DOCKWORKERS ASK PRESIDENT TO RESIGN OVER ALLEGED MISMANAGEMENT OF FUNDS
At least 141 dockworkers have signed a petition calling for the resignation of Gambia Dock and Maritime Union President, Lang Balla Sawo, over alleged mismanagement of the union’s funds. The group also wrote petitions to the National Assembly and other institutions calling for an investigation into the financial dealings of the Union’s executive committee. The unhappy dockworkers argued that the executive has refused to hire independent auditors to audit its accounts, which is a violation of the union’s constitution and terms of reference. They also accused the president and his deputy of refusing to go on retirement.
“We no longer have trust and confidence in Lang Balla Sawo’s leadership due to their poor management of the Union’s funds, subventions, and assets, including but not limited to tractors. Since 2017 to date, despite our constitution clearly providing for financial transparency, Mr Sawo and executive has failed to allow any external independent financial auditing exercise to be conducted on the Union’s funds. We have written several times to different relevant authorities to help address our plight to have the union funds audited, but to no avail,” the dockworkers alleged in their petition shared with The Standard.
According to the group, a subvention of D1 million was given to the Union by the Gambia Ports Authority as a subsidy to its members, but the Union used the said funds to purchase rice and oil and resold them for profit. “No accounts were rendered for the said venture,” they complained
The group accused their leader of inviting police during their last congress to intimidate members, thus depriving them of making any contributions or raising their concerns.
“Also, there was gross unfairness in the payment of the severance package as long-term serving members were paid less than some short-term serving members. They also deducted D100 from members during Tobaski as payment for loans, but these sums were never declared or accounted for. Also, members were deducted D50 each on any given vessel they worked. One Babucarr Ceesay was the collector and in a span of six months, the Union generated a total of D1 million but no receipts were issued to that effect,” the union members alleged.
They added that from 2016 to date, no declarations were made, even though amounts are still being collected on vessels on which members worked.
Misuse of assets
“Three tractors were given to us by the former President Yahya Jammeh which were deployed on Yahya Jammeh’s farmland, but under the custody of the Union, and a sum of D200, 000 was taken from the union funds for maintenance of the tractors. After the former president left in 2016, Mr Sawo put the said tractors on hire, and various people hired them for use at Mr Sawo’s home village of Marong Kunda. The money collected from there has never been accounted for. The said tractors are dilapidated and are now scrapped,” the group said.
The group said all efforts to ensure financial transparency in the Union’s activities have been hindered by Lang Balla and his executive.
The dockworkers alleged that D7 million was deducted from them to pay a lawyer for leading a collective bargaining negotiation between the union and the GPA.
They also accused the union executive of unfairly distributing D198 million given to the dockworkers by GPA. “Ten members in the position of superintendent were paid D1.6 million as a retirement package, while other members were given D200,000 and less, and the president decided to give the rest to his boys,” the group said. They argued that the president has blocked all their loans because they have stopped paying their dues for lack of transparency and accountability in the running of the union.
When contacted for comments, the president of the Union Lang Balla Sawo, directed The Standard to talk to the first vice president of the Gambia Dock Workers Union, Alhagie Babucarr Cole.
The vice president said in the first place, the complaining dockworkers are no longer members of the Union having opted out of the union since they stopped paying their dues 20 months ago.
“We know them because most of them went to the election with Lang Balla Sawo last year, and they lost, so Mr Sawo has a mandate until 2027. Though Mr Sawo is supposed to retire in a few months, there is nowhere in the constitution that disqualifies a retiree from contesting for executive positions,” he said. He added that until recently, the Dock Workers Union was led by non-dockworkers because the majority of them were uneducated.
Lack of transparency
Reacting to the allegations that the executive’s financial dealings have not been audited for years, Cole said that contrary to the allegations, the Union annually audits its financial dealings and presents its financial report to the ministry of justice as required by its constitution and terms of reference.
“Every year, we submit our annual collections and expenditures to the ministry of justice. As we speak, we are preparing our 2022 annual report, which will be submitted to the ministry of justice soon,” he said. He admitted that they have not been hiring private auditors to audit their accounts, but they have an internal auditor who annually audits their accounts. Cole said those who are complaining about these irregularities are in the minority and that if their allegations were true, his executive would not have survived them.
On the issue of the tractors, Cole said the tractors were given to the dockworkers by the former government as a goodwill gesture for the Union’s farm in Dubong, Foni. He admitted that one of the tractors was later taken to Baddibu by the president to work on his farm.
Asked whether he has not seen anything wrong in that, Cole argued: “What is wrong with Mr Sawo as the president taking them to Baddibu to work on his farm? So, like I said, these tractors were not meant for money-making, so any member of the Union, including the president, has the right to use them.”
He said the subsidy is given to the dockworkers annually by the GPA through a collective bargaining.
“We bought rice and oil and loaned them to members on loan,” he said.
Alleged missing D14M
Cole said D5 million out of the D14 million was invested to buy a share at the Gambia Dock Labour Company Limited. He said the GPA also paid the same amount to buy a share in the company, adding that the remaining D9 million was given as a loan to the dockworkers to support themselves due to the low traffic at the port at the time.
D6.7M legal fee
Commenting on the allegation that the Union paid a lawyer a staggering D7 million to help them negotiate a collective bargain with GPA, Cole argued that the money was D6.7 million instead and that it was meant for the lawyer to help them negotiate a severance package with the Gambia Ports Authority. He said that money has nothing to do with the D14 million.
“This is a lawyer we hired a few years ago to serve as our legal adviser,” he said.
Commenting on allegations that the D198 million given to them by GPA was not shared properly, Cole said the allegation is false. “We have all the documentary evidence to prove that the money was shared judiciously based on the terms of reference prepared by our lawyer. Before, if people retired, they didn’t even receive D100,000, but today people are earning over D200,000 when they retire, and we have packages such as medical, risk, and other allowances that never existed before we came,” he said.
He argued that the current executive has made great strides over the years.
“Since 1972, dockworkers have not benefited from medical insurance from the GPA, but that has changed this year, and we will soon finish building our headquarters around the Navy. We are also providing plots of land to our members for the first time in the history of the union, and some of the people making these allegations have benefited from these schemes. So, I agree there are challenges, but we have done a lot to take care of members’ welfare. We were treated as slaves, but since Mr Sawo came, things have changed for the better,” he said. He said the current government has also played a big role in ensuring that the dockworkers are empowered. “Before, when we complained, the interior minister would threaten us, but now things are completely different,” he added.
Source: The Standard