Monday, May 15, 2017

SEMLEX is the wrong company for the New Gambia

SEMLEX’s 5-year contract with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to print biometric passports calls for a 65% – 35% revenue sharing ratio with 65% going to the company and 35% to the government of the DRC.  This deal is part of a larger investigations currently being conducted by the Belgian law enforcement authorities about the company’s business practises in other African countries where passport prices have skyrocketed as a result of unfavorable deals that put money in the pockets of corrupt government officials and middlemen operating in the Gulf.  For a full story of the DRC scheme by Reuters, click here. 

To appreciate the proportionality of the cases in point, in the DRC, the cost of a passport is $ 185 or D 9,250.  DRC’s population is 82 million which is 41 times the size of Gambia’s population of roughly 2 million.

In the case of The Gambia, we can confirm that the contract SEMLEX intends to sign with the Barrow administration calls for a 70% - 30% revenue sharing ratio with the company taking home 70% of all revenue generated through passport sales  to Gambia government’s 30% share, as opposed to the 65% - 35% revenue sharing ration in the DRC scheme as stated earlier..

In a country of barely 2 million people, mostly poor and living subsistence lives, for SEMLEX to make a profit from the scheme, the conservative estimate of a price of a Gambian passport will be double or triple the $ 185 that DRC citizens currently pay.  It is impossible for the company to match the $ 185 that Congolese pay for a passport while maintaining a comparable quality standard.  Even with a lesser quality, matching the DRC price will not be possible.

In either case, therefore, Gambians must be ready to pay between D 10,000 and D 15,000 for a copy of a biometric passport that will pass the international standard test for it to be a worthwhile business proposal for SEMLEX. The small population of the country will tempt both the government and SEMLEX to scout for non-citizens as "clients" to make the business proposal viable.     

Although the contract does not specifically mention “passports”, official documents is defined to mean ALL official documents such as national ID cards, cards for foreign residence, and may include other documents as specified in any contract between the parties.

The Government of Mr. Adama Barrow is also required to provide the land and buildings required to implement the project at government expense.   In addition, government will provide qualified staff and pay for their salaries.

After 22 years of kleptocratic rule and the mismanagement of the country’s meager resources, the Barrow administration owe it to the Gambian people to protect them from unscrupulous businessmen and corrupt government officials by avoiding dubious business proposals and projects designed to put money in the wrong pockets at the expense of the rest of society who will end up paying these inefficiencies in the form of higher prices. 

If, despite public expression of dismay of some prominent members of the Gambia Chamber of Commerce, President Adama Barrow and his Interior Minister, Mai Ahmad Fatty still decide to proceed with the award of this and similar contracts to SEMLEX, then it is likely that there will be both legal and civic action against the government.  

The previous government had already signed a contract with The Touray Brothers to produce bio-metric national ID card and passport.  The contract was moving smoothly until Jammeh and his business partner Muhammed Bazzi, among others, interrupted the operation that eventually exiled them.  Before engaging any other company, the administration of Adama Barrow and Mai Fatty must settle with the current contract holders before committing government with a foreign firm, especially one that is already being investigated by the Belgian authorities.

Gambian businessmen and businesswomen with good business reputation must be given priority and preferential treatment over foreigners, especially those with proven track record, good business record, have demonstrated capacity to provide goods and services efficiently at competitive prices and/or rates.  The New Gambia must not emulate the Jammeh way of doing business or managing the affairs of State.  It's a new day and thus should be a new and better way.