Of Foreign Investors & Conmen Part 1 of 2
Another group of foreign “investors” are being paraded on national television as people interested in investing in The Gambia’s energy sector. At a televised ceremony held at the office of the Secretary General of the Civil Service, “Dr” Njogu Bah, the government of The Gambia and officials of a Malaysian company called ClearLink Company on Thursday August 19th signed an energy agreement “to establish a power generation and to re-enforce the three 33KV transmission and distribution networks in The Gambia.” NAWEC Managing Director, Momodou Jallow signed on behalf of the government of The Gambia, while Mohammed Noordin Zaini signed on behalf of the ClearLink Company. Shortly before appending their signatures on the agreement document, Dr Njogu Lamin Bah, the secretary general and head of Civil Service who hosted the three-man investor delegation on behalf of the Gambian leader, President Yahya Jammeh, congratulated the two parties involved in the deal for its realization, and all those who worked to facilitate the project. It was perhaps significant the Gambian dictator himself, who holds the energy ministry portfolio, absented himself from the signing ceremony. Just about a week ago Yahya Jammeh discovered that he had got his fingers burnt by another group of foreign businessmen. Those were from the east European country of Ukraine. Headed by an unmistakable conman, who presented himself as Mr. Volkov, the group had said they planned on investing a whopping amount of Euro 25 million in a fertilizer and animal-feed producing company to be set up in The Gambia.
Brought into the country by free-wheeling Gambian businessman in the name of Mam Sait Njie, Mr. Volkov and his men named their supposed fertilizer-producing enterprise U&G Investment Group; standing for Ukraine and Gambia it appeared. Gambian government officials were easily made to in the conmen’s stories and quickly gave the investment plan their blessings. According to some officials the investment project will bring many benefits, including creating 1,600 new jobs Gambian youths. Another major impact cited for the multi-million Euros plant is huge savings in foreign exchange and the budget since the country would not only stop importing chemical fertilizers from abroad, it will become a net exporter of both fertilizer and animal feed to other countries within and outside the sub-region. To government officials opened all official doors for the men and the U&G Investment Group were soon given audience by President Jammeh. After they met the frighteningly naïve Gambian dictator the pace of things was further accelerated. The group was given a land at Sifoe and a ceremony was planned to lay the foundation stone of the factory. President Jammeh, who was in his usual ceremony-loving mood, given the then ongoing 16th anniversary celebrations of the July 1994 “revolution,” promptly made himself available for presiding over the foundation stone laying ceremony.
The ceremony was held on Saturday 24th July at the Kombo South District village of Sifoe of in the Western Region. Amidst drumming and dancing of supporters President Jammeh told the assembled guests that:
"It is no secret that year in and year out, government's spending on fertilizer runs into millions of dalasis and as such, the first potential impact of this multi-million Euro plant is the huge savings in foreign exchange and the budget that would be accrued from having to disengage from importing fertilizer. The importation of fertilizer will soon become a thing of the past." Jammeh added that it was not only the 1 600 new jobs Gambians should export but the countless other job opportunities that will stem out of the fertilizer factory’s forward and backward linkages. He went on to say that the huge investment will also provide many individuals and families the much needed income necessary to prevent them from falling prey to the wicked and gruesome arms of poverty and destitution. "It is also my understanding that U&G is investing in other areas, which include operating a modern fishing company, with a modern fleet of fishing vessels, almost ready to sail and commence operations. You will become as better of as you demonstrate readiness to take advantages of the many opportunities that my government provides, including the ones that such a facility represents. It should always be remembered that the role of any government is limited primarily to the creation of limitless opportunities for citizens," President Jammeh told the guests at the Sifoe foundation-stone laying ceremony. He also commended and thanked Mr. Volkov for choosing The Gambia as a place to invest and expressed appreciation to Mr. Mam Sait Njie for the role he played in attracting Mr. Volkov's interest in The Gambia and getting him to come in such a grand style. He went on to say: "I thank Mr. Volkov and the entire members of the U&G investment group for choosing The Gambia as a hub. I would like to give the group my fullest assurances and the unfailing protection of my government to a project that does not only bring overwhelming joy to all Gambians but also symbolizes the excellent bond of friendship between the governments and peoples of Ukraine and The Gambia." Before his address other men of his administration had also said similar things about the project.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Kilifa Kambi, had said the project was another development in the agricultural sector of the country. He said it will not only boost the economy but greatly impact on farming in the country, noting that it would accord every Gambian the opportunity to access fertilizer at a cheaper cost. The Fisheries and Water Resources Minister, Lamin Kaba Bajo said the investment project was timely, beneficial and strategic.
But neither the Gambian partner, Mam Sait Njie, nor the Ukrainian conman, Mr. Volkov, addressed the ceremony. Instead it was Mr. Njie’s wife, Jainaba Jallow, who spoke for the U&G Investment Group She said that the project was part of a major investment plan in the country. According to her there is increasing investor's confidence in locating and doing business in The Gambia, "We have pledged to play our part in the strategic investment in this country," she stated, adding that the project will create more job opportunities for Gambians and intends to appraise other sectors of the economy.
The televised ceremony gave the Ukrainians legitimacy, status and the air of trustworthiness in the eyes of many members of the Gambian formal establishment. The east Europeans were quick on cashing in on this. The ceremony, as you may recall, was held over the weekend. The following Monday, July 26th, saw Volkov and his men rushing to the commercial banks in Banjul with checks from some banks in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. Most vulnerable to the stampede was the Trust Bank Gambia Ltd, usual very amenable to the wishes of the Gambian authorities. But there they needed some arms-twisting from State House before the checks could be honored. The Gambia Journal learnt that within a week the men were able to dupe Banjul based commercial banks and even the Central Bank of The Gambia an unspecified millions of dalasi before absconding back to Ukraine. The east European banks whose check sheets were presented here in Banjul are flatly refusing to re-transfer the amounts. Through the stone-laying ceremony in Sifoe, the conmen might have helped President Jammeh make some political gains, but he is not said to be delighted at the men’s mischief. It usually takes a thief to catch a thief so it should take a thief to preempt another so Jammeh is perhaps enraged only because he has been shown to have been outsmarted.