The attention of the High Command of the Gambia Armed Forces was drawn to the Freedom Newspaper story with the headline “Gambian UN Gamcoy 21 Peacekeepers to Darfur have accused retired CDS Kinteh and his Finance Team of deducting over D22 Million Dalasis from their pay” dated 8 April 2020. The said story stated that “some Gambian soldiers, who recently finished their peacekeeping mission to Darfur, Sudan, have accused the former Army Chief of Defence Staff General Masanneh Kinteh and his Finance Team of allegedly deducting twenty two million and five hundred thousand Dalasis (D22.5 million Dalasis) from their UN pay… The disgruntled soldiers were part of Gamcoy 21 contingent. They had served nine months … before their return”.
In an attempt to shed light on the matter, the Gambia Armed Forces would like to sincerely provide factual clarification on the allegations. From the onset, it may be pertinent to give the historical facts about the deployment of Gambian Company 21 (Gamcoy 21). The Gamcoy 21 which comprised 208 troops left The Gambia on Saturday 24 March 2018 for Darfur, Sudan for a one-year United Nations mission. In accordance with GAF predeployment procedures, a financial briefing was conducted for Gamcoy 21 at the Armed Forces Training School in Fajara organized by the Directorate of Peacekeeping of GAF. The briefing was chaired by the current Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Yakuba Drammeh and attended by the deputy Accountant General, Miss Agnes Macaulay and deputy Governor of the Central Bank of The Gambia, Mr. Essa Drammeh. The purpose of that brief was to shed light on troops mission allowance payment procedures and administrative requirements needed to support those procedures. Some of the main highlights of that meeting included compulsory payment of mission allowances in Gambian Dalasis (GMD) which is our legal tender in accordance with the Central Bank Act and GAF Peacekeeping Policy. In the same meeting, troops were assured that allowances would be paid in GMD using the best exchange rate at the time of payment; also that these allowances would be paid into their bank accounts. All the troops accepted the new arrangements by signing a financial undertaking/agreement prior to their deployment into the mission area.
It could be informative to note that the United Nations payment of allowances to troops in their countries does not involve physical cash in US Dollars. The funds are transferred through a wire transfer system to the Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) accounts maintained at their Central Banks. In the past, the Central Bank of The Gambia was compelled to operate at great risk and loss due to the instability of the exchange rate by buying USD in the local market for payment of troops. In 2017, for example, it was not possible to obtain the required quantity of Dollars to pay the troops in US Dollars hence the decision by the GAF, Ministries of Defence, Finance and the Central Bank of the Gambia to pay all Gambian Contingents in Dalasis using the highest foreign exchange rate prevailing in the market.
On 13 July 2018, the UN Security Council decided through Resolution 2429 to draw down and reconfigure the UNAMID peacekeeping force as a result of the general improvement in security conditions across Darfur. Consequently, the TCCs including Senegal, Nepal, Pakistan and Ethiopia repatriated their contingents in line with the UNAMID draw dawn plan. Similarly, The Gambia, Rwanda, and Kenya were among those to only draw-down (reduce its strength). In the case of The Gambia, a total of seventy-six (76) personnel (including one soldier that died from natural causes in the mission area) were repatriated thereby reducing the strength of Gamcoy 21 to one hundred and thirty-two (132) personnel. Meanwhile, it may be instructive to state that the Gambia Contingent continued to serve as the Force Headquarters protection force as well as providing communications support, Admin/Clerical functions to the mission headquarters.
Furthermore, on Sunday 30 December, 2018, the seventy-five (75) troops of Gamcoy 21 were repatriated and arrived in The Gambia after serving nine months three days in the mission area. However, it is important to state here that, the initial repatriation date was 27 December 2018 and their mission allowances were computed based on this initial date. The troops were received on arrival by the GAF High Command and the usual debriefing procedures which centered predominantly on payment of the repatriated soldiers mission allowances was conducted at Yundum barracks. For transparency purpose, a detailed explanation of the computation of their allowances was done in the presence of the contingent and all the relevant stakeholders including Commandant Defence Headquarters Camp. Eventually, each member of the contingent was paid USD11,219.87 after deduction of 10% from their gross pay and recovery of USD283.00 departure advance in accordance with the predeployment financial agreement/undertaking.
An additional supplementary payment of USD218.96 was made to each of the members of the repatriation team for the extra three (3) days spent in the mission area beyond their initial repatriation date including the mission allowance increment/difference from July 2018 to December 2018. It may interest the general public to know that this additional payment of 3 days allowances was paid at the expense of the Gambia government from the GAF Peacekeeping account because the UNAMID payment did not cover the extra 3 days spent outside the official repatriation date. This action by GAF demonstrated absolute transparency and responsibility by paying troops according to their entitlement. It is pertinent to state that the 10% deduction from each troop’s mission allowance applies to all other Contingents since 2017 although a higher rate (30%) was applied for Contingents before the change of government. The funds from the 10% deductions are used to finance mission pre-deployment activities like training, purchase of uniforms and equipment, drugs and medical equipment, food items and so on. The Gambia has the highest rate of pay in terms of allowances for its troops on UN missions more than countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal; this is information that could be verified from these countries.
Upon confirmation of computations of mission allowances at the debriefing, final processing of the payment of the contingent through their individual salary accounts was conducted by the Accountant General’s Department. It should be stressed that this payment process undergoes all the necessary government financial payment procedures including verification by the Internal Audit Directorate (Ministry of Finance) and the Accountant General. Thus, financial due process was fully complied with and therefore, the purported conspiracy theory of diverting these funds allegedly by the former Chief of Defence Staff and GAF Finance is nonexistent, malicious and therefore impossible.
Furthermore, it may also be relevant to emphatically state that the United Nations has one of the most professional but stringent administrative procedures especially with regards to payment of its personnel and troops serving in mission areas. One is paid for what one works for! Even in life, it may be preposterous and illogical, therefore for one to claim payment for what one has not worked for. How can the UN, therefore pay twelve months allowance to troops for a nine-months tour of duty? It may also be prudent to consult the Accountant General, Directorate of Internal Audit under the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of The Gambia to verify the total amount that was paid to each of these soldiers. Similarly, one could also contact the United Nations Country Office or Coordinator in The Gambia on the UN system of payment of allowances to troops in UN missions all over the world or the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping. Besides, a simple mathematics using a foreign exchange rate of $1= D50, for example on the total amount paid into each soldier’s account would mean that the amount of money allegedly deducted by the GAF (D300,000) from each soldier would be more than half of the soldiers’ allowances. Who in his right frame of mind would be deducted such an amount of money and decide to keep quiet for over a year ( December 2018 to April 2020) without making noise about the matter?
In fact, it has to be reiterated that since the repatriation of the 75 troops in December 2018, the Gambia Armed Forces Command has not received any claim or complaint from any of them on the issue of their allowances. Therefore, the story by the Freedom Newspaper as well as its timing is a malicious attempt to malign or discredit either the former Chief of Defence Staff, retired Lieutenant General Masanneh Kinteh or the Gambia Armed Forces. Furthermore, there is no iota of truth in the assertion by the Freedom Newspaper that the Armed Forces Spokesperson Major Lamin K Sanyang could not be reached. There was no point in time, be it during the day or night that the GAF Spokesperson was contacted by journalists either in The Gambia or outside or even Pa Nderry Mbai himself that the Spokesperson had not answered especially on this matter. It is therefore evident and very unfortunate that some people, for lack of integrity, would go all out to denigrate their own Armed Forces for ulterior motives. In the interest of our national peace and security, it is necessary to report facts rather than unfounded stories about our Armed Forces or our country.
These unfounded and malicious publications give a wrong impression about the Gambia and its Armed Forces which also represents national power and our sovereignty as a country. Such tendencies of indulging in misinformation about the military are grave and could have negative effects on the morale of troops and our national security. It has to be emphasized that removing the military from politics also requires not bringing politics into the military. Therefore, we are appealing to all well-meaning Gambians to desist from such malicious publications or actions that could bring the Gambia Armed Forces into disrepute.
Finally, the Gambia Armed Forces wishes to assure the general public of its readiness and commitment to maintain its professionalism while at the same time subjecting itself to civil authority.