issue of Semlex is still complicated...,” Journalist Sanna Camara of The Point
put to Justice Minister Ba Tambadou, after delivering a statement on
Semlex-Pristine ID Card contract issue. “I did hold a different view at the
time with my counterpart at the Ministry of Interior,” Tambadou said.
We hereunder reproduce the deliberations of the Question and Answer session relating to the topic.
Sanna: The former Minister of Interior Mai Fatty had said that Gambia might be sued for up to $100Million for loss of revenue by Semlex…which was disputed in many quarters. At the time, I guess one of the members of Cabinet who were opposed to the Interior Minister’s position was you?
Now we are seeing a different turn around. You shared with us, several reasons that warranted this – that is respected, if it has legal bases. Now I will like to know if this latest twist is influenced by:
(1) unconfirmed reports of alleged bribery of government officials?
(2) with all the reports about Semlex’s involvement in scandals around the world, what does it tell about the government if it is trying to engage the same company that is allegedly accused of giving bribes for contracts in other countries?
Minister Tambadou: Thank you Sanna. I will take your questions one after the other:
$100Million lawsuit by Semlex
“On the claim by the former minster that government faced a legal liability of a $100Million – there is no specific amount stated in the contract between the government and Semlex. It only makes reference to ‘costs and potential loss of profits in the event there is bridge’.
It is on the basis of that provision in the contract that Semlex had written to the government, stating that the legal liability for the government may amount up to $100Million. So, this is Semlex’s claim. It is not necessarily the accurate amount. At this point, we do not know how much it may be, but as far as the records are concerned, that was the claim from Semlex.
“I was not …. I did hold a different view at the time with my counterpart at the Ministry of Interior. What I was focusing on was the fact that we need to take our time to review the matter and not to jump to conclusions. Because both Pristine and Semlex at the time were claiming… as I said, Pristine claims the contract they signed with the Ministry of Health was an extension of their earlier contract; Semlex was claiming they have a subsisting contract.
“These are legal matters and you don’t rush to conclusions on legal matters. My position all long was to ensure that we arrive at a conclusion that we believe we can justify. But furthermore, as I said, we also wanted to provide Pristine as Gambian-owned company an opportunity to compete… that is why we suggested, for strategic legal reasons… (I can’t go further than that, that’s the best I can say under the circumstances) to open a restricted bidding process so that when Pristine and Semlex submit their bids, government can have greater latitude to take a decision without adverse legal consequences. That didn’t happen.
Bribery of government officials
“On questions of bribery of government officials, I keep saying, make sure that when you make allegations like that against government officials, please bring proof. You don’t make…. People have worked hard over the years to establish their reputations and integrity. Let’s not just throw words out there that may potentially damage people’s reputations without proof. It is unfair.
“It is the reason why in some jurisdictions, libel is criminalized. It is in this country but you can imagine the reasons that will inform such a decision by government. Of course, we do not entertain… ah, ah, ahmm… that route. But please when you making allegations, make sure you have proof.
“Even when it is stated out there, I am not sure you should even ask a question like that because what do you expect me to say, ‘yes, it is true?’ (laughter).
Controversies surrounding Semlex
“On the controversies regarding Semlex, the government is of course concerned about those controversies – particularly their activities in Africa. And that is why as a precautionary measure, we have reached out to the Belgian authorities to request from them to share with us information about their investigations into the activities of Semlex…
“Having said that, let me point out a few things:
1. whatever activities Semlex is accused of elsewhere, we have to consider whether the termination of the contract in this country was as a result of those activities. As far as we are concerned, as far as the records are concerned, there is no link between Semlex activities outside and the position the previous government took to terminate their contract. So that’s one matter we have to consider: what has informed the termination of the contract.
2. Semlex is just under investigations; we do not know what the conclusions will be about those investigations. So, we can’t take any action at this point in time based on an investigation that is ongoing.
3. There are also some other legal implications. Semlex Gambia has its own separate legal personality as a legal entity registered in The Gambia. We also need to assess the impact, if any, that the parent company has on a subsidiary company which has a separate legal entity.
So, there are all sorts of issues here. And we need to be careful as I said, not to rush to judgment on some of these issues because they tend to have legal consequences for us as a government.
Tambadou: Did I leave any of your questions out?
Sanna: No. you have answered them all.