Between 2001 to 2003 records from the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) say 22 vessels carrying rice, oil, potatoes, and onions docked at the Banjul port in the name of the Youth Development Enterprise (YDE). YDE had a credit account with GPA and records show that not a single butut was paid into that account.
Despite the non-payment of its mounting debts, the company’s imports were cleared from the ports. In other words, YDE was accorded preferential treatment. Baba Jobe only paid for two imports that were made in his name – D299, 000 relating to the discharge of cargo from MV Adele and D623, 000 for the discharge of goods from MV Waranee Naree.
With regards to Customs and Excise, the YDE opened a similar account and presented a blank Trust Bank Limited cheque bearing the signature of Baba Jobe as collateral. The management of Customs allowed him to clear his goods without submitting his Single Administrative Document (SAD) forms. Though not ever paying a butut, Ousman Mboge, managing director of Customs and Excise at the time, never gave orders for his men to suspend delivery of all YDE imports until it settle its previous debts.
For over three years, the soldiers, police and NIA officers guarding the ports to ensure that Customs and port charges were paid by all the lorries exiting the ports, allowed lorries bearing the YDE logo to leave the ports without even checking whether the required paperwork were satisfactorily completed.
One would have wondered why GPA and Customs allowed such a blunder to happen? The answer is simple. Baba Jobe was running the president’s business and asking him to pay his tariffs would be seen as challenging the president. Come on, Baba Jobe was the president’s enforcer and it is only a civil servant who wants to wake up the next morning without a job, who will dare challenge him.
The non-payment of port and customs tariffs reached the desk of several international financial institutions including IMF and the World Bank , which began to apply pressure on the regime. With the country’s economy in the red epitomised by a sharp depreciation of the Dalasi against foreign currencies, President Jammeh sacrificed Famara Jatta, his Secretary of State for Finance and Economic Affairs. The Gambian economy was hijacked by the president and some of his close associates and Famara Jatta had openly admitted that there was nothing he could do to stop the free fall of the economy.
The once solid friendship between President Jammeh and Baba Jobe began to thaw after the 2001 general elections. The president was concerned with the position of power Baba Jobe commanded within the youths and the APRC. In order to maintain a safe distance, Baba Jobe was made majority leader and National Assembly Member for Jara Central. With his office now at the National Assembly Building on Independence Avenue, Baba Jobe was often left in the dark.
Secondly, with Baba Jobe under UN sanctions, he was of no use to Jammeh. He cannot fly around the globe with the New Millennium Airline to run the mafia activities of President Jammeh. And with the UN recommending the freeze of his assets, Jammeh wanted to keep his distance from someone who is being regarded as an international criminal.
Some unconfirmed reports say the friendship suffered a final breakdown after Baba Jobe was named as being among the financial backers of the June 2003 attempted coup to overthrow Maaouiya Sid Ahmed Ould Taya, former president of Mauritania, who was a close ally of President Jammeh. President Jammeh was reported to have gone absolutely bananas. It is reported that he was even concerned about his own security taking into consideration the influence Baba Jobe commanded both in the country and abroad. Rather unfortunately for Baba Jobe, the issue coincided with an audit report of YDE’s account which highlighted a series of financial irregularities.
With the pressure from international financial institutions mounting, President Jammeh got the way to destroy Baba Jobe without even touching him in person. Knowing the financial status of YDE, instructions were given to both the managing director of the Gambia Ports Authority, and the director general of Customs, to demand payment from YDE.
Reacting to the demands, Baba Jobe said: “We were very surprised when we got letters from GPA and Customs asking us to pay for our imports. We had a gentleman agreement with the Department of State for Finance and Economic Affairs some years ago, which allows us to sell our goods far below the market price in return for the non-payment of import charges.”
The GPA’s director of Finance, Aziz Samba, sent series of letters to YDE demanding payment for their imports. And in one of their correspondences dated September 27, 2003, Mr. Samba on behalf of his boss threatened to institute legal actions against YDE if the debt was not paid.
GPA’s attorney, Ida Drammeh, also wrote some demand for payment letters to YDE. And concerned with such demands, Baba Kanteh, YDE’s managing director wrote to GPA requesting a discount on the D26, 193, 241.13 which was the amount outstanding. Mr. Kanteh also proposed a monthly payment of D100, 000 beginning from November 15, 2003. Both requests were flatly rejected by GPA.
Customs on the other hand, communicated some figures to YDE as the total amount of unpaid tariffs. Insiders said YDE management disputed the amount and requested invoices to be sent to them for the imports made between 2001 and 2003. On receiving the invoices, YDE representatives including Buba Baldeh, secretary to YDE board and Buba Senghore held several meetings with Malamin (Tongy) Sanyang, a senior collector and other Customs officials in order to reconcile the amount stated as outstanding with the invoices.
Meanwhile, realising the implications, Baba Jobe in October 2003 held a board meeting at the YDE office on Kairaba Avenue during which matters concerning the demand for payments were discussed. In a bid to avoid liability, Baba Jobe relinquished 100 per cent of his YDE shares, which he distributed between Hamidou Baldeh, Buba Senghore, Momodou Sulla, and two others [I cannot remember the names]. And funnily enough, none of them paid a butut for the shares.
As the net began to close on them, Baba Jobe and his YDE team held meetings with Dodou Bammy Jagne, then permanent secretary at the Department of State for Finance and Economic Affairs, Alieu Ngum, Secretary General Office of the President and some government officials to devise a payment plan.
To be continued