By: Almamo Kamaso
Hon Madi Ceesay, the MP for Serre Kunda West has demanded the government to shed more light on its dealings with a foreign firm Semlex, else he will call for a parliamentary motion on the issue.
“The government of the Gambia should clear the air in a transparent manner over the whole process of awarding the printing and production of the country’s national documents such as ID cards and passports to a Belgian company called Semlex, otherwise it will face National Assembly Inquiry,” Hon Ceesay said. He was addressing a press conference held at his residence over the weekend in Manjai.
Hon Ceesay told the press and quoting section 74 of the 1997 constitution that the Vice President and ministers should be collectively responsible to the National Assembly for any advice given to the president in cabinet, and the Vice President and each minister should be accountable to the president and the National Assembly for any administration of a department and other business of government committed to his or her charge.
Continuing to quote from the constitution, Hon. Ceesay cited section 77 sub-section 4, which reads: the Vice President or a minister shall when requested by the National Assembly, report to the National Assembly on any matter concerning a department or other business of government committed to his or her charge.
Hon Ceesay told the press that relying on the above mentioned sections he would have no other option but call for a motion to revisit the entire awarding of a contract to Semlex which company was allegedly being investigated for corruption and money laundry.
“The Gambia government in a letter addressed to Pristine Consulting firm signed by the Minister of Finance invited two companies to bid for the contract of printing and production of our national IDs which submission was 4th January 2018. To my dismay, whiles Pristine Consulting submitted its bid, Semlex company did not, arguing that the company still has a valid contract,” MP Ceesay remarked. However, he said what transpired he did not know but that the contract was said to have been awarded to Semlex, a Belgian company.
Asked what was his problem with the contract being awarded to Semlex, Hon Ceesay responded: “I do not have any personal problem with that. But my concern is where a company is allegedly being investigated for corruption why would we give the printing and production of such important national documents to such a company?” “Are we not putting our national documents at a risk of making it possible for non-Gambians to have easy access to them? And as if that is not enough, the contract according to reliable sources may include even our voter cards,” he added.
Hon Ceesay argues that national passport is undoubtedly one of the most fundamental and important identification documents citizen can possess. “It is also one of the most important tools that a country wields as a tool for diplomacy, with values of perception of the nation’s character and credibility placed on it at the international, as well as even domestic arenas. And that is why not all the passports are the same, in terms of international standing- in terms of demand for possession of, or supply, in terms of what a passport obtains,” he reiterated.
A passport, he continues, is a country’s international diplomatic currency and the laissez-passer for its citizens to access the world. “And with access, comes so many things: health, education, business opportunities, cultural exchange, economic leverage, state security, etc…The passport is more than a document that allows one to travel. So why will we have to award such to a company whose credibility is being questioned.”
Hon. Ceesay went on to give a short background to the story saying that on 16 June 2016 the former regime of Yahya Jammeh unilaterally awarded a contract as 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. According to him, the contract was shrouded in secrecy, and few people, including those in public service dealing with procurement issues and related policy issues knew anything about the terms of the contract, including at the time, Jammeh. However, on 29 August 2016, through the permanent secretary of interior, Modou Nai Ceesay, the Semlex contract was terminated. “It must be stated that prior to Semlex being awarded the contract, a Gambian company, Pristine had secured a contract in 2009 with the Gambia government, which was extended on 4th May 2015. That contract was never officially terminated. The matter is currently in court and or international arbitration,” the MP revealed.
Hon Ceesay called on the ministerial taskforce to properly look into the implications of awarding the production of our national documents to a company whose credibility is being questioned all over the world and putting the country’s integrity in question as against a purported financial implication.