The Jammeh administration has left the Barrow government with at least D1.04 billion ($26 million) in court awarded damages for human right abuses to illegal termination of contracts.
Experts said this amount can build 75% of feeder roads in Gambia.
The legal cases were the damages awarded by ECOWAS Court of Justice against a disappeared journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh, the family of killed journalist Deyda Hydara, tortured journalist Ebrima Saidykhan and an another case of illegal termination of a contract with a mining company Carnegie minerals.
In 2015, Gambia lost to a mineral sands mining company Astron Corp. Ltd. in a case at International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes after the company sued the country for an illegal termination of a contract.
The award was about US$23 million (D920 million) favoring the company in a spat over its revoked license and expropriated mining assets.
Astron held a mining license in the Gambia through its subsidiary Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd., and Gambia has since moved to annul the award at the ICSID.
Gambia’s Finance Minister Amadou Sanneh yesterday told journalists that the small nation is still paying for the services of lawyers retained for the legal case with Carnegie with retailer fees totaling D59.28 million.
Jammeh at the time accused the company of illegal mining but Carnegie argued that the illegal mining claims were wrong because titanium and iron oxide were components of ilmenite and uranium a trace element inseparable from zircon — the mineral covered by its mining license.
It sought recovery of damages for lost profits from its operations, according to its counsel Brick Court Chambers.
The tribunal ultimately ruled in Carnegie’s favor in July, finding that the Gambia had no basis to cancel its mining license.
The final award covered $18.6 million in damages for breach of the mining license, an interest of slightly more than $993,000, arbitration costs of roughly $445,000 and about $3.3 million for legal costs, Astron said.
Gambia has three mining areas in Kartong, Bato Kunku and Sanyang but Gambians don’t know what are being mined nor do they know the amount the mining put into the state coffers.
Jammeh once suggested on the state television that the country has uranium, though that remains unconfirmed.
The minority leader of the National Assembly, Samba Jallow, asked the minister of finance in 2016 as to why revenues from mining do not reflect on the national budget during one of his appearances before the lawmakers.
Then minister Abdou Kolley responded that mining in the country was under the Geology Department which was under the office of the president and area councils and thus does reflect on the national budget as government revenue.
However, doubts about the minister’s claims emerged after it came to light that the case against Carnegie was the Gambia Government versus the mining company and not the Geology and Area Councils versus the company.
Moreover, the damages awarded against the Gambia as well as the over D59 million legal fees will legally be paid by the Gambian taxpayers and not Area Councils and Geology Department.
Damages against killing, torture
Deyda Hydara, the founder of the independent newspaper The Point, was shot dead by unidentified assailants as he drove home from his office in the capital, Banjul, on December 16, 2004.
Hydara, a regular critic of President Yahya Jammeh’s harsh policies, had received multiple death threats in the months leading up to his death. His murder remains unsolved.
In 2014, a panel of three justices in the Nigeria-based Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice declared that Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency, tasked with investigating Hydara’s murder, did not carry out a proper investigation and cited its failure to carry out ballistic tests on the bullets and weapons recovered from suspects.
The court said the Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency was “not an impartial body to conduct the investigation” but that there was no evidence linking the Gambian government to the murder.
The court awarded US$50,000 to Hydara’s family as compensation for the government’s failure to effectively investigate the murder and US$10,000 for legal costs.
Meanwhile, Musa Saidykhan, who was also detained for three weeks in 2006 by Gambian state security agents, was tortured and must receive compensation, ECOWAS court ruled in 2010.
Saidykhan, editor-in-chief of the private biweekly The Independent, was detained for 22 days without charge by the Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA) during a brutal government crackdown following a purported coup plot.
He said he was tortured during his detention and brought a lawsuit at the Nigeria-based Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demanding compensation for illegal detention and torture.
In December 2010, a panel of four judges ruled in his favor in a lawsuit filed by the Ghana-based press freedom group Media Foundation of West Africa.
The court ordered the Gambian government to pay Saidykhan damages of US$200,000. The ruling is final without the possibility of appeal.
In 2008 the ECOWAS court again declared the 2006 arrest of Gambian journalist “Chief” Ebrima Manneh to be illegal and ordering his immediate release.
The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States also ordered the Gambian government to pay US$100,000 in damages to Manneh’s family.
The Media Foundation for West Africa had filed the legal action with the Nigeria-based court in 2007, seeking an order compelling the Gambian government to release Manneh.
A source from the justice ministry who does not want to be named has informed The Torch that the ministry is currently working on compiling all damages and fines made against the Gambia Government in the past.