By Alagie Manneh
A non-partisan entity that works to promote rule of law, democracy and good governance, calling it itself the Right 2 Know or R2K, has expressed its ‘shock at the Barrow government’s ‘determination’ to uphold and award the country’s biometric and other national ID cards to Semlex Group, despite widespread allegation of ‘corruption and high-risk exposure’.
Information Minister Demba Jawo revealed Wednesday that his government has taken the decision “to go on with the contract the previous government had with Semlex.”
However, at a press briefing Thursday at the Gambia Press Union, Right 2 Know unveiled what they called the “Justification Document,” calling for a National Assembly Inquiry into the Semlex Contract.
“…The contract flouted all procurement rules and was initiated by corrupt officials of the Jammeh regime,” Jeggan Grey-Johnson, one of the founders of the movement, said in a statement from Johannesburg, South Africa where he is based.
“We are shocked that the current government is now determined to uphold and execute this contract despite all the evidence of the political exposure and high-risk associated with Semlex.
“We are equally disturbed by the Barrow administration’s insistence at entrusting our most trusted assets to this company, putting at risk our identification documents, our reputation and integrity of our national identities and the tools we hold dear as citizens to elect and select who governs us and how we wish to be governed.
“We are further 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,” Mr Grey-Johnson stated.
He added that R2K Gambia, a collective of over 4,500 members, will test the “vibrancy of our new found democracy in the New Gambia by sending a message to economic predators and corrupt officials that the era of state capture, repurposing of state resources, flouting of public procurement processes and disregard for the rule of law and good governance is over.”
The movement appealed to the National Assembly to put a motion forward for an inquiry and work for the integrity of the country.
He advised lawmakers to start entrenching a practice of probity before it is defeated and overwhelmed by impunity which he said threatens our national security.
Former Gambian minister and blogger Sidi Sanneh, speaking from the US, gave a highlight of what he calls the “untenable position” of Semlex and its “illegal” activities from Congo to Mozambique.
“An investigative report by Reuters revealed how Semlex has wreaked havoc in countries it operated,” he said.
The former Foreign Affairs minister said: “In April, Reuters reported how Karaziwan struck a deal to supply biometric passports to the Democratic Republic of Congo for which its citizens have to pay $185 each. Congo previously charged $100 for passports. The current deal arranged for $60 from each passport to go to an obscure Gulf company owned by a close relative of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila, according to documents and a source familiar with the arrangements.
“This year, Mozambique terminated a 10-year Semlex contract, potentially worth several hundred million dollars, that had been awarded in 2009 by the country’s previous government. The deal was struck without an open tender, two sources close to Semlex said. The current Mozambique government says Semlex invested a fraction of the $100 million it had promised to spend on training, electronic scanners at borders and other infrastructure. It says citizens have lost out from the deal.
Madi NK Ceesay, NAM for Serekunda West, who had earlier threatened to exercise all powers vested in him as a law maker to probe the saga, said: “This is a company that is currently under investigation in their home country in Belgium for corruption and money laundering, this is a company that Mozambique is sending them out, this is a company that Comoros is cancelling their contracts with them, even our neighbors Guinea Bissau.
“There are all indications that Semlex is not a credible company. Therefore, why should the Gambia give all our national documents to a company that has no credibility to print our documents?” the lawmaker asked.