Wednesday, January 17, 2018

SEMLEX offices in Brussels raided by police searching for money laundering evidence

Semlex CEO, Albert Karaziwan
Belgian police today Wednesday raided the offices of SEMLEX, a Belgian-registered biometric company that prints passports for African countries in search of evidence.

According to Reuters, a dozen police officers arrived at the offices of Mr. Albert Karaziwan, the CEO of SEMLEX, and at his home in Brussels in the early hours of the morning. 

Reports have it that the Belgian authorities are searching for evidence that could lead them to money laundering scheme for which the company has been suspected of for sometime now.

Last May, we reported that the company is under investigation by the Belgian authorities - a claim SEMLEX vehemently denied at the time, and proceeded to shrugged it off as malicious reporting in an attempt to tarnish their corporate image.

Reuters is quoting the spokesperson for the Belgian federal authorities that they "are carrying out those searches in a case of possible money laundering and corruption.

Semlex's business record on the continent is abysmal that has stretched from Guinea-Bissau to the Comoros where, in both cases, the contract for the printing of passports have ended in endless litigation and accusations leveled at the company for selling passports to non-citizens, including, it is alleged, to terrorists, inviting many African governments to distance themselves from SEMLEX.

In the Gambia where SEMLEX have tried to hold on a contract initially granted during the regime of ex-dictator Yaya Jammeh.  The contract was subsequently cancelled on the orders of Jammeh.  When Adama Barrow assumed office a year ago, SEMLEX reappeared and demanded the reinstatement of the contract.

As a result of the current investigations into the business affairs of SEMLEX, it is advisable for the Gambia to disqualify it from further consideration of the current and future contracts in The Gambia until a conclusive outcome is reached in the investigations. 

Meanwhile, civil society organizations in The Gambia are encouraged to request the Belgian authorities to share with them any of their findings that relate to SEMLEX's operations in the Gambia.  The government of Adama Barrow is also encourage to formally approach the Kingdom of Belgium to offer its cooperation by providing any information that will help them in their investigations.             

Saturday, January 13, 2018

SEMLEX refuses to participate in the re-tendering of the biometric ID/Passport project

SEMLEX Headquarters, Brussels 
According to our sources, Semlex, the Belgian family-owned biometric company,  has refused to honor government's invitation to submit its bid proposal following government decision to re-tender the National ID/Passport project after a contentious bidding process that favored the Belgian company. 

Pristine Consulting, a wholly-owned Gambian company, by contrast, submitted its proposal to government before the deadline.

Semlex refused to honor government's invitation because they felt entitled to being re-awarded the contract without competing for it. 

The company is adamant that the Barrow administration should ignore all procurement protocols and award the contract to them.  Semlex's insistence is perplexing as it is an arrogant display of chutzpah by a company with such poor record that stretches from Guinea Bissau to The Comoros.   

Their rationale is they were awarded the contract under Jammeh which, it so happens, was terminated few months before Jammeh lost the December 2016 elections.  An attempt to re-award the contract to them failed which led to the decision to re-tender the contract.

As at Noon, Thursday 4th January, 2018 when was the closing date for the submission of tenders, only Pristine submitted a proposal. According to our sources, Semlex representatives visited Banjul a few days before the closing date and met with government officials.  The reason for the visit cannot be ascertained at this time. 

Based on well sourced information and by every known procurement rule and procedure, if there is only one responsive bid, as it is the case here, the government is obligated under the procure rules to negotiate with the bidder that substantially complied with the invitation to bid.  Government cannot award a contract to a bidder that refuses to honor its invitation to submit a bid proposal.   

President Barrow speech at the "Stake in the Nation" Consultative Dialogue meeting at Kairaba Hotel

President Adama Barrow 

Consultative Dialogue on the
Stake in the Nation:
Attaining Progress in the New Gambia
Date:13th January 2018

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, it is a blessing indeed that I stand before you today to deliver the first Stake in the Nation address. I speak with you about the challenges, opportunities and the actions that we must all take, whether we are at home and abroad. We all have stake in ensuring we attain progress in our beloved country, the New Gambia. For nearly a generation, our time, resources and efforts were spent to oppose, counter and defeat the dictatorship and the brutality it represented.

One year after our victory, I proclaim to the nation that never again shall we suffer the brutality, humiliation and the injustice of dictatorship or accept the victimization of our people.  We should now fight for the best course of actions. We have a National Development Plan (NDP) and we must focus on the having operational excellence to succeed its implementation.

We must be vigilant against the fundamental development challenges we face; and be vigilant for the new opportunities we have created for ourselves. We all fought to give us the freedom and human rights stolen from us for too long. Therefore, let us be humble, honest and open in our reflections; and accept our shortcomings and learn the appropriate lessons. As I said in my statement to the Gambian diaspora in New York last September, “a government that listens and learns is a government that improves and succeeds”.

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, we must be vigilant against the problem of a dysfunctional public sector. As President of the Republic, I urge all ministries and all citizens to embrace nation building, with dignity for the Gambian people. Those of us elected or appointed to public office are obliged to safeguard the human, civil and development rights of citizens, and to provide quality services to the citizens.  This is an obligation in our political, social and legal contracts. My administration believes that fundamental and enlightened change is needed in the public sector.

The anniversary of the formation of the coalition government is an occasion for reflection. We will continue to pursue the public sector reform programme for comprehensive change to entrench public interest in the services.

The Gambia needs a modern, professional, credible and well-motivated civil and public service who would live up to their oath to serve without fear, favour or ill will.  Our reforms will attract and retain the best skilled and most experienced. Competence and performance will be rewarded, whilst support and incentives will be provided to stimulate professional development. Incompetence, unfairness and indifference have no place in the public sector of the New Gambia.

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, we must be vigilant against the problem of corrupt practices. My administration declares intolerance to all forms of corrupt and fraudulent practices. Misappropriation of funds, bribery and corruption in public office are illegal, disgraceful as well as breed mis-trust, and negative acts.

In the New Gambia, public office is a means for noble service for the good of the people. My administration is working to create a vibrant social economy, facilitating legitimate wealth creation through provision of socially beneficial goods and services.

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, we must be vigilant for the opportunity of          infrastructure-led development. We need good roads and other social amenities, such as water, energy and sewerage systems to complement the development of private citizens and communities. If we have appropriate and world class infrastructure in place, that can trigger the medium and long term transformation of The Gambia from a country with high levels of unemployment and poverty, to medium income status. We have the opportunity to create a growing and inclusive economy that provides well-paid and sustainable jobs for all levels of skills.

Infrastructure and energy investments will fuel our economy, sustained by merit-based career, enterprise and wealth creation opportunities maximally utilising Gambia’s human resources.

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, we must be vigilant for the opportunity of              diaspora-development. The enormous capacity, capabilities and potentials of the diaspora are not fully utilised by The Gambia. This is a loss to our country.  My administration recognises the Gambian Diaspora as the Eighth Region of The Gambia.

In September 2017, I declared that 15 December to 14 January as Gambia Diaspora Month, for Gambians across the world to come home, meet family, network amongst themselves, meet government officials, explore projects and ventures, and generally find ways to enhance their practical engagement in Gambian development.  I am glad that hundreds of Gambians have responded positively.  They have spent millions of dollars in the real economy, engaging with existent and new partners, and generally exploring and enjoying their productive engagement in their motherland.

My administration, through the new Gambia Diaspora Directorate and other mechanisms, will seek to remove unnecessary bureaucratic barriers; assist diaspora individuals and organisations to implement their projects; in order to enhance diaspora interventions to create jobs and improve development outcomes. We need to protect irregular, young and vulnerable migrants, and when necessary, facilitate their safe and voluntary return home, in line with human rights provisions. Most importantly, we strive to realise the United Nations vision that, ‘migration should be a choice, not a desperate necessity’.  To that end, my administration, through inter-ministerial cooperation is taking meaningful steps to create opportunities and options for education, employment and training for young Gambians and returnees.

Through the Migration and Sustainable Development in The Gambia Project (MSDG), we have already demonstrated the benefits of a well-coordinated approach to working with the diaspora. One of the leading experts in the world on international development and global migration is the Director of GK Partners, a Gambian diaspora, Professor Gibril Faal. We recognise his efforts in having a fully funded progamme, providing induction, training, technical briefings and guidance to the government to make the best out of migration. My administration was pleased to sign a Technical Cooperation Project agreement with GK Partners to ensure that the best experts in the field, who happen to be Gambian, are working for Gambia. We also expect to work with all experts on the public sector reform and other urgent and important priorities. 

On behalf of the MSDG Project, I express my thanks specifically to the government of Switzerland and the European Union for their support and cooperation. 

Fellow Gambians, distinguished delegates, on the occasion of the First Stake in the Nation Forum, you will have the chance to discuss specific and technical matters. I am sure that you will have productive and focused deliberations.

I would like to congratulate Professor Faal of GK Partners and the entire MSDG team. I also take this opportunity to thank all government ministries, departments and agencies that have been supporting the MSDG initiative. 

It is now my honour and delight to launch the following:
  1. The Gambia Diaspora Strategy
  2. The Gambia Diaspora Directorate
  3. The government report on ‘Curbing Irregular Migration through Sustainable Livelihoods’.
I wish you all a good day as we look forward to the Second Stake in the Nation Forum in 2019.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Any government vehicle/transport policy must be an integral part of a comprehensive civil service reform

Government television (GRTS) viewers were surprised by the one-sentence announcement from the Finance Ministry informing the audience that the new vehicle policy that was approved by the National Assemble as part of the 2018 Budget was being suspended before it is implemented.

The terse statement left open the reason for the decision which invited speculation from various quarters as to what led to the abrupt about face.  It becomes even more puzzling to those unfamiliar with the structure of the civil service and the importance of access - not misuse - to official transport can be difference between losing a senior officer to the private sector or an international organization and retaining him or her in the service.

During the 2018 budget process, we learned that Gambian taxpayers are saddled with an annual vehicle maintenance bill of D 300 million which is approximately $ 6 million that works out to D 150 every year for every man. woman and child in The Gambia.  And this figure is just to fuel an ever growing fleet that comprises of some of the world's most expensive car and four-wheel drives. 

Expenditures on the purchase of new cars are treated under separate account which, in our view should be zero.  Government should not spend a dime for the purchase of new vehicles.  The moratorium on new car purchases should be on place for as long as the situation demands it.  In fact, some luxury cars should be be put on the auctioned block to reduce the size of the fleets.

As we have said earlier, the use of an official car has implicitly become an earned employee privilege and an important component of the package as one of the 'perks'  that attracts talent in the same way that fresh graduates in the 60s and early 70s were assured a government loan to buy a car to go along with their newly acquired 'senior service' status. 

The reintroduction of a car loan scheme for civil servants is an important component of  the government's attempt to shift some of the financial burden away from the budget into the persona finances of civil servants but that is only part of the story which may explain why there's stiff resistance from the bureaucrats, and perhaps from President Barrow. 

The bigger picture entails a comprehensive reform of the civil service which will review not only the size and professional and non-professional mix of the service but the schemes of service of the various classifications of staff.  Salary increases - to be financed from savings realized from the restructuring - and other entitlements, should be an integral part of the exercise. 

Limiting access to official an official vehicle without increasing salaries and allowances, thus effectively reducing the civil servants' benefits package will be an unwelcome policy initiative as the Finance Minister was quick to realize.  In short, because the problems facing the civil service are intertwined, the problem must be handled holistically.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

ECOMIG reportedly on high alert as Jammeh's herds of cattle are being readied for confiscation

The ECOMIG forces who entered The Gambia last January to secure the peace while the ex-dictator Jammeh was being forced into involuntary exile after losing the December 2016 presidential election, is reportedly on high alert in the Kanilai area of the Foni.

The reason for the move is to prepare for the evacuation of Jammeh's herds of cattle are being readied for evacuation and confiscation, an issue that was the subject of investigation by the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of the former dictator.

Kanilai residence and those living in the general vicinity have been asked by the ECOMIG Senegalese Commander to either stay indoors or outside the area while the operation is underway.  According to a source in the area, the order has caused villagers to panic resulting in some fleeing to satellite villages.

An observer of the political scene in the Fonis also pointed out the fact that the APRC caravan led by Fabakary Tombong Jatta who were on a nation-wide tour are scheduled to pass through the Foni shortly and he is worried that this might create unnecessary and avoidable tension.

Southern Senegalese forest 
Regional security concerns have been further heightened by the fact that thirteen Senegalese youth who were out collecting wood in the Bayotte forest were killed by armed band, seven others wounder and two escaped.   The incident occured 12 miles from the regional capital of Ziquinchor located in the southern region of Senegal.

According to the Senegalese Press Agency (APS), " the attackers would have passed the buffer zone separating the positions of the Senegalese army from those of the MFDC rebels."   A Senegalese army inquiry has been launched to determine whether the MFDC rebels were responsible for the attack which is a worrying development regardless who carried out the attack.

Although the ECOMIG high alert around the Kanilai area appears unrelated, it is  nonetheless a matter for concern given the proximity of the native village of Yaya Jammeh to the Casamance border.   

Monday, January 8, 2018

Panama Papers: Over $ 500 million recovered by tax authorities worldwide

Sidi Sanneh 
More than $ 500 million has been recouped by tax authorities worldwide after the Panama Papers revelations, first published in April 2016, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Spain alone has collected $ 122 million after investigation into the affairs of those who have been stashing money offshore.   

Among the countries represented in the Panama Papers data, a total of 15 – on three continents - have publicly commented on the amount of taxes recovered by tax authorities.  

Of equal importance is the tax authorities have been able to identify, in many instances, the sources of the proceeds deposited in these accounts.

This number, according to ICIJ, could keep growing with several countries still conducting audits on the basis of the Panama Papers information.  In Canada, 123 audits are underway and several criminal investigations are ongoing, according to the Canadian Revenue Agency.  South Korea also reported having recouped $ 1.2 billion in taxes this year, although it is not clear what percentage is directly connected to the Panama Papers.

Last July, the German federal police agency announced it had bought the Panama Papers data.   The agency conducted raids and has so far frozen two million euros.  Danish tax authorities also acquired portion of the Panama Papers data and are investigating 320 companies and 500 to 600 individual linked through the data to Denmark.

Arrests related to the Panama Papers are taking place in Panama as part of investigations into Brazil’s largest ever bribery scandal known as Lava Jota.   

Meanwhile, ICIJ’s partners continue to explore the Panama Papers data for new leads.  In Bolivia, ICIJ partners unveiled last October the use of Panamanian company by American businessman Jacob Ostreicher to do business in Bolivia.  Ostreicher was arrested in 2011 on suspicion of money laundering.   His business partner was subsequently jailed while he fled Bolivia, according to ICIJ, thanks to the help of the American actor Sean Penn, who helped get him transferred from prison to house arrest, which he then left behind.

One of the most remarkable development s of the Panama Papers in 2017 unfolded in Pakistan last July when the Supreme Court, in an unanimous vote, removed the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from office.    
With the exception of few details, the entire blog post is based on the reporting of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.  

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Over a hundred Gambian migrants sent home from Libya; UK's DFID sends an audit team to Banjul

Gambian migrants returning home from Libya 
Euronews is reporting that over one hundred illegal immigrants from Libya have been sent home by the United Nations International Organization for Migrants (IOM). 

According to Euronews, " the Gambian migrants left Misrata airport on a one-way flight back to The Gambia in a bid to ease severe overcrowding in Libya's detention centers."

The population in the detention centers has risen dramatically this year as a result of the increase in banditry and roving armed militia resulting in the effective shutting down the boat route to Italy.

IOM has stepped up its evacuation of migrants evacuating over 1,500 migrants in the final months of 2017. 

It is believed that the Libyan authorities decided to step of the deportation of migrants as a result of the recent CNN report of African migrants being sold as slaves in slave markets around the country that is under the control of numerous armed factions.

In a related development, we've come to learn that The British aid agency, DFID,  has sent a team to Banjul to conduct an audit of the programs they are funding there.   We are told that the outcome of the audit exercise will be shared across agencies, including the European Union.