Alagi Yorro Jallow
Mamudu: In his very private moments, what does President Adama Barrow think of Gambians? Are we his lovers because we agree with Geoffrey Chaucer, the Father of English literature, who said love is blind? Or are we Barrow’s fools because fools do not see what their eyes see? Or are we both because, with enthusiasm, lovers do foolish things? President Barrow sleeps and snores, and we hail him; he sits up, we applaud him. We salute him even as he croaks and wheezes. He chose his government’s key men from former President Yahya Jammeh’s cronies and political hacks, his ancestral homestead also from his political roots, and we made excuses for him. Those are the ones he could trust, we bellowed at wailers. We said the appointees were the very best at that point in the geography of our politics.
Every democracy has its aristocrats; it is their time, we said. However, on the other hand, if we handle oil revenue as we do with loans from foreign governments, gas, and oil will bring misery to many and wealth to a few well-connected government officials and politicians. The Gambia needs a watershed moment for transparency and accountability urgently. It puts a sovereign wealth fund to manage her oil and gas revenue before crude oil exports by foreign companies. The sovereign fund model will allow the Gambia to invest her oil revenues for the future generation of Gambians. The Sovereign Wealth fund must be structured transparently and staffed by Gambian investment professionals of world-class repute whose only qualification shall be experience, commitment, and merit – not tribe, political affiliation, or nepotism.
Mamudu: Sand mining in Kartung, Batukunku, and Sanyang is the subject of an enormous corruption scandal involving both the governments of Yahya Jammeh and Adama Barrow. After the license revocation of Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd, illegal mining started taking place by other Gambian players that wreaked havoc for the local environment and population. In 2014, the Gambia’s Special Criminal Court delivered judgment in the government’s case against Carnegie Minerals and ordered the company to pay the US $200 million. In the case of default, all the machines and other assets of the company were to be forfeited to the state.
Mamudu: Have you heard the news? Africa-focused oil and gas explorer, Australia’s FAR says Gambian offshore blocks could hold 1.2 billion barrels of oil. FAR, which operates and owns 50% of the two offshore licenses, said it was entitled to about 621 million barrels and was preparing to start drilling next year. According to Reuters Business and Financial News, “Africa-focused oil and gas explorer FAR Ltd said on Thursday, October 24, 2019, that its two offshore blocks in the Gambia could potentially hold 1.2 billion barrels of oil.
FAR, which operates and owns 50% of the two offshore licenses, said it was entitled to about 621 million barrels and was preparing to start drilling next year. Its assessment came weeks after the Melbourne-based company bought an extra 10% of the two blocks, raising its ownership to 50%. The deal gave PC Gambia, a unit of Malaysian state-owned energy giant Petronas, the remaining half.
FAR was re-examining data for the A2 block to help it identify which prospect in the block to drill in 2020, Managing Director Cath Norman said. Under the license agreement with the Gambian government, FAR agreed to drill one well in the first two years in either block.”
The office of Gambia Government Spokes person’s press release issued on August 10 release states, “The Gambia Government is pleased to announce that following successful discussions, BP has amicably settled some D1.5 billion being its outstanding commitment to drill an exploration well. It can be recalled that on the April 30 2019, The Gambia Government entered into a Petroleum Exploration Development and Production License Agreement with BP. Per this agreement, BP was obliged to drill the A1 block effective the 30th day of July 2019. This was for an initial exploration period of 2 years, ending 29thJuly 2021”.
The press statement continues, “BP was obliged to drill the A1 block effectively the 30th day of July 2019. This was for an initial exploration period of 2 years, ending July 29, 2021. BP’s obligations during this period included the acquisition and reprocessing of 2D and 3D seismic data, conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment, and drilling one exploration well. The latter is the only outstanding obligation to date.
“BP undertook the outstanding amounts of 1.5 billion Dalasis as well as the balances of Training, Resources and Rentals due to The Gambia Government.Therefore, BP has fulfilled all its License obligations and the A1 Block will revert to government free of all encumbrances. With BP’s exit, the A1 Block will now be on the market for licensing”.The statement expounded.
Mamudu: Suppose the government handle gas and oil revenue as we do with loans from foreign governments. In that case, the oil will bring misery to many and wealth to a few well-connected government officials and politicians. Keywords are responsibility and transparency, which are rare commodities in Gambia’s public governance space. Instead of providing leadership, Adama Barrow and his lieutenants — his Cabinet and senior civil servants and the National Assembly members — have adopted a default campaign mode of regaling the public with tales of largesse to come.
Mamudu: Ask most Gambians what perception they have of our gas and oil resources. They will probably tell you that they have no idea apart from foreign media and social media news bots is the most straightforward answer you can get. Is the Gambia’s mineral wealth a “get rich quick” scheme for certain privileged people? Exploring mineral resources in Africa becomes easy to “eat” and do business as a tenderpreneur. The Gambia’s brand of politics is a legacy of a regressive patronage and clientelism system. A system where the political and business elite acquires power and access to resources primarily for personal gain and self-preservation. The people supposedly represent beholden to themselves, notwithstanding that they are constitutional duty bearers who are public servants.
Mamudu: In her Facebook post of August 23, Amie Ceesay shared a revealing damning correspondence with Swaibou Touray National Assembly Member for Wuli West on the operations at the state sand mining operation in the Gambia under Adama Barrow as a watershed moment for transparency and accountability in the Gambia industry in The Gambia during the reign of President Adama Barrow.
Ms. Amie Ceesay’s Facebook postings with Swaibou Touray reads, “The Auditor General informs us that the license issued to GACH Company to engage in mining mineral sand has not been subjected to tender contrary to the mines and Quarry Act. He added that the black sand is sold at the international market and attracts royalty in hard currency. Therefore he said awarding license Rights of further exploitation from the same mine should be made available to the public so that there is a free and transparent process in awarding the license to eligible holders”.
Ms. Ceesay’s Facebook post added,” The Auditor-General noted a difference of D9,360,845.00 between the expected royalty and the actual paid by Unity and Quarrying Company. He said the payments were not supported with evidence detailing the volume of mineral extracted and the amount due during the period under review, and that period is 2018.
He further noted a royalty payment of D1,813,565.00 made in April 2018, records supporting evidence of operation at the sand mining were not presented for audit inspection.”
Swaibou Touray’s remit to Ms. Ceesay continues, “He further noted a total volume of 35,484 (m2) sand extracted in June and July 2018 amounting to D2,306,406.00 were not deposited in the Geology Dept’s bank account and remained unaccounted for the period under review,2018. Therefore, there is a risk that the royalty” collections were misappropriated, which means pocketed by few individuals.”
The author further reveals, “If we examine the report for 2017, 2019, it is the same. If we also examine the fishery agreements with the EU and Senegal, Gambia has not fared well. 550,000 Dalasi from the EU and almost nothing from Senegal. How much can we generate from our Waters yearly if we were a serious country”.
President Barrow, TRANSPARENCY, and RESPONSIBILITY cure Africa’s oil curse and surest methodology on the Gambia’s nascent oil and gas industry. If well-managed, oil could bring the Gambia prosperity and many blessings, but that depends on many variables, some in our control, others which we have no control over, like the global price of crude. The international price of oil is not in a good place but is expected to improve. The Gambia has also discovered oil when the world is making a transition to a non-carbon economy. That does not mean the demise of oil, but its global consumption as a vital energy source may take a slump.
President Barrow, these half-measures are harming the presidency and his authority as the First Citizen of the Gambia besides tormenting Gambians. Among other challenges, President Barrow, you, creates an impression of a reluctant leader who enjoys the trappings of office but is not ready to get the work done. Worse, it suggests that you are being held captive by some forces you cannot disentangle yourself from. President Barrow, you swore to uphold the national good, Adama Barrow; what is it that is holding you, hostage, not being transparent on the national wealth of gas and oil resources about to be explored by foreign companies?
Mamudu: In Norway, oil revenue finances pensions and social security. Norway’s oil fund has about US$1 trillion in assets, including 1.3% of global stocks and shares, making it the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. To put this in perspective, the Norway Sovereign Fund can pay for Gambia’s annual budget of $25.1 billion. If Norway wanted, her sovereign wealth fund could finance the Gambia’s latest Eurobond issue, which raised US$251 million.
President Barrow, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea are just a few examples of how corruption has led to poverty and misery despite massive oil revenues. In places like Equatorial Guinea, the third-largest producer in Africa, oil is the personal asset of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the man who overthrew and killed his uncle Francisco Macías Nguema to ascend to power in 1979. The Obiang dynasty’s murderous history is legendary. His son Teodoro Nguema Obiang, who happens to be Vice President, uses oil money to fund his expensive playboy lifestyle in places like Paris, France. However, at the same time, the majority of Equatorial Guinea citizens wallow in abject poverty.
With approximately one million people, Equatorial Guinea ranks 138 out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index for social and economic development, despite a per capita gross national income of $21,056 in 2014, one of the highest in Africa. Norway and Qatar provide good models for managing oil revenues. In Norway, oil has changed the fortunes of the country and social security for every citizen. However, Norway also realizes the bleak future of oil; her sovereign fund is no longer investing in oil stocks.
Nigeria woke up to this realization a bit too late. It established a wealth fund over five years ago. The country is struggling to restructure Nigeria National Oil Company, whose mismanagement has led to the theft of oil revenues. Over forty years of oil money has been squandered. The damage is done. It will take the effort of a generation to recover from the opportunity cost of lost oil revenue. Nigeria’s stolen oil revenues have created an obscene gap between the rich and poor. People say that in Lagos, you are either “rich-rich” or “poor-poor.”
The tragedy in all this is that Nigeria produces more oil than Norway at 1.9 million barrels per day, compared to Norway’s 1.6 million barrels per day. However, it is not the number of natural resources a country has but the quality of leadership steering a nation. If countries got rich just by natural resources found within their territories, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo could have been some of the wealthiest countries on earth!
President Barrow, hundreds and thousands of Gambians want to change this. They want our politics to serve the people equitably without fear or favor. They maintain the great hope that our new political leaders will anchor a new brand of democracy and promote our ideals and values as a nation. They hope that we have voted in leaders with integrity and respect for public service. They hope that our historical economic, social, and political injustices will be addressed. People all up and down the country will be hoping that their choices after ending dictatorship will move things closer to our ideals as a collective.
Mamudu: President Barrow Gambians support the presidency as the symbol of national unity. However, we will not sit back and cheer when the very pillar of our nationhood threatens its mere sustenance. Is it time to create a Sovereign Wealth Fund for the Gambia’s oils and gas revenue?
Alagi Yorro Jallow