By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Chairperson of the National Assembly’s (NA) Public Petition Committee, Hon Sunkary Badjie of Foni Berefet has told Gainako that all petition appeals should be forwarded to his Committee, however, the Office of the Clerk has still not forwarded the Number Plate Petition Appeal to his Committee. According to Hon Badjie, the delay forced him “to confront the Clerk about the letter because I sense that someone’s rights are being seized”. This article features an exclusive interview with the Chairperson of the NA’s Petition Committee and Mr Landing Jobe, the Director of Committees at the NA.
Scandalous and Iniquitous
Gainako has received information that at least three petitions have been filed at the NA regarding procurement irregularities on the Aluminium Number Plate Bid. The three petitioners include two Gambian Companies SAMAR’T Gambia, Tedungal Multimedia and a German company Tonnjes.
The companies alleged that procurement malpractices saw the Aluminium Number Plate project awarded to Comfort Quality Services (Comfort) which bid over D20.2 Million more than the second-highest bidder in February 2019. Gainako’s exclusive investigation highlighted that two delegations of Security Officers travelled to Germany and Spain in March and November 2018 with Businessmen who submitted bids in January 2019.
One of the glaring irregularities was highlighted by the Complaints Review Board (Review Board) mandated to rule on procurement disputes investigated and suspended the project, calling the Ministry of Interior’s decision “scandalous and iniquitous”. Despite the suspended ruling signed by High Court Judge, Justice Amina Saho in March 2019 the Ministry of Interior proceeded to award the project to Comfort in May 2019.
Petition Appeal Delayed
When Gainako contacted Hon Sunkary Badjie he revealed that the “petition is said to be inadmissible and the Clerk needs to write back to the Petitioner to indicate to [petitioner] him that your Petition is inadmissible. It did not pass our exam as far as he, the Clerk was concerned. Going by the standing orders.”
According to Hon Badjie the “petition exam” is detailed in the NA’s Standing Order “guidelines which will find a particular petition admissible or inadmissible. To make it simpler it has to seat an exam. If it passes the exam then it will get to the next stage that will be my Committee.”
Speaking about the appeal Hon Badjie explained that “the Petitioner was not satisfied with the response of the Clerk of the NA. He appealed because the same Standing Order of the NA gives the Petitioner the powers to appeal if he is not satisfied with the response of the Clerk with regards to the non-admissibility of the Petition.”
“I confronted the Clerk on his receipt of the appeal. He responded to say yes, he has [received the letter] but he’ll work with the Deputy to give it a fitting response. I also spoke to Landing at the NA [Office of the Clerk] who acknowledged receiving the appeal but I don’t know what is stopping them to forward it to us” said Petition Chairperson, Hon Badjie.
Elaborating on the NA Standing Order, Hon Badjie explained that the NA Admin team should “forward that appeal to my Committee. It’s the prerogative of the Committee to determine whether that particular petition is admissible or not admissible”.
To verify Hon Badjie’s claims Gainako contacted the NA’s Director of Committees, Mr Landing Jobe who said that the petition “was not admitted because it is a procurement issue. There is a Complaints Committee (Review Board) at the Gambia Public Procurement Authority that pursues that matter. So, this is a subsidiary State issue and the Assembly has given the mandate to GPPA.”
Further to that the Petitioners were directed to the Review Board which was done, however, “they [the Petitioners] wrote and yet there was no response” said Mr Jobe.
However, according to provision 125 (4) of the NA’s Standing Orders, 2019 “where a petition is judged inadmissible, the Clerk must give reasons for his or her decisions and inform the petitioner as soon as it is reasonably practicable. The Public Petitions Committee shall, on appeal from the petitioner, decide in cases of dispute over admissibility and must give reasons for its decisions.”
“I Confronted the Clerk on the Petition”
Given that the NA’s Standing Orders directs the Clerk to forward Appeals to the Petition’s Committee, Gainako asked the Public Petitions Committee Chairperson if he expects to receive the Petition soon or if the Clerk will be allowed to keep it from his Committee.
In response, Hon Badjie argued that “the Clerk should be able to forward [the Petition] to my Committee within ten minutes, within 20 mins, within one day, within one week. What is holding it, to be honest to you I can’t tell you maybe they are doing their findings. I can’t tell, for me, I have my limitation. If letters that land in my Office are being delayed, I will be held responsible for that but anything on the side of the Administration I have no hand over that.”
Gainako then asked Hon Badjie “as a NA member you have more powers and being a Chair of a Committee, I want to believe you have authority over the Clerk to compel him to do what he needs to do to satisfy your office. Or am I mistaken on that?”
“No, you are not mistaken. That’s why I took the trouble to confront the Clerk about the letter because I sense that someone’s rights are being seized, or are being delayed. I’m a member of the NA and am interested in preserving the integrity of the NA. That why I took it upon myself to confront Landing about that. But then I can also go further to another committee like the NA Authority” said Hon Badjie.
When Gainako questioned Mr Landing Jobe about the confrontation he said “hence no matter is been resolved and I cannot attest whether he did that or not because the Clerk didn’t tell me that. So, I may not have enough justification for that”.
Procurement Malpractices in Aluminium Number Plate Project
At the end of the interview, Gainako questioned Hon Badjie’s awareness of the corruption allegations facing the Aluminium Number Plate project. He responded to say “I am privy to certain information and I am also concerned about the quality. Even a colleague who is a member of the Committee paid for a number plate and he could not receive it on time. There are a lot of things surrounding that”.
Having published a video investigation and a detailed report on the Aluminium Number Plate project Gainako has identified a number of procurement malpractices surrounding the bid. The most bizarre decision by the Ministry of Interior was to award a five (5) years renewable tentative contract for a bid that required the awardee to supply 65,000 Aluminium Number Plates one month after award. Gainako has hand-delivered letters to the relevant authorities requesting a copy of the final contract without success.
Another noteworthy sign of corruption is that the 60% (Comfort) – 40% (Ministry of Interior) sales share on Number Plates sold was never part of the bid and not in any project documents reviewed by Gainako. Government contracts cannot be implemented on a gentleman’s agreement.
The roll-out of Aluminium Number Plates took place in early 2020 at the beginning of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic when Police Officers started stopping vehicles without the new Aluminium Number Plates. However, the project was marred with numerous challenges. Some of the challenges reported saw customers make multiple payments for the same number plates, others were issued number plates without barcode stickers and most importantly the bar codes don’t feature the encryption features required in the bid.
The main reason for changing the Number Plates from Plastic to Aluminium was to create a digitised database of number plates in the Gambia with smart features such as an encrypted bar code which can only be read by authorised Security Personnel. The encrypted bar codes protect drivers details and make them difficult to duplicate. At the moment the bar codes being supplied by Comfort can be scanned with any smartphone equipped with a bar code scanner. This means that the number plates in circulation have no data protection.