The government of the Gambia over the weekend announced awarding Semlex the contract to produce the new Biometric Identity Cards in partnership with the Immigration Department. President Barrow intimated that the issue of the ID cards has been at his table for a long time and said that the decision reached was in the interest of the Gambian People.
The new ID cards will now cost the Gambian D450. Semlex was originally awarded the contract in June, 2016, but the government terminated the contract shortly after, kicking off a year of consideration and a Ministerial Taskforce. Gambian-owned Pristine Consulting had argued that a contract signed in 2015 with the Ministry of Health for an electronic birth registration system was an extension of a contract it previously held with the Ministry of Interior for national ID cards.
Despite the Governments issuing of the contract to semlex dust still remains to settle as pressure Groups such as R2K are worried that Semlex’s reputation and activities need to be looked into, claiming that the Company is being investigated for criminal activities in Belgium. According to R2K they have been advocating that the National Assembly set up an inquiry into Semlex and that the N.A did constitute an inquiry in late June.
Reports reaching this paper intimated that the inquiry continued in utmost secrecy under the purview of the Defence and security cluster. However some NAMS did express their views contrary to any bid to award Semlex the contract.
It could be recalled that a Ministerial Taskforce was established to oversee this process comprising himself, the minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure, Demba Jawo, and the minister of Finance, Amadou Sanneh as chair. In order to ensure the integrity of the process, the minister of Interior at the time was excused from participating in the process because of earlier public comments he had made regarding the matter.
The Ministerial Taskforce at the time had to consider two options: (a) proceed with the bidding process and potentially award the contract to Pristine and then face international arbitration proceedings with all the attendant legal and financial costs and in full knowledge that our position is weak; or (b) cancel the bidding process and recognize and restore the June 2016 Contract with Semlex with no legal consequences for the cancellation of the bidding process.
The Ministerial Taskforce chose unanimously to recommend to Cabinet the second option which was approved. Notwithstanding, and in consideration of the fact that the Government was still desirous of giving Pristine Consulting, as a Gambian owned company, a fair opportunity to compete with Semlex, the Government agreed, for strategic legal reasons, to conduct a restricted bidding process and invited Pristine and Semlex to submit bids for the production of national ID Cards.Pristine submitted a bid, while Semlex declined to do so, contending it had a valid contract.
The three-person Ministerial Taskforce unanimously recommended the bidding process be canceled, and the original contract with Semlex restored.But what matters now is what happens next after all the ongoing inquiries in Belgium, the Comoros and other African countries.