AUDITOR GENERAL TELLS FPAC PRIVATE ENTITIES CONTRACTED TO COLLECT REVENUE IN TIMBER EXPORT
The National Audit Office’s report on the financial dealings of the Gambia government for 2019 presented to the parliamentary committee yesterday highlighted issues such as revenue suppression and awards of contracts to private entities to collect public revenue without approvals in the timber export trade.
Presenting the findings before the Finance and Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly, Auditor General Modou Ceesay, said the audit discovered that government had contracted two private agencies to coordinate the exportation of timber as well as collect revenues on behalf of the government which saw the shipment of over 2000 timber containers outside the Gambia with no evidence of proceeds from such dealings deposited into the Consolidated Fund.
Ceesay said the timber contract was entered into on January 10th 2019 between the Ministry of Environment, Hagie Baniko Sissoko General Trading, Clearing and Forwarding and Jagne Narr Procurement and Agency Services for the two private entities to serve as coordinators in managing the exportation of wood from permit holders.
“These agents were required to facilitate the exportation of timber and collect fees of $3600 per container from each export permit holder and they shall remit these collections to a designated bank account as advised by the Ministry of Environment. In addition, the agents levied a fee of $900 for each container in respect of the cost of domestic and international logistics services. We were not provided with any correspondence from the Ministry of Finance granting approval to the Ministry of Environment to outsource collection of government revenue to these private agents.
Auditor General Ceesay told FPAC that the audit team did not also receive information in respect of the number of containers shipped following the agreement with these export coordinators to enable the Ministry to verify collections remitted to designated government accounts.
He said in a bid to establish the number of containers shipped under this arrangement, the auditors sought clarification from the Gambia Ports Authority and it confirmed that 2393 containers of wood or timbers were shipped between 1st January and 30th April 2019.
“We requested details of bank accounts including statements in which the collections or proceeds from the shipments were made but the information remains outstanding and as a result we could not confirm collections made and the subsequent transfer of funds to designated bank accounts,” the Auditor General told parliamentarians.
Unaccounted government revenue
Based on the number of containers exported during these periods, the auditors argued that the expected revenue from the proceeds is estimated at $8.6 million.
“However, we could not confirm if the stated amounts were remitted to the relevant government account as officials of the Ministry of Environment were unable to provide us with details of the designated bank account to which the revenues were lodged and there is no evidence of reconciliation between the Ministry of Environment and the agents and therefore, we could not determine the amount deposited in the operated bank account.”
Unauthorised use of revenues from sale of timber
Auditor General Ceesay also reported that proceeds of confiscated timber which are considered extra budgetary funds have been used without necessary approvals in line with the Public Finance Act.
“We noted that proceeds amounting to D90, 618, 000 from the financial statement figures have been transferred to the BTL account and expenses were made from it. We further noted that expenditures amounting to D108, 669, 000 were made from the proceeds received from the sale of timber in violation of the Constitution and the Public Finance Act.”
Unsupported payments of timber proceeds to government of Senegal
“During the examination of payment vouchers we noted that the Accountant General wrote to the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of the Gambia on December 12, 2019 requesting the transfer of D50 million from the special deposit account to the Central Bank of West Africa in favour of the state of Senegal. We also noted the payment of D49, 999, 000 to the Government of Senegal on December 31st 2019 in respect of timber proceeds. It would appear that these transfers were made outside the government’s Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) as the payment voucher was raised one week after the debit advice was made in effect to the transfer of funds. Discussions with officials of the Accountant General Office reveal that the directive was issued from the Office of the President to make this payment.”
He said auditors also requested the agreement or the MoU between the government of the Gambia and government of Senegal to support the above transfer but none was provided for review.
The Standard reliably learnt that this money totaling about D50 million was the share of Senegal from proceeds of the timber sale and has been returned to The Gambia by the Senegalese government and donated to the TRRC.
Omission of govt funds held in commercial banks
Meanwhile, the Auditor General continued to reveal that reconciliation of bank confirmation received from commercial banks in the 2019 financial statement has showed that 62 government accounts with the balances totalling D69.7 million maintained with GT Bank, Skye Bank and Zenith Bank Accounts were not disclosed in the financial statement.
Balances in closed accounts not transferred to the Consolidated Fund
The Auditor General further said a review of the bank statement reveals that bank accounts which were closed in 2019 had a balance of D120, 797, 00 at the time of closure but there was no evident that these funds were transferred to the Consolidated Funds.Source: The Standard