By Yankuba Jallow

Right to Know (R2K) has called on the National Assembly of the Gambia as representatives of the people to form an independent inquiry in the whole issue surrounding the Semlex Company.

R2K’s position is that Semlex had entered into an illegal contract with the government involving the then Minister of the Interior, which was rescinded by his superior. R2K opposes the government’s acceptance of this “illegal deal” by the current government and criticises the government for handling this matter in the same opaque and highly questionable means to disburse largess and public contracting instruments to an enterprise as before.

According to R2K, on 16 June 2016 the former regime, unilaterally awarded a contract, a single sourced deal to Semlex, by then Interior Minister Ousman Sonko. The contract stipulated that the company would be the sole producer of national biometric IDs and passports. The contract was terminated shortly after it was issued by the same government.

According to R2K “Claims and counter claims have been placed forward by interested commercial parties who were given the concessions to oversee the issuance of our national IDs, passports, and now voters’ cards. Politicians and public servants have also made pronouncements on the matter, further leading to confusion and apprehension over the issue. Gambians are eager to know the facts and assumptions on whether due process was followed in awarding our vital social possessions (passports and IDs) to an opaque company whose reputation is questionable.

“We are indeed perturbed by contradictory public pronouncements uttered by certain ministers and public officials who were involved in the outsourcing of our individual and collective assets, using an avenue of secrecy to scuttle public scrutiny.

“On 21st of March 2018, R2K Gambia wrote to the leadership of the National Assembly appealing to them, as our representatives, to test the vibrancy of our new found democracy in the New Gambia, and offered its support to assist in any and every way possible, to ensure that this call for a motion is adopted, debated and executed accordingly. That call was heeded by some of the NAMs.

“We hope that the legislature will use its oversight mandate to seek clarity on the Semlex contract, and send a clear message to constituents, the general populace, and indeed the world, that The Gambia is now in an era of elevating the demand of public accountability, by cultivating a culture of good governance and the principles of separation of powers.”

R2K also claims that it addressed a letter to national assembly members and submitted a justification document, which was discussed with some of the national assembly members in various spaces and geographical locations. The document raised serious concerns about the outsourcing of our national assets and identities.

As a result, R2K believes that there is need for the National Assembly to put a motion forward for an inquiry, pass the motion and get to work for the integrity and security of The Gambia, as the credibility of the National Assembly depends on it.

R2K argued that elevating a culture of transparency and accountability depends on it, which is why the NAMS must start entrenching a practice of probity, before it is defeated and overwhelmed by impunity, which threatens our national security.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION BY R2K

On 28 November 2017, the Finance Minister, Mr. Sanneh, issued a tender invitation to Pristine and Semlex who were required to re-submit their respective proposals on or before Thursday January 4th, 2018.

A Ministerial Taskforce comprising of the Finance-Sanneh, Justice-Tambadou, and Information- Jawo, was established to evaluate the proposals.

On January 4th 2018 Pristine submitted its proposals. Semlex did not submit, “Maintaining their position that they still had a valid contract with the Government”, to quote the Minister of Justice.

It was several days/weeks after the closing of the tenders and after Semlex failed to submit a bid, that The Gambia government decided to unilaterally cancel the bidding process and recognize and restore the June 2016 contract with Semlex with no legal consequences for the cancellation of the bidding process.

On January 25, 2018 (in the letter was erroneously dated 2017),Bulli Dibba, then permanent secretary to the Ministry of Interior wrote an official letter: LD 79/125/01/(99)6 inviting Semlex to return to the country and carry on with the contract of being the sole contractor for passports and ID cards. He went further and awarded Semlex an additional contract to produce and supply voters’ cards. Therefore, unilaterally stripping the mandate and independence of the Independent Electoral Commission to undertake is obligations, and responsibilities given to it to oversee procurement of election materials, which includes the supply of voters’ cards.

On or about February 15, 2018, The Minister of Justice gave a press briefing where he revealed that the Government (the Barrow Adminstration) did not award a contract for the production of national ID Cards to Semlex and the Government decided to recognize and restore the subsisting June 2016 Contract with Semlex, which was purportedly terminated by the previous Government shortly after the Contract was executed with the Ministry of Interior in 2016;  after three separate legal opinions prepared by the Ministry of Justice on this matter, the first one being in 2016 soon after the contract with Semlex was terminated, and another one in June 2017 prepared by three State counsel at the Ministry with the assistance of a senior lawyer from the ISLP, and following a further review of this opinion conducted in September 2017, all of which concluded that (1) the contract with Pristine Consulting had expired in 2014, and (2) that the termination of the Semlex contract was wrong and in breach of the contract terms.

Notwithstanding, and in consideration of the fact that the Government was still desirous of giving Pristine Consulting, as a Gambian owned company, a fair opportunity to compete with Semlex, the Government agreed, for strategic legal reasons, to conduct a restricted bidding process and invited Pristine and Semlex to submit bids for the production of national ID Cards.

A ministerial Taskforce was established to oversee this process comprising myself (Minister of Justice Tambadou), the Honourable Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure Mr Demba Jawo, and the Honourable Minister of Finance Mr Amadou Sanneh as Chair.

– In order to ensure the integrity of the process, the Honourable Minister of Interior at the time was excused from participating in the process because of earlier public comments he had made regarding the matter. After consultations with our respective staff, both Pristine and Semlex were invited to submit their bids.

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