Following widespread concern and criticisms over government’s decision to award a 50-million-dollar loan facility to Jah Oil, Trade Minister Baboucarr Ousmaila Joof has said the whole process leading to the awarding of the loan is being misconstrued.

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.

National Assembly members last week asked the finance minister Seedy Keita about the loan and he confirmed that it was given to Jah Oil and that the process was handled by the trade minister.

Following his disclosure, members of the public joined the NAMs in asking how Jah Oil became the only beneficiary.

The company’s CEO Hamidou Jah over the weekend made a public explanation that his company was not favoured by the government as it was the only one that took the risk to accept the conditions of the loan.

Explaining the state of the loan yesterday at a press conference, Minister Joof said the money was not given to Jah Oil to import commodities in order to reduce the price. “Let us be very clear from the takeoff. This was a loan facility negotiated by the government to support commodity trade in The Gambia and to provide our traders with the necessary support and capital injection so that they can do commodity trading better, and the definition of commodities in our laws includes petrol. So, it doesn’t mean the $50 million was meant to import rice or bring its price down. It was generally about commodity trade support, and it was not a grant or gift; it was a loan, and he who pays the piper dictates the tune. And by the way, this is not the first time that we have been given this facility. I understand the first one was returned because the eligibility criteria were difficult to deal with given the level and capacity of our business enterprises,” Joof said.

 “In this particular case, BADEA set criteria that anybody wanting to access the loan must meet and we invited all our team of importers and informed them about the availability of the facility. We also explained all the criteria to them, and they were given time to go to brainstorm and come back,” he said.

According to Minister Joof, the importers were invited again and again and were supposed to tell the ministry their position in relation to the $50 million, but the general view around the table was that the conditions were difficult and they could not afford it.

“One of the conditions is that you must buy your products from countries that are within the BADEA family which for example, excludes countries like Brazil or India which is where most people import goods from. So, it was not generally meant for rice and sugar only. But the most difficult thing was the unlocking of the loan because whoever was to access the $50M must first put on the table of BADEA $770,000 equivalent to D48M nonrefundable as well as a guarantee in assets,” he explained.

Minister Joof said none of the importers was ready, even if they had the capacity, to put the D48 million on the table.

“But Jah Oil came back and said they have the assets to guarantee the loan and are ready to put D48 million on the table to unlock the money. Now, tell me if Jah Oil is ready to put all their assets on the line, would you deny them because other Gambians were not willing to do so? Is Jah Oil not a Gambian company? The proprietor is Gambian, like all of us. If nobody can qualify and Jah Oil qualified for BADEA to release the money to them, what planet would the ministry of trade be coming from to deny them access to the money? Let us be very fair. They had the capacity and the political will. There was no favouritism,” the minister said.

Also speaking on the matter, the PS Ministry of Trade, Lamin Dampha, said the other conditions of the loan include paying it back in dollars and that “you can only import from Arab and African countries.” He said the loan came with zero cost to the government.

Source: The Standard

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