By Omar Bah
The National Audit Office has recommended an investigation into the Office of the President and Gambia Immigration Department’s decision to extend the Securiport contract against the Attorney General’s advice.
The NAO report on the award of contract to Securiport for the administrative and management of immigration security services at the Banjul International Airport also stated that the contracting agencies such as Office of the President and the Immigration department should give plausible explanation for agreeing to extend the duration of the contract from ten years to fifteen years with total disregard to the Attorney General’s advice.
The auditors further revealed that the justification to extend the contract by additional 10 years as a result of late implementation of the project is not considered plausible and exposes the government to high termination cost if it chooses to end the contract before expiry.
“This is a lack of transparency in the award of government contracts. It suggests that contracts are being awarded to favoured service providers with the intention of receiving kickbacks from those favoured service providers. This means that the Government ‘s implicit contribution to this project is more than the investment made by Securiport,” the auditors noted in their report.
The NAO report added: “We recommend that a thorough investigation be carried out to establish the complete facts of the contract and establish who is responsible for the disregard to the advice of the principal legal adviser of the government and appropriate measures be taken against the officials responsible.”
According to the auditors, a letter referenced AG 310/01/PART 6 (6) and dated 12 July 2016 from the Attorney General’s Chambers seen by them, strongly advised against the use of automatic renewal clause and that the contract term should not exceed five years as opposed to ten years stipulated in the provision.
The auditors said despite the advice, government forged ahead with the proposed contract and on 20th June 2018 entered a contract with Securiport LLC – a company incorporated in Delaware, USA for the provision of Civil Aviation and Immigration Security Services (CAISS) and E-visa management system services for the government under Build Maintain-Transfer for a period of 10 years.
“We also noted through a letter referenced OP 217/457/01/ Temp: XI (70-EOC) and dated 18th March 2019 from the Office of the President referring to a decision that was reached to defer the charging of user fees to 1st October 2019 in a bid to avert negative impact on the travelling public,” the report added.
According to the auditors, the decision according to the letter was communicated to Securiport LLC and the company reverted with Addendum to this effect.
“The letter directed the Director of Immigration to invite the General Manager of Securiport LLC and other signatories to the original contract for signing of Addendum on or before Friday 22nd March 2019,” the auditors added.
According to the NAO, an addendum to this contract was prepared and signed on 29th March 2019 between the Government and Securiport LLC which modified article 3.4 of the original contract by adding extra 5 years to the original contract thus extending the duration of this contract to 15 years by adding extra 10-year period unless any of the parties decides to terminate it by giving written notice of such decision within a period of Six months in advance of the expiration date of this contract.
“The decision to extend the contract by additional 10 years directly refutes the recommendation given by the Attorney General that the term of contract be limited to 5 years subject to review before any extension could be considered. Discussion with officials revealed that this extension was necessary to cover for the late implementation of the project by the government,” the auditors added.
Reacting to the auditors’ findings, the Office of the President said: “In retrospect, The Office of the President agrees that the justification to extend the contract by additional 10 years as a result of late implementation of the project is not considered plausible and exposes government to high termination cost if it chooses to terminate the contract before the expiry of the period. The request for extension was submitted by Securiport on 8th January 2019. The delay registered was just for one year from June 2018. The implementation of the project started in 2020. However, the Addendum was already signed in 2019. The decision to extend and sign the addendum was communicated by OP via a letter OP217/457/01 TEMP XI (70-EOC).”
The Office of the President also promised to work with the Contract Management Committee, Ministry of Justice and other stakeholders to re-examine the contract provisions including the extension period to come up with a position paper and advise the Government on the way forward.
“Based on their findings a thorough investigation will be carried out to establish the fact of the contract, scope and responsibility of the person involved in the total disregard of the advice given by the Principal Legal Adviser of the Government. The matter will be referred to the Cabinet and where the officers find liable, administrative action will be taken in accordance with the Civil Service Regulations,” OP added.