Saturday, September 30, 2017

National ID cards: It’s SEMLEX all over again!

Gambian Interior Minister, Mai Fatty 
The Interior Minister continues to bring the SEMLEX issue  into the forefront of the political discourse by, yet again, directing his press secretary to issue a press release designed, in our view, to confuse the public into thinking that the delay in the resumption of the issuance of ID cards is neither his fault nor that of his Ministry.  He's putting all the blame on Cabinet.

In other words, the problem in the delay in the resumption of national ID becomes government’s and not the minister's, who, we continue to maintain, created the mess in the first instance by trying to ram his earlier unilateral decision through Cabinet without calling for tenders and the rest of the procurement procedures that should follow.

This approach contravenes standard procurement rules and procedures. The Jammeh-era contract with Prestine Consulting - a Gambian-own company - must be resolved with the Touray brothers, one way or the other, BEFORE the national ID project is put out to tender

The second reason for this oddly-worded press release issued last week by his press officer - whose status within the civil service is unclear – appears to be a means of telegraphing to SEMLEX that everything is being done in the minister’s power to deliver.   

The press release further informed the public that the Interior Minister had "concurred with its own ministerial Task Force recommendation" to award the national ID card project to “an identified competent company” (read SEMLEX) and that his ministry has prepared a Cabinet Paper (CP) to this effect.

As soon as Cabinet arrives at a conclusion, his ministry will resume issuing national IDs to an anxious public, according to the release.  The problem with this method is this:  Cabinet cannot endorse the minister's recommendation without contravening every internationally acceptable procurement standards and procedures for goods and services.  We must start doing things the right way and stop the shenanigans.  

The beneficiary ministry – in this case, Interior – cannot form its own Technical Evaluation Committee, chair its own Task Force (performing the role reserved for the Major Tender Board) and then proceed to recommend that the contract be awarded to a company that the Hon. Minister had publicly and unabashedly supported and defended before television cameras.

In my view, the behavior of the minster alone is grounds for the disqualification of SEMLEX because even where they were to win the contract in a fair and square contest, the public impression will inevitably be that the company was favored.  In this business, perception is as important as reality.

A Task Force of the sort assembled by Interior cannot pass the smell test because it excludes all of the Ministries that matter in the procurement of goods and services. Such task forces are chaired by the Finance Ministry, the line ministry that is procuring goods or service (in this case, Interior),  Works and Infrastructure Ministry, Attorney General's Chambers and Accountant General to form a multi-disciplinary Task Force that will conduct the evaluation and selection of the best proposal prior to a joint CP is prepared to be subsequently referred to cabinet for approval.

In addition to adopting the wrong approach leading to the recommendation to award the contract to SEMLEX, the Interior Ministry compounded its problems by having the minister act as the lead spokesperson for the company thus posing serious conflict of interest and ethical issues.  Ministers must stay away from operational matters.  Procurement of goods and services fall under this category. Permanent Secretaries are the Accounting Officers of their respective ministries as the Lead Counsel to the Surahata Janneh Commission of Inquiry appears to keep reminding civil servants of this fact daily.  

We will repeat the call we’ve made early in the life of the new government that the new administration will have to decide very early in the transition period whether to continue maintaining a corrupt and backward system inherited from the 22-year dictatorship or to earnestly embark on the very difficult journey of adopting a new open, fair and transparent approach to governance including a public procurement process that meets international standards.

The New Gambia cannot afford to be perceived as a continuum of the old order that destroyed lives while staining the reputation of a once proud country with sterling reputation.  To embark on that journey, we must start by doing things openly, fairly and transparently.  If we need to be reminded of the virtues of following the General Orders (GO) and Financial Instructions (FI), please tune in on the sessions of the Commission of Inquiry looking into the abuse of power by Yaya Jammeh.