By Landing Ceesay
The Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) Director for Energy, Lamin S. Ceesay testified in the Gam Petroleum Corruption Scandal Trial at the High Court of the Gambia.
Mr. Ceesay, the sixth prosecution witness, told the court that as a public utility regulatory body, they work with Gam Petroleum to ensure security of supply, open access and data collections.
He said the depot submits on a weekly basis- precisely every Monday the report of the physical stock at the facility.
The witness continued that they provide licence for importers, exporters and retail companies i.e. Petrol stations.
The witness told the court that these retail companies purchase the product from traders, and that the depot would release the invoice based on invoice mechanism.
PW6 said most of the products stored at Gam Petroleum are owned by those traders and their affiliate, and those International traders are Addax, PSTV, and TRAFIGURA.
Witness Ceesay said normally, the retail companies would purchase the products and the traders would issue authorization and the depot would be notified.
He said once the authorization is done, the depot would release the products by maintaining an account for the OMCs and this account or book value will be drawn based on the lifting.
“What I meant about the book value is for example if you buy 100, the release note of 100 will be issued to you and then you can withdraw this in any amount you want and is normally termed as ITT (In tank-transfer) certificate. But we don’t know what happened to the ITT unless there is a complaint,” the witness told the court.
The witness said he knew the accused persons through their interactions at Gam Petroleum and also when Mr. Saihou Drammeh (1st accused) was working at GNPC. And said that at the Executive level, that’s where he came to know the 2nd accused as operations manager at Gam Petroleum.
“Like all public utilities, if there is an instant, we have a reporting department according to law, general operations we do not interfere i.e. the day to day operations for example, if there were a fire, the depot would call us and inform us of the incident,” PW6 said.
The witness said they monitor Gam Petroleum based on their weekly report that they submit to them.
The PURA Energy Director said there was a submission in October 2021 where one of the fuel levels at the depot was low and they engaged the depot for the next shipment.
He said the answer was that there is a shipment expected and he got the feedback from his staff when the 1st accused was the Managing Director at Gam Petroleum.
“The product that was low is diesel (gas oil). We took note of it. I was in Kenya but I received an email from the General Manager (1st accused). The Director General of PURA said he received a call from the 1st accused who wanted to brief him on the operations i.e to conduct a meeting.
“I instructed my staff to attend the meeting. After returning, I was informed that I was issued a copy of the report by a team led by the Director of SIS (NIA) and my staff who had visited the depot the previous weekend. I read the depot report, and we concluded that the report only focuses on diesel mostly. Thus, we went to the depot to measure for the other products. We measured all the tanks and met the General Manager (1st accused) in his office. We took a reading of each tank after deep-in,” the witness told the court.
The witness said they accessed the depot by vehicle and when they arrived, they were given access through one of the staff to measure the tank.
He said the depot has assigned staff who climbed the tank to put the deep-in and then took the reading.
“We verify and discuss what was found on the reading. We had a discussion i.e. the radius found for the shipment expected. We had a general discussion and he mentioned about expecting a shipment. I can provide the court the data we collect,” the witness said.
The witness said there was a Gam Petroleum board meeting in Brusubi, which he attended with another PURA staff member.
He said the meeting was centred on a shipment that was supposed to come and also if there were any claims Gam Petroleum would take responsibility.
“We discuss the claims from the traders or any of the OMCs. At that stage, there was a lot of information about the stock balances at the depot. Expected shipment was discussed and I left. We engaged the depot to obtain the names of the vessels. At some point, we receive information about a certain vessel at the port in Dakar. We monitored, we were tracking to see whether the ship was moving. For the next few days it was still at the port in Dakar,” the witness told the court.
The witness said normally, they do not get the ship’s details because of the circumstances but just the name of the shipment was sufficient.
Ceesay continued that in terms of the cargo, the tracking does not provide enough details.
He said there was another meeting at PURA and it was a high level meeting mostly Directors, Chairman of Gam Petroleum, trade Minister, Director General PURA, and the 1st accused was invited.
The witness said during the meeting he gave a summary of their visit at Gam Petroleum that was happening during that day.
“A lot of things were happening because the public called asking about the fuel and the depot, the truck tanks can’t load. Most of the trucks did not have information and most of the retail companies were going to the depot and asking PURA what happened.
“They try to find why they could not load their trucks. I mentioned that there was a discussion at the meeting. We inform the people that there is a fuel shortage. We had cries that had to be managed. There were several meetings and engagements and a lot had to be done to bring back the fuel and when the vessel did not come the following week,” the witness told the court.
The witness said as cries evolved, different state actors were involved including the police and others and no one had access to the individuals. But then he was focused mainly on how to bring back the fuel by getting the retail fuel over hand from Senegal.
He said they met the energy Minister to discuss the fast-track of bringing the permit, and discussed with customs to ensure that the simplification of documents were made for entry of fuel.
The witness testified that after verifying the diesel tanks were emptied, they resulted in Senegal.
“There is a licensing department at PURA and we recommend a licence to the Minister to sign. There are about 40 companies including Atlas, castle etc. The authorization was granted to Atlas, Jah Oil, Petro Gas etc.
“The licensees are only allowed to bring a vessel to the port in Mandinary because of the crisis, those already having licensing engage the minister to remove that restriction to allow over land importation so that the public access fuel and the economy continues,” the witness told the court.
The witness said at some point, the trade minister was asked to meet the management of the Gam Petroleum; and PURA was instructed to be part of the National Taskforce and provide any technical assistance.
PW6 said they provided support or stabling, and they did the physical verification for the remaining stock by monitoring, and wrote to other companies to give their stock balances.
He said there were various claims that they complied. The witness said they wrote to them by email, some responded by email, and wrote to the depot to give them their version of what these claims were.
“The claims were the account balance or book balance. Example, like a bank and a claim of fuel. In the claims, some said in October they were supposed to have 2 million and the depot would say no. Our position was, there is a lot of dispute on claims and a lot of discrepancy in the data and as much as we receive the claims we were recommending for a third party or independent to get to the bottom of the problem,” he told the court.
The witness told the court that there is no direct link between the weekly report and the discrepancy.
“But these are claims that people make and we were cautious. Because in a crisis you have to be cautious of the claims on both sides and the weekly report received from the depot gives only the total, not the account or breakdown,” the witness told the court.
Mr. Ceesay appeared in Court as the Sixth Prosecution Witness (PW6) in the trial involving two staff of Gam Petroleum Storage Facility Depot in Lamin Mandinary.
The 2 staff namely Saihou Drammeh (1st accused), former Managing Director and Lamin Gassama (2nd accused), former Operations Manager of the institution are charged with 8 counts (3 counts of economic crimes and 5 other counts) in the alleged corruption scandal.
The eight counts are levelled against the two in their maiden court appearance at the High Court in Banjul on 4th April 2022 presided over by Justice Haddy Roche.
Their appearance in court followed their arrest regarding their alleged involvement in the alleged corruption, malpractices and the missing of products worth USD 20 million at the depot.
M. D Mballow, represented the State, while lawyers Christopher E. Mene, B. S. Conteh, S. Akimbo, Bakurin Pauline, and Sasum Sillah represented the 1st accused and 2nd accused persons in the hearing.
The case proceeded to cross examination, which will feature in our subsequent publications.