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FABB’s Monologue!- Sulayman Ben Suwareh

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First Lady Fatou Bah Barrow and Journalist Mustapha K Darboe

By Sulayman Ben Suwareh

On July 3, the investigative journalism platform The Republic got tongues waggling. A foundation established by the wife of the Gambian president, Fatou Bah, called Fatou Bah-Barrow Foundation, bought a container from an auction conducted by the Customs Department of the Gambia Revenue Authority for D200,000.

Of course, according to the charity, they did not buy it. Instead, the container was purchased by a generous donor who, until this minute, was not named and donated to FaBB. It is essential to point out that the customs officials who spoke to The Republic were explicit that FaBB bought the container. The charity then claimed they donated it to the Central Medical Store.

Let’s get started. The basic facts currently established are as follows: Foundation 221 donated a container (TTNU 4589047) to the Ministry of Health. The bill of lading published by The Republic shows that the Ministry of Health was the consignee, with former permanent secretary Muhammed Jaiteh written on it.

Other documents published by The Republic also show that the total value of the container, according to the donors, is $463,830, equivalent to at least D31 million.

For a strange reason, the Ministry of Health claimed it could not secure the release of the container. They could not even officially get information about it from GRA. Desperate, the donors brought the issue to The Republic’s attention, making its findings available to both the donors and the Ministry, which appeared helpless.

In a press release dated July 4 and issued today, FaBB confirmed being in the custody of the container, whether through buying it or through a generous donor. And also said they donated it. It has to be noted that FaBB’s press release did not contradict the story published by The Republic. It confirmed it.

There is one issue, though. The Republic reported that, contrary to its routine organisational procedures, FaBB did not publish any donation to the Central Medical Store (CMS). FaBB does not contest This. They have not provided any evidence of publicity around the donation of this container on their website or social media accounts.

Nevertheless, the organisation said they donated the items to the CMS, something The Republic did not contradict. The publication only said it did not see any evidence of the donation, suggesting that the container’s contents may have been sold for profit, in part or whole.

In their response, the FaBB Foundation said it donated the items and published a picture showing the First Lady holding a carton of what appears to be medical items with Babanding Sabally, the former director of National Pharmaceutical Services. According to them, this was the evidence of the donation.

Let’s first look at a few facts. According to my sources, the last letter the Ministry of Health wrote to GRA about the state of the container was authored by Sabally, the recipient of the donation. While FaBB claimed the donation was made on September 29, 2023, to Babanding, who was director of National Pharmaceutical Services— who could be seen in the picture with their store manager Sosseh Badgie— the basic fact is that Sabally was redeployed to the Ministry of Health in April 2023. When FaBB claimed to have donated, Sabally was not at Central Medical Store. He was already DPS at the Ministry 5 months earlier.

Meanwhile, according to The Republic’s publication, Betty Saine, the CEO of FaBB Foundation, claimed she was on maternity leave when the container was donated. Therefore, she was unable to comment thoroughly on it. This is on record. But in the picture shared by FaBB, Betty was standing right next to the First Lady. Did she lie to The Republic, and if she did, what must have motivated that?

Again, it is usual practice that when FaBB makes donations to health facilities, they visit the beneficiaries’ locations, whether CMS, Essau Health Center, etc. In this case, though, if one closely analyses the picture released by the charity, one realises that it was taken at State House, in front of the tent. The features in the background are not consistent with those at the CMS.

Perhaps the most significant question will be these: how was it possible that the Ministry of Health was looking for a container so severely that they wrote to GRA when, in fact, the letter’s author was a recipient of the same container a couple of months back? Why would GRA auction a container on whose bill of lading is written “MINISTRY OF HEALTH”? Why wouldn’t FaBB, which claimed to be transparent, not name the person or persons who bought the container and donate it to them?

Why was this issue so sensitive that GRA designated it “confidential”? The charity Foundation 221 had to pay individual money to trace it before their concerns landed on the Republic’s desk.

Interestingly, in the picture released by FaBB, and I have seen two, only a few boxes were placed for a photo opportunity. The image is not enough to verify. But since they claimed to be interested in accountability and subjecting themselves to scrutiny, I hope they will work with The Republic to eventually confirm the donation of the container in question to the CMS.

In this press release, it seems that FaBB has succeeded in convincing itself. As I see it, the only outstanding issue that The Republic, and now FaBB itself, has not confirmed is the donation of a container to the CMS. All other things published by The Republic have been confirmed.

Finally, Why did FaBB not publish this donation, like every other donation the organisation has made in the past? Was it a conscious decision, knowing that any publicity could raise questions?

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