|Semlex Hq in Brussels|
The on-again off-again contract between the family-owned Belgian company, Semlex, and the Gambia government is on-again. Pristine Consulting, a Microsoft-certified, Gambian-owned biometric company, was first awarded the contract to produce national ID documents, eventually ran afoul of the Jammeh regime that resulted in court action. In the end, one of the owners of the company went into exile in the U.S. and the other briefly held in custody.
Eventually, it was Jammeh’s turn to be sent into involuntary exile after he lost the December 2016 election when the new government of Adama Barrow tried awarding the contract to Semlex without properly engaging Pristine in the process which contravened the open tender process for such projects that involved public funds. For background history of the Semlex contract saga, read more here, here here and here.
Fast forward to December 2017 when the government decided to invite Semlex and Pristine to re-submit proposals in a limited tender with a January 2018 deadline. Pristine accepted the invitation and proceeded to submit its proposal accordingly. Semlex, on the other hand, adamantly refused to participate and thus did not submit a proposal because it felt entitled to the contract and should be “restored” regardless.
Why is Semlex feeling entitled to the contract? This is a company that is currently being investigated in Belgium and has had both its headquarters and the CEO’s private residence raided by the police in search of evidence. The company has been suspected for engaging in bribery and corruption in several Africa countries where its business record is found to be so appalling that it calls for it to be blacklisted in The Gambia.
Why is Semlex acting so brashly? Is it because, as it is being alleged, that the brother of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice is the currently serving as Semlex’s lawyer in The Gambia? If true, why is the Justice Ministry managing the procurement process instead of the Finance Ministry? Why is the Justice Minister not recusing himself from the process because he is so conflicted?
In the words of the Justice Minister, the decision to accorded Pristine the privilege to participate in the limited re-tendering was “for strategic legal reasons”, suggesting something nefarious especially when Semlex’s refusal to submit a proposal was rewarded instead with the contract that will now include the production of the country’s voters card – a very perplexing development.
More perplexing, according to the Justice Minister, Semlex is being awarded the contract to avoid, what the minister concludes, to be, another expensive arbitration judgement he is certain to lose at a huge price to the public treasury. Says who, and is that sufficient reason to contravene the procurement laws by awarding a contract to a company that refuses to honor government’s invitation to a limited tender. Gambians cannot lose sight of the fact that Semlex refused to submit a bid and is being rewarded with a contract nonetheless.
The conspicuous absence – in public, at least – of the Ministry of Finance is equally perplexing as the ministry responsible for public procurement process. When the former Interior Minister Fatty led the charge in support of Semlex, the current Justice Minister was dead set against awarding the contract to Semlex. Now, he’s the one championing the Belgian company. What has changed?
Finally, given all the controversies surrounding Semlex and its dismal record around the African continent, Government should blacklist the company by barring it from doing business in The Gambia, as other countries have done. If Semlex’s public business record is not enough, the fact that its offices and the CEO’s private residence have been raided in search of evidence relating to bribery and corruption allegations should be sufficient to raise the alarm bells in Banjul.