Finance Minister Seedy Keita yesterday faced a barrage of questions from National Assembly Members over a 50-million-dollar loan facility equivalent to D3.4 billion was given to only one private company, Jah Oil.

Last June, the National Assembly approved a $50 million loan agreement between the government and the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) earmarked to support Gambian businesses involved in the importation of food and other essential commodities to ease price pressures in the market. 

According to Minster Keita, “the current beneficiary of the $50 million facility from BADEA is Jah Oil”.

Responding to a question by upper Saloum NAM, Sainey Jawara, on how the $50 million loan facility was implemented and who are the beneficiaries, Minister Keita repeated that Jah Oil is the current beneficiary and went on to explain that prior to the on-lending of the facility, the trade ministry led the process of engaging all interested Gambian-owned companies on the requirements and conditions.  “The meetings were held with the potential interested Gambian private-owned companies to discuss the terms of the financing, including the eligibility requirements and conditions precedent to the financing. It is important to know that access to the [loan] facility required a one-off nonrefundable upfront administrative payment of D48 million which must be paid by any interested company and a deposit of a guarantee equivalent to the amount of the lending facility $50 million,” the minster told NAMs.

He explained that following these meetings, “only Jah Oil was willing to pay the D48 million administrative charges and all the necessary guarantee. This upfront payment unlocked the [$50 million loan] facility and it was therefore granted to Jah Oil,” Minister Keita added.

However, the Lower Saloum NAM further challenged the minster by saying that he has evidence that there were companies which were interested in applying for this loan facility, but they were denied access.

He therefore asked the minister to explain the screening procedures and why it was given to only Jah Oil. Mr Keita, in response, said his ministry was not involved in the screening processes, adding that it was led by the trade ministry.

The finance minister further argued that the facility was not “divisible” but had to be in one go. “The terms and conditions were shared with the participants [companies] that expressed interest but they unfortunately had not fulfilled the payment of D48 million and the guarantee,” he said.

Seedy Keita disclosed that the government was only a facilitator in the process and any private sector beneficiary, in this case Jah Oil, would be “solely and wholly responsible.”

According to Keita, government only had to make sure any private companies interested had the necessary collateral and securities in place so that the government would not run into payment if there was any default.

The Kiang West Member, Lamin Ceesay, asked the minister to share all the bidding documents and the private companies that had applied for this loan facility but the minister responded: “The screening and validation of companies was led by the ministry of trade, so any questions on eligibility or who the applicants were should be referred to them.”

The NAM for Jeshwang, Sheriff Sarr, asked why the facility was not divided among a pool of private companies that meet the requirements instead of single sourcing it to Jah Oil.

Minister Keita replied that dividing the loan facility into lots would be risky for the government since it will have to chip in to pay in case of defaults.

Alagie Mbow, NAM for Upper Saloum and a former banker, quizzed the minister as to why they cannot earmark a portion in the $50 million facility to empower the National Food Security Processing and Marketing Corporation, formerly GGC to be able to import commodities in order to lower prices of basic goods.

In response, Seedy Keita argued that they have realised that many businesses do not have financial power to meet the requirements for this $50 million facility.

“We are making efforts to have similar lines with our international partners in small packets to involve other businesses,” he said.

Source: The Standard

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