is a save heaven for COVID violators, that is why people are coming into the country and occasionally people quarantined they will try to walk away, they will run away, and the police will chase them. What is your response to that?
Samateh in response stated: “But that is what I said earlier, I said we have robust rules, and we are doing our best, but we need to be helped by the population, everybody has a responsibility. Where you are, in your place, in as much as you might have more police officers, more law enforcement officers, but if a majority of your people decide to do things the other way round, do you think it will be for the government to control it? No. So, that means, society, individuals, citizens have a responsibility. Government said this is what we need to do for the good of the people, so, lets abide by it. In any country, when people decide to break the law, I don’t think any country will have the ability and capacity to enforce to that matter.”
Samateh said the implicated staffers would face court action at the end of the police investigations. However, he cautioned that the accused persons’ innocence should be observed until they are proven otherwise.
“We don’t want to put the horse before the cart, we want the legal processes to take place, the investigations, and the subsequent legal processes to take place, but with the evidence, with there is enough evidence, the laws of the country are there and they quite stiff when it comes to this, but my view is that this will not be tolerated, this is dangerous, it should not be accepted, and we as a Ministry, will not accept this and we will make sure that if anybody is found guilty, well that is for the courts to say, if it gets to the courts and I think it should get to the courts, but I will not want to say what is going to happen. I will leave that to the law enforcement agencies,” Samateh told Freedom Newspaper.
“Certainly, if anybody is angry and upset about this, probably I am high on that list. I am very upset, I am very, very disappointed, I am very, very angry, so, but in as much as that is the situation, I want the legal processes to take place so that every are given the benefit of the doubt and remains innocent until found guilty,” he added.