‘No $M Deal with Scribe Strategies & Advisors’—Gambia US Envoy, Omar Faye

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Echo Exclusive

By Ebrima G. Sankareh, Editor-in-Chief

As Gambians were reeling from the  nightmare of Yaya Jammeh’s lacklustre efforts to cling on to power willy-nilly that for almost two tense weeks left the mini West African nation teetering on the brink of political catastrophe coupled with damning allegations by now Interior Minister, Mai Ahmad Fatty, that the bandit Jammeh, had looted millions of US dollars from the coffers of the poverty-stricken state, suddenly emerged even more worrisome allegations, that The Gambia’s Ambassador to Washington, DC, Sheikh Omar Faye, may have signed a $Million contract with the Washington, DC-based lobby firm, Scribe Strategies & Advisors, which further exacerbated Gambians’ fears and uncertainties to fever pitch.

No sooner had news of the alleged lobby contract emerged than numerous concerned Gambians called our newsroom questioning the validity of the allegations and if true, the legality, justification and or rational behind the hiring of a Washington, DC lobby firm from a democratically elected government that has attracted international recognition and legitimacy and at an unprecedented speed, they argued vociferously.

Within hours, our phone lines were off the hook and our Echo Mail bag saturated by a tsunami of anxious phone callers mostly questioning the wisdom of the alleged contract for a Washington firm to lobby on behalf of  President Adama Barrow’s new government literally catapulted to political power on a tabula rasa. 

 As we were trying to make sense of the wild allegations, emerged a document linked to the saga allegedly from the  National Security Division of  U.S Department of Justice. The document in our custody captioned: “Exhibit A to Registration Statement Washington, DC 20530 Pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938” was registered by Scribe Strategies & Advisors on 01/20/2017 exactly at 9:30:11 AM.

Both Exhibits A & B of the Foreign Agents Registration Unit (FARA), read in pertinent part that the “registrants are: 1. Scribe Strategies & Advisors: 1875 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., 10th Floor Washington, DC 20036  2. Registration No. 6305 3. Name of Foreign Principal: Government of the Republic of the Gambia 4. Principal Address of Foreign Principal: Embassy of the Republic of The Gambia 5630 16th Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20011.”

  1. Indicate whether your foreign Principal is one of the following: (X) Government of a foreign country 6. If the foreign principal is a foreign government, state: (a) Branch Or agency represented by the registrant: Embassy of the Republic of the Gambia (b) Name and title of official with whom registrant deals: His Excellency Sheikh Omar Faye, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, the legitimate President of Gambia (sic).”

Amid the confusion, hoopla, the denials, the legal posturing and diplomatic innuendoes, this reporter on Friday, rang up The Gambia’s Ambassador to Washington, DC, H. E. Sheikh Omar Faye, for clarification. I began by asking Mr. Faye if he knew the lobby firm that had purportedly signed a contract to represent Adama Barrow’s government on January 20, 2017?

Faye quickly acknowledged that he was au fait with the firm and its activities alluding to its President, Joseph J. Szlavik in altruistic terms; as a great man who loves The Gambia dearly and a close friend to ex-Secretary General, Abdou Sara Janha and former President, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara. Faye also politely insinuated to me that the lobby firm could potentially flex its legal muscles; a cautionary tale that reminds me with nauseous nostalgia my rough days as a journalist under the thumb of Yaya Jammeh’s tyrannical government that was notorious for assassinating, disappearing, torturing and detaining journalists incommunicado often charging them under draconian colonial decrees. I also, politely responded to my old pal, that as American, I was not oblivious of my First Amendment protection and I have no intention of maligning or putting any person into disrepute lest I worry about muscle flexing law firms and so the interview proceeded with ease.

However, before we proceeded, I also put it to the Ambassador that I have a copy of the registration document from the Department of Justice that names him as representative of the Government of The Gambia and if he were in doubt, I was willing to send him a copy via email. He said that he believed me and agreed to proceed with the interview.

Asked if to best of his knowledge and recollection, he had signed a million(s) dollar contract or whether he was aware of such contract where The Gambia government was legally liable to pay million(s) of dollars, the envoy flatly denied any such allegations as spurious. “My brother, I can assure you that neither me nor Joseph had signed any such contract and am not aware of any such contract/document where The Government of The Gambia through me, is legally liable for monetary compensation; it is simply bogus” Faye categorically told The Gambia Echo.

Asked if Adama Barrow or any member of his government had advised him/Faye to hire or solicit the services of the firm or any lobby firm for that matter, Ambassador Faye said, “no, none of that happened. Joseph just loves The Gambia, he is an old acquaintance of Sir Dawda Jawara, no million or multi-million dollar deal struck. So honestly, the gentleman just wanted to help the new Barrow government to gain the requisite recognition especially, at a time of great uncertainty as President Jammeh had changed his mind and wanted to cling on to power for ever,” Faye forcefully challenged.

Asked if there were any hidden fees or strings attached to the registration/contract, The Gambia’s Chief diplomat to Washington, DC said, Joseph did everything on pro bono basis, he demanded no fees and anything on the contrary would  tantamount to false and defamatory characterisation of events.

Curiously though, at the time of Scribe Strategies & Advisors’ registration/contract with the Foreign Agents Registration Unit (FARA) in the National Security Division (NSD) of the Dept. of Justice to represent The Gambia Government, Ambassador Faye was sacked and had no legal standing to enter into any contract on behalf of The Gambia Government yet both exhibits A & B named him. Did Scribe Strategies know? Did Ambassador Faye know? If yes, how come they registered to represent Adama Barrow’s government at a time when the envoy’s services were terminated by errant despot, Yaya Jammeh, whom he served prior to the December 1, 2016 presidential election? Mr. Faye lost his job after advising Mr. Jammeh to respect the legitimate will of the Gambian people expressed through the ballot box and as of January 20, 2017, when the registration/contact was signed, he was no longer Gambia’s ambassador to Washington, DC, an interregnum that was resolved ten days later on January 30, 2017, when directives from Banjul advised Faye to resume work until further notice. Faye confirmed to The Echo that him and eleven other diplomats who were axed by out-going despot, Yaya Jammeh, have all been asked to resume duties until further notice from Banjul. He also confirmed that Mr. Pierre Minteh, was appointed Deputy Chief of Mission in Jammeh’s last ten days in office.

Faye also appealed to all Gambians across the spectrum to come together and work for a better and more democratic Gambia.

Consistent with journalistic principles, The Echo on Monday, contacted the President of  Scribe Strategies & Advisors, Joseph J. Szlavik to shed more light on some lingering questions regarding the alleged contract and any potential legal liabilities for the new Adama Barrow government. Like our encounter with Ambassador Faye,  we told Mr. Szlavik that we have in our custody legal memoranda from the Foreign Agents Registration Unit (FARA) that suggest that he or his firm had registered to represent The Gambia Government and Mr. Faye was named as The Gambia’s representative. We asked if that were true or false? Without the slightest equivocation, Mr. Szlavik said, “yes sir, I can confirm that we did register to represent The Gambia and President Barrow’s government.” I asked how many millions was he asking for, and Mr. Szlavik said he was not asking for anything. Asked if there were hidden strings attached and subsequently the Barrow government may be presented with phenomenal lobby bills, he said none of that would ever happen; this was a pro bono service we rendered in consultation with Ambassador Faye to help support the Barrow government in the wake of Jammeh’s reversed decision to step down after losing the December 1, 2016 presidential election.

I explained that in the wake of wild accusations that President Jammeh have siphoned millions of dollars from The Central Bank of The Gambia and the Finance Ministry, Gambians were justifiably nervous over emerging allegations that a Washington lobby firm was poised to milk them further hence my mission to allay their fears. Mr. Szlavik immediately rubbished such claims and fears saying that nothing of that sort was afoot; that in fact, he had stepped in following consultations with Mr. Faye who had lost his job and was also, allegedly facing serious threats to his life from President Jammeh or his supporters. “So it’s simply a verbal agreement with Ambassador Faye that arouse out of his genuine fear and concern that some bad elements might undermine the new government and after we met, I decided to act quickly to help The Gambia and so I registered to represent The Gambia Government but there are no strings attached. I love The Gambia and I have never been a fan of Yaya Jammeh but I give him credit for finally leaving and no blood spilled. President Jawara and Abdou Sara Janha are my good friends; I tried to help President Jawara to restore democracy after the July 22, 1994 coup but unfortunately, things did not work and so Jammeh stayed on for 22 years, unfortunately,” he explained.

Continuing his affection for Gambia, Szlavik said, “I’ve nothing to hide and no strings whatsoever attached, I did it for free, The Gambia is a very poor country you know”. I then asked, given your love for Gambia, have you ever visited the place? He was quick to answer in the affirmative, “oh yes! I did, in 1995 while working for President Jawara for the restoration of democracy.”

Asked how much money he has spent thus far, Szlavik claimed that apart from the registration and verbal agreement fee with Ambassador Faye, his firm on Thursday February 2, 2017 officially sponsored the hoisting of President Barrow’s official portrait by reinstated Ambassador Faye and that coupled with legal fees could be up to $3000.00.

According to Szlavik, he has begun his work for Gambia in earnest and hopefully, the Trump Administration will be very helpful to the new Barrow government. He hopes to re-enrol Gambia in the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) with an initial benefit package of up to $30 million and with continuous democratic performance to tap up to $100Million.

Significantly, on June 16, 2006, The Gambia under Yaya Jammeh was suspended from this vital economic aid package primarily because this is aid linked to good governance practices and where regimes fail to respect democracy and good governance like Jammeh, they are denied the benefits. Detailed story on The Gambia’s suspension click on the link below: https://www.mcc.gov/news-and-events/release/release-061606-thegambiasuspended

Be that bas it may, paragraphs 6-9 of Exhibit B, pages 3-4 of the Registration and or contract clearly explain the exact nature and spirit of the agreement that was entered into between Scribe Strategies & Advisors and Ambassador Sheikh Omar Faye. Below, we reproduce verbatim, the relevant paragraphs for your own perusal and conclusion:

“6. {x} The agreement or understanding between the registrant and the foreign principal is the result of neither a formal written contract nor an exchange of correspondence between the parties. If this box is checked, give a complete description below of the terms and conditions of the oral agreement or understanding, its duration, the fees and expenses, if any, to be received.

7. Describe fully the nature and method of performance of the above indicated agreement or understanding.”

“Scribe Strategies & Advisors has been retained by the Government of the Republic of the Gambia for a period of twelve months to communicate with the Trump Administration about the legitimacy of the election of President Adama Barrow and to assure that the will Of the Gambian people will be respected. To this end, Scribe Strategies & Advisors will work closely with His Excellency Sheikh Omar Faye, the Ambassador of the Gambia to the United States, in assessing the political situation in the Republic of the Gambia, in order to effectively promote and restore the rule of law and democratic governance in the Gambia, as well as that we work diligently to solidify and expand our productive relationships with governments, businesses, and individuals in the United States. The Government of the Republic of the Gambia will reimburse Scribe Strategies & Advisors for any expenses incurred in pursuit of these goals, subject to pre-approval by the Ambassador in Washington.”

“ 8. Describe fully the activities the registrant engages in or proposes to engage in on behalf of the above foreign principal.”

“In order to support general bilateral relations. Scribe Strategies & Advisors will research, assess, and analyze issues of concern to The Gambia; advise the Government of The Gambia on U.S. policies, activities in Congress and the Executive Branch, and developments with regard to U.S. Africa policy; and maintain contact, as necessary, with Members of Congress and their staff members, Executive Branch officials, members of the news media, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs, including think tanks arid academic institutions). Scribe Strategies & Advisors will provide strategic advice to the principal on strengthening The Gambia’s general bilateral relations with the United States, its government, and institutions. Scribe will also assist in communicating priority issues In the United States-Gambia bilateral relationship to relevant US. audiences, including the US. Congress, Executive Branch, hews media, businesses, arid policy community, including think tanks, advocacy groups, and academic institutions)”

“9. Will the activities on behalf of the above foreign principal include political activities as defined in Section l(o) of the Act and in the footnote below? Yes • No • If yes* describe all such political activities indicating, among other things, the relations, interests or policies to be influenced together with the means to be employed to achieve this purpose.

“Scribe Strategies & Advisors will promote the interests of the legitimate government of President Adama Barrow by introducing the Ambassador of The Gambia to Members of key congressional committees, such as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee; assist the Ambassador and other government officials in communicating with their counterparts in the U.S. Government, including but not limited to diplomats in the Africa Bureau of the U.S. Department of State and staff members of the National Security Council; and disseminate information to the news media, academic institutions, advocacy groups, and civic organizations about The Gambia’s commitment to the rule of law, democratic governance, and openness to investment from and trade with the United States.

End of Document.

Editor’s Note: According to Scribe Strategies & Advisors’ website: “Joseph Szlavik served at the White House during the first Bush Administration as a policy analyst in the Office of Policy Development and as liaison with the Office of Cabinet Affairs and the Office of Legislative Affairs.

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