By: Almamo Kamaso
Abubacarr Ba Tambadou, the Justice Minister Tuesday shed light on why the Barrow Government decided to restore the controversial contract made with the embattled Belgian firm Semlex.
He told the National Assembly that despite the fact that his government had known that Semlex was being investigated in Belgium for some alleged crimes, they restored the controversial contract. Mr. Tambadou was responding to questions from MPs who had asked if the government knew that Semlex was being investigated for corruption and money laundering by the Belgian government. Madi M.K Ceesay, the MP for Serre Kunda West also wondered why the Gambian government was still bent on giving the contract of printing and producing national documents to Semlex.
Minister Tambadou went on to explain that “yes the government of the Gambia is aware” but the decision to restore and not award the contract was informed by three pieces of legal advice. “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.”
Tambadou also told the members that even the Belgian government did not stop working with Semlex and therefore “who are we (Gambia) to stop the contract” when investigations did not conclude yet. The Justice Minister further said that the contract was not awarded but rather the contract was restored. He revealed that the 2016 Semlex contract was cancelled against the legal advice of the Ministry of Justice and therefore his duty was only to advise government and that was what he did by advising the government to restore the April 2016 contract.
Pressed further why after knowing that Semlex had a valid contract, he advised that government should open a bid where Pristine Consulting, a Gambian company submitted its documents while Semlex did not bid and yet Semlex was given the contract, Justice Minister informed the assembly that he did that as a legal strategy; so that if Semlex had bid, then that would have weaken their position of saying that they had a valid contract. However, he went on, it did not happen that way; as Semlex refused to bid insisting that they had a valid contract.
Minister Tambadou revealed that Gambia was left with no option but either to cancel the Semlex contract and face international legal battle or maintain it with no cost. When he was further pushed to say that already there was a local company Pristine that could do it, Minister Tambadou replied that he would not mind to go to court with a strong case but that is the present case. He said the government had cancelled companies whose contracts were wrongly terminated and can do it in the case of Semlex if their too was wrongly terminated.
By: Almamo Kamaso