Further to my correspondence of last week, please allow me to add new dimension to the story for public debate & discourse given the dilemma facing the interior ministry in Banjul. In the write-up, I’d critiqued the Belgian firm, SEMLEX, and the overall flawed procurement process therein acquiring such a lucrative contract for the country’s identification and border security scheme. What upsets most was the optics of the deal with millions of dollars destined for the pockets of foreign investors through capital-flight.
The premise of this article concerns Pristine Consulting (Gambia). My understanding is that back in 2010, the company was contracted for the short-lived Gambia Biometric Identity System (GAMBIS) project intended as an integrated system in which Government aims to capture bio-metric details for all citizens and aliens in the country. The project includes National Identity Card, residential Permit and driving Licenses; to expand into passports, birth, death and marriage certificates respectively. Here was a domestic reputable entity providing employment to local talent yet pushed aside for foreign firms. Information gathered showed that the dictatorship at the time failed to fulfill its side of the bargain, souring relations.
Based on that corruption-induced deal as intimated last week, I strongly implore government to terminate all ties with Semlex, and to contractualize Pristine Consulting to produce all facets of The Gambia’s national identification. Folks, forty years of nationhood – how useless are we as a country if we have to rely on foreigners for a mere I.D card, orange juice, mango juice, tomato paste, and so on – This has got to stop thru import-industrial-substitution, thus promote & consume‘Gambia Made’.
The rationale behind this idea is two-fold. First, the Gambian people demand domestic industry be given chance in government procurement, cutting red tape, plus the money stays home. The Africa progress panel headed by, Kofi Annan, has lamented capital-flight as a major hindrance to African growth denying local banks of much needed liquidity to lend local farmers and businesses. Secondly, information has it that there are countless fake dalasi notes in circulation due to years of mismanagement & counterfeiting. The Finance ministry, liaising with Central Bank should make it a priority issue to change the ‘Dalasi’ bank notes for newer designs made of polymer technology. That is the style as found in European cash notes, strong, durable, and counterfeit-proof. The image of Yahya Jammeh needs removing from the ‘dalasi’ notes too. And well done to the government in doing-away with all symbols bearing that misrule away from public space. A smart move for psychological and ‘healing’ purposes.
Talking to an official from the reputable banknotes printer, DeLARUE, (classified) a renegotiated contract with Central Bank of the Gambia has the potential for knowledge and skills transfer, training, and partnerships with Pristine. So the plan is for a Gambian entity to be strengthened for potential partnership with DeLARUE as terms per deal. I am a little concerned watching Ministers going round Europe signing on deals without proper checks or institution-wide consultation. The lesson Africa should learn from China is ’empower you domestic industry’ to be job and wealth creators; and to stand tall dignified. My take is any deal with a foreign firm pertaining to a Gambian nexus should involve skills training and knowledge transfer, so that we don’t have to pay for that same service ever again. As such, a five (5) year deal with a reputable banknotes merchant as DeLaRue shall help upgrade and upscale Pristine Consultancy to reputable status in terms of technology transfer – as a future Bank notes printer serving Gambia and countries in the region. These are the sort of thinking negotiators should be aiming towards in securing jobs & good deals for the taxpayer.
As for the passports fiasco in DR Congo, the opposition has appealed to the Justice Ministry to investigate corruption scandal involving Kabila’s government and Semlex. A lot is at stake here as to how the Gambia government handle this dilemma. I am further worried by the out-of-court settlements being lined up with foreign companies per Jammeh era paying out millions without giving out details for public scrutiny. To the President’s credit, the country is on a right footing barely four months in office – but as citizens, and analysts, and educators, we shall continue to demand more, and the very best from our government.
Written by Gibril Saine, London.