By Mustapha K Darboe The Licensing Department of the Gambia Police Force has incurred D17 million in revenue losses as a result of “printing errors,” The Standard has uncovered. A contract between the Gambia Police Force and Momodou Sowe Trading Enterprise (MSTE) was entered into on August 22nd 2016. It was for supply of 30,000 sets (60,000 pieces) of vehicle number plates and accessories. According to an audit report obtained by this medium, the contract was negotiated on behalf of government by the contracts committee at the Ministry of the Interior. It was to cost the police D34,372,500. And in 2018, the police reportedly attempted to single-source a D17,850,000 contract to the same supplier, an attempt which was flagged by the Internal Audit Department through payment voucher number 08PV012122 dated 8 March 2018 for the payment of D1,499, 999. The amount was to be the first payment for the supply of 25,000 sets of number plates and accessories. This transaction which was apparently against the procurement rules prompted the auditors to look into the whole contract. The auditors found out that the total revenue generated from sales of number plates for the period 2016 to 2018 was considerably lower and only represented a mere 18% of the cost of producing them. The auditors also found out that 12,951 (twelve thousand nine hundred and fifty-one) sets were issued from October 2016 to December 2017. The remaining 17,049 sets were reportedly obsolete due to printing errors at the point of printing the plates. However, the audit team was unable to verify the obsolete plates, nor was there any reasonable explanation as to how over seventeen thousand plates could be obsolete. The actual revenues collected by GRA and remitted to the Accountant General’s Department through the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the sale of ordinary and personalised number plates from October 2016 to December 2016 was D1,364,600 and actual revenue from January 2017 to December 2017 from number plates sales was D4,313,300. Thus, the actual revenue from sale of number plates for the contract period was D6,234,240 compared to actual revenue losses from the same contract of D17,049,000. The Gambia has four categories of number plates: private, commercial, personalised and gratis. The prices charged for each category of number plates mentioned above are D1, 000 for private and commercial and D5,000 for personalised. Gratis number plates issued in the year 2017 were 825. Meaning, the auditors have calculated the amount based on the modest D1,000 figure for private and commercial plates. And the auditors said they could not verify the number plates that were supposedly obsolete because they were not seen. In addition, they could not also identify in their records, the different classes of number plates issued to ensure accountability. Assan Tangara, permanent secretary at the Ministry of the Interior who is on leave, told The Standard on Wednesday that he cannot comment on the issue. “Let me refer you to the Gambia Police Force,” Tangara said over the phone. However, the former permanent secretary at the Interior Ministry, Bully Dibba, has confirmed that the audit findings were presented to them and they have asked the former police boss Landing Kinteh to “investigate”. “I called him (Kinteh) and spoke to him about it…,” said Dibba. But until Dibba left Interior for the Defence Ministry, there was no report of an investigation on his desk. Dibba said the contract between the police and MSTE was not signed by him or the ministry while he was there as the permanent secretary. On Thursday, the Interior Minister, Ebrima Mballow, told The Standard over the phone that the investigation into the issue is ongoing.   Continue on P12 The minister said the police are investigating the issue but because of the wider scope of the matter, “it has to take some time”. The minister said the investigation is going to look into the police contract with MSTE from 2016 to 2018. The owner of MSTE Momodou Sowe was contacted but declined to comment. When contacted on Wednesday afternoon, former IGP Kinteh said he cannot comment on the issue. And this medium also visited the police headquarters on Thursday but the office of the Inspector General has asked for a written interview request to be placed to the office before they can grant audience. However, on 12 June, this medium has learnt that a meeting was held between the internal audit department officials, Interior minister Ebrima Mballow and police chiefs and an official from ministry of finance to discuss the plate issue. Attending the meeting were former IGP Kinteh, police Commissioner Edward Sambou now retired, director of internal audit Momodou Ceesay, and Momodou Dibba from Ministry of Finance. The official internal minutes of the meeting at Interior have revealed that Mballow tasked the former IGP Kinteh to immediately investigate how the “previous contract for number plates were executed”. The minutes indicated that the minister advised the police to put on hold all dealings with MSTE with regard to printing of plates.   “Avoiding tender” Meanwhile, auditors said the police have made additional procurement of holograms, an important security feature in number plates, from it printing expenses vote from the same supplier amounting to over D5,000,000 In other words, holograms were charged separately as opposed to being part of the accessories from the supplier. And auditors have found that the police have failed to comply with the GPPA regulations when procuring holograms. “A closer scrutiny of payments relating to the procurement of holograms revealed non-compliance with GPPA regulations as payments were disaggregated to avoid monetary thresholds set in the procurement laws,” stated the auditors. The cost of holograms which they have bought from MSTE was D5 million which means, by GPPA regulations, it should have been tendered. But by splitting this payment into smaller amounts and at different times, the auditors said, they were deliberately violating the rules. And according to GPPA rules, any payment above 500, 000 should be tendered. And PS Dibba said they once wrote to inform the police that any expenditure beyond D150,000 should go through the contracts committee of the Ministry of the Interior. Moreover, auditors have also raised concerns on the timing, delivery and consumption of 30,000 sets of number plates within the contract duration of one year as somewhat inconsistent with the demand for number plates by motorists in Gambia. The auditors have noted that there were inadequate records keeping by the Licensing Office and in addition, the limited records maintained are done manually with little accuracy. A visit by The Standard to the number plates department did confirm the auditor’s assertion that record keeping at the department are manually done. Dozens of paper record could be seen while standing at the front desk at the Licensing Office. It is not clear to this medium though if the records on the forms are later computed. Thus, the auditors have recommended for a comprehensive review of the previous contract awarded in the making of plates to ensure transparency and accountability. “Given the cost of the materials supplied and wastage rate uncovered following our review, we recommend that any such future procurement should follow the value for money objectives by identifying needs and assessing various options including sourcing materials from manufacturer without middlemen involvement to ensure quality and value for money for the citizenry,” stated an audit briefing seen by The Standard. The audit report titled “Briefing Note on the GPF Number Plates Contract” has been sent to Finance minister since 7 May 2018 and copied to Interior Ministry and Gambia Police Force.]]>