To the casual observer, the recent contractual tussle involving the government of The Gambia, Semlex and Pristine Consulting, may seem just another spilled-over fiasco with origins from the ‘Jammeh years. To the serious analyst & those experts on Gambia affairs, however, there is more to the story than meet the eye. In this analysis, the idea is to unpack and debunk claims as to legal niceties, loopholes, and to lay the facts bare for the Gambian people to chew on.
Ladies and gentlemen – Welcome to the world of big government & the behind-the-scenes dealings by shady investors tricking clueless African executives into worthless business ties. Across the continent, it so often happens to be a case of ‘naivety’, ‘Belly-Politics’, lack of ‘Ethics’, but damn right ‘Greed’. In his article last week, Boor Sine, alluded to such ‘dodgy and worthless investors chasing quick profits would turn to foolish African leaders lacking business skills or the ability to distinguish between good or bad investment; thus exploit their ignorance and greed’.
The impending questions here begging for answers are: Was ‘Due Diligence’ carried out on Semlex before handing them the multi-million dalasi contract; and if so, who or which government department conducted the checks? The Justice Minister went on air claiming that government has, in fact, contacted the Belgian authorities seeking clarify on its investigations into Semlex. Just a week later, he handed them the deal?! The so-called three-man ministerial task force set-up to assess & deliberate on the process was flawed on two counts. First, cabinet ministers have no constitutional ground to step on toes as such; a role and job strictly reserved for the procurement department (GPPA) to both assess and independently verify bids. Secondly, the Justice Minister decided to hand Semlex the contract, yet his own brother, Sheriff Tambadou, is the lawyer lobbying for that firm? If that is not conflict of interest, then what is? In the United Kingdom, he will have to resign or immediately face the sack.
The question even worrisome was who decided on the so-called task force when GPPA could have handled this squarely, but side-tracked? And comparatively, what was the contrasting offers as to price, job creation and trainings for young Gambian graduates? Which of the two bids offer value for money to the tax payer? And why decide to give Semlex the contract even though it had refused to submit any bid? What a scandalous mess, painted with untruths sold to the Gambian people. I demand a police inquiry, immediately, and to question Semlex officials, and all those involved. The problem of Gambia, today, faced with spineless lawyers devoid of moral fibre, only adds to its many problems dragging the country further back. Who is regulating this industry?
A warning to the Banjul cartel looking to sell off the country’s assets, we are watching ever closely, decoding on the basis of ‘national interest. A review spanning several countries in which Semlex operates found it has failed to live up to promise in regards to the size of intended investment, whilst committing fraud on diplomatic passports. Fellow Gambians, a deal still shrouded in mystery has thrown the country’s entire bio-metrics national security condition at risk to fraudulent abuse! A simple due diligence would have shown red-flag, yet the government decided to bypass a reputable Gambian company of Microsoft advances offering quality services ten times cheaper. I call for a parliamentary enquiry!
The issue here appears but for lack of proper comprehension as to what a national biometrics system truly entails. Cabinet, it appears, seem more concerned on the card than the system itself. The card is just an output of the system ladies and gentlemen: A research on Pristine Consulting reveal it had already conducted system evaluation on certain criterion, such as, Functionality, Scalability (how easily can the system be expanded), Ease of use, Interoperability (the ability of computer systems or software to exchange & make use of information), among others. It is also discovered that Pristine has already compiled biometric data of some eight-hundred thousand Gambians & aliens in the country – ready to partner with government transform the country’s entire information security apparatus.
Reaching out to a senior civil servant in the course of this piece, the official confirmed that Pristine Consulting had put in the best bid by a mile, even offering to train young Gambian I.T graduates into fully fledge Microsoft engineers among others. He expresses frustration at the manner …(). A telephone call to Pristine Consulting’s offices for details, a company employee did corroborate details, in fact, going on to say they were willing to train hundredths of young graduates, and to offer jobs and internships, as a Gambian company doing its fair share towards national development. When the writer placed a similar call to Semlex’s offices in Brussels asking questions, the only answer was ‘’no comment’’, before banging down the phone.
I will go on to add that, even had there not being a suitable Gambian firm to implement such an ambitious project, any wise government will invest in getting local I.T firms trained in implementing such solutions ensuring that national security details remain in safe hands. Take the case of ‘Morpho’, a French company that implemented biometrics projects in several francophone countries. The Paris government did invest in the company making sure the security needs of France are in safe hands. This is what I mean by foresight and vision – simply, looking ahead into the distant far ahead to the future. In a globalised world of technological advances, where conventional warfare has receded, information war has taken over posing major national security challenges to nation-states. Today, China, U.S, Senegal, Ghana and others dedicate large sums of their budget on cyber security.
In a recent interview, I was pleased to hear the president reaffirm that ‘government is about process’ in which every sector making up the ‘machinery’ has specific roles to play’. To that end, here is Boor Sine again, ’Consult [experienced] civil servants to research on projects before signing any deals. Otherwise the sweat & tears of the nation shall haunt your legacy’. And do let me interject in that another Commission of Inquiry is of vital necessity post-Barrow presidency. The leadership continues to preach that it cares, out to serve the national interest; yet time-after-time government is found wanting when it matters most. I urge him to challenge his ministers, governors and the entire civil service stream to level up & deliver as expected of each & everyone.
Why is the price of rice still constant, despite tax overtures from central government? And how many new jobs have been created since the coalition came to power? The minister for Trade, Industry and employment must shoulder the blame here. And the tourism minister is hereby reminded not to sell off all reserve lands to dodgy investors in his ear, rather, a credible & sustainable allocation policy for future generation of young entrepreneurs in the making. There is more to democracy than allowing free press. It is about observing ‘Shared Responsibilities’ and ‘Limits to Power’. But it is also about ‘Economic Justice’ where every citizen, from Kartong to Koina, feel a sense of belonging, to be given his/her fair share of the ‘National Cake’.
The new constitution under draft must reflect two very important elements. First, an independent ‘Nation Prosecution Service’, to scrutinise & assign criminal cases – away from the ‘partisan’ Justice ministry. Second, a permanent ‘Anti-Corruption Commission’ to keep oversight & watch on crooked officials, where citizens may report instances of corruption. With that, the office of the OMBUDSMAN is obsolete, a waste of tax payers millions, and should be abolished. I end to congratulate the presidency on the weekly cabinet meetings just announced; a welcome development indeed: But I still call on him to toughen up, and to be more vocal as to the direction of the country, if he truly wants to solidify & cement his status, and therefore, LEGACY.
Gibril Saine Twitter: @gibbysaine