“The second update is related to the discovery of an alleged fraud by the highest-ranking member of the Kanifing Municipal Council’s administration, a Chief Executive Officer, Mrs. Sainabou Martin Sonko. Sometime in June of this year, my office intercepted financial transactions initiated and entered into by Mrs. Sonko. Following investigations with the related banks and parties, it was discovered that Mrs. Sonko entered into illegal transactions without lawful authority to tune of D12 million dalasis. These illegal transactions were completed with the core signature of the Director of Finance Dr. Alieu Keita. It was discovered that Mrs. Sonko acquired a bank loan in the name of the staff welfare association on behalf of 37 staff, without their knowledge or consent. She used these funds to acquire a property, which we believed to have been grossly overvalued and she forged council documentation and approvals to obtain a guarantee purportedly from KMC to secure the loan,” Talib Ahemed Bensouda, the Mayor of the Kanifing municipal council told journalists at a news conference on Monday.
His revelations followed Freedom Newspaper publications, exposing official graft at the KMC. Both the Chief Executive Officer Sainabou Martin Sonko and Deputy Mayor Pa Musa Bah have been implicated in different corruption scandals.
While Mrs. Martin has been accused of defrauding the council, Bah has been accused of soliciting one million bribe from a local company, that has contractual ties with council.
The Mayor claimed that he was the one who discovered the alleged theft. He said he was able to recover some part of the stolen money, but a whopping sum of about four million dalasis hasn’t recovered.
“Through our swift intervention, we were able to freeze the accounts in question and recover approximately D7.6million dalasis. Our swift action and a zero tolerance to graft and corruption, protected the public coffers of the council from what would have otherwise been a serious financial loss,” Mr. Bensouda remarked.
The Barrow government has recently been criticized by the United States government for its weakness in fighting corruption. According to a statement issued by the US government, since Barrow came to power no one has been prosecuted and convicted of corruption.
Washington has called for more aggressive steps to be taken to fight graft in The Gambia.
The Council’s Chief Executive officer wouldn’t resign despite repeated calls from council for her resign.
“The actions of Mrs. Sonko are very serious, and we believe they are criminal in nature, ranging from fraud, tax evasion and theft. Mrs. Sonko was confronted in a Directors meeting of 12th July 2021, wherein she confessed to her actions and apologized to the management team of KMC. Although, she has since recanted her position,” Bensouda told reporters.
“We have proceeded to complete the investigations and table the matter before the council. The council has today resolve to do the following: Council resolution one: We have requested that the local government service commission summarily dismiss Mrs. Sonko and the Director of Finance from their services. We have also resolved to report the matter to The Gambia police force for an investigation. We have also resolved to place Mrs. Sonko and the Director of Finance on indefinite leave pending the results of the investigation and the decision of the local government service commission,” he added.
Describing Mrs. Sonko as a very good workmate, Bensouda noted that the CEO’s despicable conduct was not only illegal, but rather unfortunate. He said everyone at the KMC is virtually disappointed with her conduct.
“The actions of Mrs. Sonko are quiet disappointing. Countless employees of council have expressed great disappointment in these actions. This incident demonstrates the urgent need for the decentralization of staff disciplinary matters to local government authorities. The council with the mandate of the people must have the ability to hold staff accountable to their performance and actions. The ability to hire and fire staff is a fundamental function of council to provide quality public service,” said Bensouda.
Bensouda has quoted the recent US government report, in his deliberations, in which Barrow’s government has been criticized for not prioritizing the fight against official graft. Bensouda noted that without hm, pressing for an internal investigation in the alleged theft, no one was going to know about the alleged stolen money at the KMC.
“I wish to reassure the public especially the people of KMC and the staff of KMC that under my administration, we shall continue to have a zero tolerance for corruption. If you intend to use public office to enrich yourself, then KMC is not for you. We will pursue this process as we have done since June to ensure that justice prevails,” he remarked.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Mayor of Pa Musa Bah has resigned. His resignation followed corruption allegations. Bah has been accused of soliciting bribe from Ecowtech, a local company, that has been contracted to oversee the council’s waste collection tickets issuance.
Bah has cited personal and family reasons for his resignation. Audio conversation between Bah and the co-owner of the company Gaston Francis, a Tanzanian national, regarding the alleged bribery scandal was recently aired by Freedom radio Gambia. The Deputy Mayor was caught on tape soliciting one million dalasis. In the other audio, Gaston Francis, was heard saying that “he was only given D7,000 dalasis” from the kickback deal.
“In our general council meeting, we have two updates, the first update relates to the former Deputy Mayor Pa Musa Bah, who also doubles as the Councilor of Latrikunda ward. On Friday, the 23rd of July 2021, I received the resignation letter of the Deputy Mayor Mr. Musa Bah. His resignation is based on personal grounds and a copy of the letter is available to the press from the club’s office. Last week, Musa Bah suffered two personal family tragedies, including the loss of his mother. May her soul rest in peace. Musa has informed me that he intends to focus on his family and fulfill his mandate of serving the people of Latrikunda ward as a councilor,” Mayor Bensouda.
Many are of the believe that the reason given for Bah’s resignation was just a save face to protect himself from further embarrassment.
The Mayor said council is also investigating the alleged bribery scandal involving the resigned Mayor. He added that a special committee has been set up to investigate the audios were broadcast by Freedom Newspaper.
Pa Musa Bah still maintains his D15,000 dalasis KMC monthly Councilor salary. He hasn’t resigned councilor elected position.