By Dawda Faye
Tamsir Badjie, former director of Housing at SSHFC, yesterday told the Janneh Commission that the purchase of Ocean Bay Hotel was not a better deal.
Prior to the witness testifying, lawyer Musa Batchilly told the commission that he was taking over from Amie Bensouda as lead counsel to enquire on the circumstances leading to the leasing of Ocean Bay and Sun Beach Hotels respectively to BPI by Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation, and also to find out whether the former president was involved in the process.
Mr. Batchilly told the commission that he was mandated by the attorney general and minister of Justice to deal with the said matters. He said that Mrs. Bensouda is the attorney for SSHFC and there might be a conflict of interest to handle the same matter affecting the corporation.
The former director of Housing, Mr. Tamsir Badjie, told the commission that he is an engineer by profession and a pensioner. He added that he worked as a public servant and had also worked at SSHFC for about 28 years and he retired in 2016.
He told the commission that before he retired, he was the director of Housing for 4 years (from 2012-2016). He said his function as director of housing was to manage houses and any other assignment given to him by the managing director.
At this juncture, he was given a document which he confirmed to be his statement he wrote to the investigators. Counsel Batchilly then applied to tender the statement in evidence as exhibit which was granted by the commission.
He testified that he knows about the leasing of Ocean Bay and Sun Beach Hotels respectively by SSHFC to BPI. He said the office of the MD set up a taskforce to discuss and negotiate the leasing of Ocean Bay Hotel and he was part of the key members together with the director of Finance, Abdoulie Cham, and Mr. Foon,
During the process, he said they agreed on certain terms and principles among which included to allow their technicians to check on the quality on the work done, be part of the renovation and maintenance of the hotels among others.
He said they were shown a letter where BPI showed interest to lease Ocean Bay Hotel; adding that there was a directive from the office of the former president to negotiate with BPI to lease the said hotels.
Mr. Badjie further testified that they had a standard process of leasing their properties. He was asked whether the committee was informed about two other offers. In response, he said it was only BPI‘s offer they received.
He adduced that they were dictated to by BPI team, and sometimes their meetings were distracted by their visits to State House. He told the commission that for the Ocean Bay meeting, the negotiation took place and he could not remember how long the meeting lasted.
At this juncture, he was shown an offer letter for the leasing of Ocean Bay to peruse, which he confirmed. Counsel Batchilly applied to tender the said letter which was admitted in evidence.
He was again asked whether there was a lawyer representing SSHFC during the negotiation. He answered in the negative and said that the lawyer came after the negotiation was drafted.
Another document was shown to him, and he went through it. He said that when they went for the negotiation, they were going for the best they could offer, further noting that they were powerless and the BPI team were strong.
He stated that the BPI’s lawyer drafted the letter and Lamin Ceesay, the lawyer of the cooperation, was given the draft .
At this juncture, he was given a letter of intent which he also confirmed, and was asked the content of the letter i.e. the conditions for a ten-year lease. He told the commission that they also offered a rent of 12,000 Euros per month, adding that 13,000 Euros was agreed as the offer per month by BPI. He said that they could not pay more than that.
According to Mr. Badjie, they could have got a better deal had bidders were allowed to bid and compete. He said BPI achieved most of the works specified but they had issues with them, stating that BPI did not allow their technicians to be present.
He told the commission that BPI came up with huge pack of invoices which were not privy to members of the committee and were only brought after the renovation was completed, noting that they discovered that some of the invoices presented were not even expenditures on renovation but hotel expenses.
He said they requested for the bill of quantities, receipts and invoices showing expenditures on the refurbishment and renovation of the hotels but BPI did not provide them.
“Do you think BPI was able to justify their expenditures?” asked Counsel Batchilly. Mr. Badjie replied in the negative and added he was aware that BPI was deducting €6000 from rent.
Mr. Badjie testified that in 2013, Ocean Bay lease was signed and there was a committee set up to monitor the works done; that they asked BPI to seek their consent before doing anything at the hotel but they did not, noting that they were adamant to comply.
The witness further testified that their team of technicians was on the ground to monitor the works by BPI but BPI was not complying and as a result, they withdrew the team and informed the management. He revealed to the commission that there were letters of demand for BPI to settle arrears, further stating that they had issues with NAWEC concerning bills.
On Sun Beach Hotel, he disclosed that BPI started at the beginning of the tourist season, and BPI told them that they loss part of the generation account and the committee was not aware when BPI started the work at Sun Beach. However, he said one day they went to the hotel and found that they were operating but he did not know who authorised them to use the hotel before the lease was finalised.
He said they asked them to give SSHFC the proceeds of that season but they never did so. Saibatou Faal, chairman of the committee, made several demands during the meetings but got frustrated, noting that BPI made an offer to lease Sun Beach Hotel the same way as they did with the leasing of Ocean Bay. He confirmed a document indicating a proposal to lease Sun Beach Hotel.
At this juncture, documents were tendered and admitted as exhibits. He said they were informed by the managing director, as the taskforce was created that there was an executive directive to lease Sun Beach Hotel. He said he saw the lease after it was finalised by SSHFC and BPI.
It was put to him that the committee agreed with BPI on terms for the leasing of the hotel, and he answered in the positive. It was further put to him that BPI agreed to spend €2,000,000 on the renovation of Sun Beach Hotel. However, he said BPI did not spend close to the said amount. He added that projection was attached to the renovation and this was why they highlighted their plan from 2013-2031.
According to him, his department was supposed to monitor the works but BPI did not provide them with specific schedule of works and they were frustrated at the end. The chairman of the committee reported the matter to the board.
He told the commission that they always requested for bills of quantity, invoices and receipts but to no avail. Responding to questions from Abiosseh George, he said he could not remember how much they bought the hotels and when.
“How come legal opinion was not sought?” Commissioner Saine asked. In response, Mr. Badjie responded that under normal circumstances, they worked hand-in- hand with their legal representative, noting that they acted based on directives and that they were never happy and comfortable.
“We were not benefitting at all, and SSHFC should have realised more than 60% of our investment,” he told the commission,.