Kuntaur disaster committee under fire for using flood victims’ money

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Victims that were hard hit by flashfloods at Kuntaur village in the Niani District of the Central River Region (CRR) in August 2017 are calling on the government to set up a panel to investigate the village’s disaster committee members for allegedly spending the victims’ money for non-intended purpose.

It’s alleged that D150,000 was withdrawn by disaster committee of the village to fence the community’s Youth Centre, with victims complaining the move as misguided purpose.

 The construction and fencing of the Youth Centre was a project on its own, funded by the Community Infrastructure Livelihood Improving Project (CILIP), which was awarded to the National Assembly Member for Niani District Hon. Alhagie Sillah, according to the victims.

The Point’s senior investigative reporter, Momodou Jawo, on Monday travelled to Kuntaur to investigate the matter in which he spoke with the people familiar with the matter.

Alfusainey Ceesay, one of the flood victims, who was hardly hit by the flood in 2017 said more than 1000 bags of cements were sent to the village for the victims but was not fairly distributed.

“The village disaster committee members were the people stealing the items donated. I have evidence of some committee members, who were stealing the items,” he said.

According to him, he was only given 50 bags of cement with D5000.

“I cannot finish the construction of my house. I keep on appealing to friends and family members that are in the Diaspora to help me finish my house.”

He expressed fear that the community might be hit by another flood in the coming rainy season. “We want the government to investigate the matter because they misused the funds and we are not consulted as to how they were using the funds.”

He disclosed that he had 10 people living in his compound. However, because of the difficulty in feeding, he had to send some of his kids to family members and friends within the village and also in the Greater Banjul Area (GBA) to offload the burden of feeding.

He queried that a part of the relief fund meant to support the victims was spent on the village Youth Centre, with some bags of cement also given out for the village mosque and church respectively.

The head of Cheikh Anthony Church of Kuntaur, Pierre Ceesay confirmed that his church had received 19 bags of cement with a cash amount of D5000, maintaining that the said church was not hit by the 2017 flood.

“The church was in a good condition and even the mosque. The money and cement were meant for people that were seriously hit by the floods. However, when they started distributing the cement for the mosque, we felt it was necessary for the church also to have its share.”

Polina Faye, another flood victim, said she had returned the money, oil and rice given to her. “I was only given D300 and 25kg of rice while other compounds were given D1000, three bags of rice and oil. They distributed the items based on discrimination, saying that I don’t have kids.”

She noted that some of the committee members each received full bag of sugar. “They said they are the committee members and that they are going to share it like that.”

One disaster committee member who spoke to our reporter on the condition of anonymity, said he personally made it clear to the chairman of the disaster committee, who is also the National Assembly Member for Niani District that the money should not have been spent on anything apart from supporting the flood victims.

“I was never a signatory to the account that they opened at the bank and I was never consulted when they were withdrawing the money from the bank, because I was sidelined. However, there were reports that some items were given to certain communities in the district in respect of politics.”

Yai Joof, assistance secretary to the disaster committee, acknowledged that she was part of the people that deposited the money at the GTBank Farafenni branch. “However, after depositing the money to date, I don’t know how the money was spent.”

“Notwithstanding, there was a meeting organised at the village market and the committee informed everyone that they withdrew D150,000 from the money kept in the Bank for fencing the Youth Centre. I have no idea as to how the remaining money was spent,” she told our reporter.

The disaster committee’s secretary general, Kebba Conteh, declined to comment, saying that he must get directives from the chairman, who is also the National Assembly Member for the area. “If I speak to you now, it means I am putting the horse before the cart. If Hon. Sillah gives me the go ahead, I will comment on anything with regard to whether there was mismanagement or not.”

The disaster management coordinator for CRR, Babucarr Fofana, was also contacted for comment. He said that he remembered the items donated by Modou Turo Darboe, the chief patron of Vision Development Foundation (VDF) through the NDMA Regional Office in CRR, noting those items were distributed accordingly.

He acknowledged hearing news of other philanthropists and organisations donating to flood victims in either cash or kind, but said he had no idea as to how they were distributed.

“However, I did not know how it went because I was not consulted and I did not ask too. The village disaster committee was the one responsible of everything entirely.”

When contacted, Hon. Alagie Sillah, the lawmaker for Niani, said as far as he is concerned, the money was spent for its purpose.

He said that the money was not managed by him, adding that it was managed by the Village Development Committee (VDC) members of Kuntaur.

The regional governor for CRR, Sulayman Barry, said he was informed about the withdrawal of the said D150,000 for the renovation of the Youth Centre. “I was informed that VDC and the committee have agreed to renovate the Youth Centre so that it could become functional and be able to generate revenue for them. The money was removed by them.”

He said he was not aware of the bags of cement given to the church and that of the mosque. “I am not aware as to how they distributed it because sometimes philanthropists go directly to them. The remaining money supposed to be at the bank,” he said.

Author: Momodou Jawo just back from Kuntaur