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In the surreal world of the autocracy that reigns over the poverty-stricken, miniscule West African state of The Gambia, things, as usual , have a tendency of going one way when the world outside pushes ahead on another. So while everyone else is jubilating over the sharp fall in international oil prices, The Gambia’s Energy Minister, Edward Saja Sanneh, is moaning about how fuel imports are causing major problems, using  up almost all  the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

Minister Sanneh was speaking at a validation workshop for the National Action Agenda and Investment Prospectus Document on Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) in The Gambia, held at the Sheraton Hotel, just outside Brufut.

“Fuel imports cause major problems for the Gambian nation as its uses up the little foreign exchange the country generates,” the minister said, adding that in 2009, the country spent about US$47 million in petroleum imports, which amounted to about 15.5% share of total imports.

According to Sanneh, the main salient features that characterize the energy sector in The Gambia are high dependence on imported fossil fuels; the dominance of traditional biomass sources in the country’s energy mix; low access to modern energy services; limited investment in new assets and inadequate maintenance of old and ageing electricity supply equipment; and very limited investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency potentials.
Energy plays a significant role in improving the lives of people, and thereby contributes to development, he said, adding that energy is used for water supply and for fueling agricultural output, health, education, job creation and environmental sustainability.
Minister Sanneh said despite this, over 1.6 billion people in developing countries are deprived of access to reliable and affordable energy services (such as electricity and LPG) and over 80% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa uses traditional biomass for cooking and heating.

He added that the absence of modern fuels further propels poverty.
It was obvious that increasing access to good, affordable energy services is likely to engender considerable benefits in terms of people’s living conditions, as well as helping to achieve the MDGs, he added.

He said though energy was not explicitly taken into account in the Millennium Development Goals, the contribution of energy services to their achievement is widely acknowledged.

It was recognition of the critical need to improve access, for sustainable, affordable, and environmentally sound energy services in The Gambia that the country fully embraced the sustainable energy for all initiative (SE4ALL) when it was launched by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, the minister added.

He said fuel imports “cause major problems for the Gambia nation as it uses up the little foreign exchange the country generates, he said, adding that in 2009, the country spent US$ 47 million in petroleum imports, which amounted to about a 15.5 percent share of total imports.”

We wonder why the minister had to rely on five-year-old figures for the illustration of his points. What were the more relevant import bill figures for petroleum imports for 2010, 2011, 2012 an 2013? Were they not yet available to his ministry, or was he bent on sitting on them?

Without going into details, Minister Sanneh claimed the Gambia government “has made consistent efforts to address these challenges in the energy sector, in a progressive manner.”

In 2005, he continued, The Gambia adopted an energy policy that sets out the objectives for the energy sector, and also the aims for the renewable energy sub-sector.

He said within that policy, an Electricity Act was enacted in 2005 to promote the development of the electricity sub-sector; encourage private investment in the sector; and promote competition, among others.  But according to consistent complaints by visiting IMF staff, all the government of The Gambia has been doing since 2005 is to stifle competition in the energy sector. Competitive pump price competition has not been seen in the Gambian market since before Independence in 1965. Everyone who has been in The Gambia for sometime knows that the 2005 Electricity Act, which introduced the Independent Power Providers’ instrument was solely introduced to give President Jammeh himself the opportunity to gang up with Shia Lebanese gangster, Muhamed Bazzi , to establish a de facto monopoly over the importation of petroleum products into The Gambia and control over the generation and distribution of electricity.
In fact before this and the introduction of that piece of decorative legislation, Jammeh had started producing and selling electricity to NAWEC under the GAMPOWER with the help of his under-cover business associate Mr Samba and briefly, Samuel Sarr, a Senegalese of Gambian extraction.

In May 2014, relations between the Gambian leader and the Lebanese partner turned sour, as many had then claimed and the Arab was rumored to have fled the country. However, by the middle of that month( May 2014) the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs,  Quadrangle, Banjul started running adverts on daily newspapers stating thus: “LICENCE TO IMPORT PETROLEUM PRODUCTS: Following its policy to liberalise the importation of fuel products into the country, Government has decided to introduce a licence regime an companies interested to import petroleum products are now invited to apply to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs.
Application forms are available during working hours of 08:00 – 18:00”

The impromptu tone of the advert, the rash way it was authored and what screamed between the lines and between the words, all indeed said a lot about the story state of things in The Gambia. First, that we are under a one-man rule dispensation; and that all public policy and the officialdom surrounding them, including the constitution, the General Orders, Financial Instructions, the rule of law, public Order, cabinet,  parliament, and you name it, all together, are in place only to facilitate President Jammeh’s kleptocratic design and intentions. Mr. Jammeh’s whimsical desires run through the dynamics of all public policy-making, his commands make government institutions shake in tremors falling of their hinges, leaving citizens in Mr. Jammeh’s whimsical desires run through the dynamics of all public policy-making, his commands make government institutions shake in tremors falling of their hinges, leaving citizens in perpetual state of apprehension.

Mr. Bazzi, around early December 2014, is once again being rumored as having absconded while heavily indebted to several Gambian commercial banks. How is such development, if confirmed, going to impact on the life of the average Gambian on the street? Already, electricity supplies in the Greater Banjul Area has suddenly worsened since the reported Bazzi absconding. How for instance will be the fate of the policy of monthly price hikes in the pumping stations which government claims is to slowly but steadily cut off all state subsidy in the prices of petroleum fuel but which critics state because of the artificially high prices kept deliberately high by the Jammeh Bazzi collusion. Will the energy market be now liberalized in practice , not only in words? Will there now be more competition in the market to eventually bring the pump prices in genuine reflection of the real world of oil barrels which have been on a constant downward trend for the last six months or so?

How is such development, if confirmed, going to impact on the life of the average Gambian on the street? Already, electricity supplies in the Greater Banjul Area has suddenly worsened since the reported Bazzi absconding. How for instance will be the fate of the policy of monthly price hikes in the pumping stations which government claims is to slowly but steadily cut off all state subsidy in the prices of petroleum fuel but which critics state because of the artificially high prices kept deliberately high by the Jammeh Bazzi collusion. Will the energy market be now liberalized in practice, not only in words? Will there now be more competition in the market to eventually bring the pump prices in genuine reflection of the real world of oil barrels which have been on a constant downward trend for the last six months or so?

When government announced the measures it was embarking for the gradual but steady elimination of its supposed subsidy of the consumption of petroleum subsidies, it had targeted December 2013 as the time when all subsidies would have been totally eliminated. And when this was being said the authorities, as everyone else, had not anticipated the recent fall in the price of crude oil in the world market. But, as earlier stated, no cuts in the pump prices of either petrol or diesel are still to be affected. In fact staggered increase in the price fuel have tended to increase even if the frequency as been held back some how. This leaves many observers doubting the veracity of the supposed subsidies. In fact the authorities have never disclosed in categorical terms the size of the subsidies they were supposedly dispensing. As late as September 2014,  the pump price for diesel was hiked up to D58.52 per liter from D57.52 and diesel to D54.09 to D55.09 per liter. That was back in September, and mid December 2014  price is D58.77 for petrol and D5.59 for diesel.

In fact staggered increase in the price fuel have tended to increase even if the frequency as been held back some how. This leaves many observers doubting the veracity of the supposed subsidies. In fact the authorities have never disclosed in categorical terms the size of the subsidies they were supposedly dispensing. As late as September 2014,  the pump price for diesel was hiked up to D58.52 per liter from D57.52 and diesel to D54.09 to D55.09 per liter. That was back in September, and mid-December 2014  price is D58.77 for petrol and D5.59 for diesel.

The minister put the petroleum import bill for 2009 at US$47.million, but what was it for 2013? Was it US$55 million? US$65 million, or US$70 million? How much of these were subsidized? What is the current state of the subsidy, what percentage is still outstanding, if any, and when can Gambian consumers expect a cut in pump prices? A cut in the prices will reduce what was being ripped off Gambian consumers and tax payers and stuffed into the pockets of Jammeh and his comrade in crime, Muhamed Bazzi and increase the disposable income of citizens, the shortest cut to poverty reduction. Such a move can even help kick the economy back into motion, stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit and get more people to work. But with Jammeh’s kleptocratic disposition, such consideration ranked very low in the hierarchy of his political priorities. He had already had records with international criminal dealers in drugs, arms, blood-diamonds, Mobutu associates, Babanding Futanke Sisoho, the Abacha clan, Russian arms dealer, Victor Bout, the Taylors, the Bagbos, etc, etc.

His repertoire includes fiddling with the Millenium Airlines, the container load of heroin seized by US drug enforcement agents in Mauritania, the diversion of gifts of petroleum products to the Gambia government by the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the illegal take-over of assets belonging to Babanding Sisoho, Alimenta SA, Carnegie Minerals, Baba Jobe and the YDE or Youth Development Enterprise, GAMCO, Roger Hines and his Buried Hill oil company, his rapacious land-grabbing in The Gambia and many more yet-to-be-disclosed stints. Like he once confided to a former batchmate in the defunct Gambia gendarme, Yahya Jammeh frankly told the man that his purpose for staying in State House was to make sure, neither he nor any member of his family, would ever be poor again. But though that assurance had been secured nearly fifteen years ago, Jammeh cannot stop ripping off whatever comes his way.

But with Muhamed Bassi, Jammeh seemed to have come across his match in unscrupulous greed, deceit and lawlessness. Only several years ago, the two men conjured up a scheme of scale and volume of investment that neither of them had ever come close to. Since the middle of the last decade the two men had ganged up to skin Gambian taxpayers and petroleum product consumers clean and white. Jammeh let loose a monopoly over the import, distribution and bunkering of all petroleum products in the country. What they had managed to rip off between 2008 to the end of 2013 is put at close to D2.4 billion by sources closed enough to know and reliable enough to be trusted. Monopoly over the import of heavy fuel oil and supply to the sole buyer, NAWEC, the sole state-owned national power and water supplier alone constitutes more than 23% of the total national fuel bill.

For the other products Jammeh and Bassi made sure they imported only the worst quality and cheapest of petroleum fuels for distribution in the country. To make the quality even worse while doubling and tripling the gains, the two men got teams of Chinese hustlers to establish and work with NAWEC officials for recovery of used and heavy fuel to remix with the imported diesel, increase volumes and sell at cut-throat rates said to be for complying with IMF fuel subsidy elimination targets.  For long the unholy partnership between Jammeh and Bassi went on smoothly with only a few hitches here and there. But then came the so called National Petroleum Storage Facility, supposedly owned by the nation and managed by a hastily patched up Gampetroleum, a kind of a fantasy organization, neither fish nor fowl, whose organizational profile is yet to be established, organogram undecided on and at times called a state owned “national asset,” at other times a “private public venture” and at still other times a “private investment.”

To make the quality even worse while doubling and tripling the gains, the two men got teams of Chinese hustlers to establish and work with NAWEC officials for recovery of used and heavy fuel to remix with the imported diesel, increase volumes and sell at cut-throat rates said to be for complying with IMF fuel subsidy elimination targets.  For long the unholy partnership between Jammeh and Bassi went on smoothly with only a few hitches here and there. But then came the so-called National Petroleum Storage Facility, supposedly owned by the nation and managed by a hastily patched up Gampetroleum, a kind of a fantasy organization, neither fish nor fowl, whose organizational profile is yet to be established, organogram undecided on and at times called a state-owned “national asset,” at other times a “private-public venture” and at still other times a “private investment.”

When it was being officially opened in March 2008, President Jammeh had this to say, “This new petroleum depot is a major infrastructural project, which represents a huge national asset vital to support our economic transformation process and the attainment of the objectives of Vision 2020.”

Mr. Jammeh went on: “The facility is in fulfillment of my Government’s desire to relocate the storage facility at the Half-Die in Banjul for safety and environment reasons, as well as to increase the national capacity for the bulk storage of various types of gas and petroleum products. Through bulk storage, The Gambia can reduce its dependency on the goodwill of neighboring countries for the supply of petroleum products.”

Jammeh

Jammeh

Caucasian businessman walking in snow and talking on cell phone

Muhammed Bazzi

The President went on to “assure the management and staff of Gampetroleum of Government’s continued support and collaboration at all times.”  He mentioned boosted fuel and gas storage capacity, price stability, and attraction of foreign investment as some of the benefits the project would bring.

But when the then Secretary of State for Energy, Ousman Jammeh, rose to address the inaugural ceremony,  describing the Mandinari fuel storage depot, as “yet another milestone project which will no doubt have enormous impact on the socio-economic transformation of this great country,”  he described the facility as an “ultra-modern petroleum products storage depot”, he went on to call it a  51,000 metric tones petroleum storage terminal.”

Many truly wondered if the facility was of 15 000 or 51 000 metric tones capacity? Whose tongue slipped? Ousman Jammeh’s or Yahya Jammeh’s the president Confusion raged among the audience with no one daring to ask for clarification. Neither government, nor company officials ventured to clarify matters and the general public continued and  has since been left confounded on the matter. But this was only one matter requiring clarification, the question of ownership remained as unclear as ever, six years after. See what Bassi had to say, according a State House website:   The chief executive officer of Gampetroleum, Mohammed Bassi, in his statement spoke of “a massive project completed after three years of hard work”. He also described the new fuel depot as a “new landmark in The Gambia”.

According to the businessman, the size of the terminal was enlarged from its original scope, to match the ever-increasing demand in The Gambia due to development.

He further explained that it was decided to make extensions to the original plan, and faced the challenge of raising the necessary funds to do so.

The facility was built to receive big fuel tankers, facilitated by three submarine pipelines laid for a distance of 2.5 Kilometres in addition to a floating mooring station. The total storage capacity of the project is 51,000 metric tones of light and heavy fuel oils as well as liquid propane gas.

There are 17 fuel tanks, 19 loading bays for tank trucks, state-of-the-art technology in gauging and metering equipment, as well as a full LPG bottling plant, and was built according to international standards with full SGS supervision certification.

The total cost of the terminal is US$50 million incurred over the three-year construction period. Besides creating employment, the depot gives the country a safety cushion of up to six months of fuel reserves in case of a world market crisis, and will stabilize prices in the current unstable market.

It also gives the country, for the very first time, adequate storage facility for gas, and eliminates The Gambia’s dependence on neighboring countries for gas. Beside, the depot will act as the fuel hub for supplying countries in the sub-region such as Mali and Guinea Bissau.

The terminal will also act as a bunkering hub for vessels on their way to South America and a refilling station for those vessels.

Mr. Bassi thanked President Jammeh “for your personal support and for your confidence in us, and for creating an environment that encourages investment and development for The Gambia.” He thanked “Total International for first phase of the project, but agreed to increase the financing three-fold for every extension.”

He also thanked ” KBC”, who extended the necessary facilities to Global Trading Group, our Belgian headquarters, for the financing of material and equipment. ” Trust bank, our local bank in The Gambia, who went out of their way to support us. The Lebanese Canadian Bank, for their support and financing of all the projects that we did in The Gambia.

“I am happy that all our bankers are gathered here today. CEOs and managing directors of KBC, Trust Bank, Lebanese Canadian Bank, Bank of Kuwait and the Arab World, Fransa Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank and Standard Chartered Bank.

Has any one become any wiser about the ownership of the project? No. not even Jammeh or Bassi came to be any wiser, some six years after it seems. It is in the attempt to clarify that the two men must have fallen apart! But Jammeh has to watch out, Bassi, a Shia warrior, may return to claim back his share of the deal.

The End

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this section are the author's own and do not represent the editorial policy of Kairo News. Kairo News will trash any comment that inflames tribal, racial or religious hatred.

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