By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
Semlex, a Brussels based company tasked with producing biometric national documents for The Gambia was shut down in the early hours of Monday 10th February 2020 by The Gambia’s Revenue Authority (GRA). A notice outside Semlex’s complex in Kanifing with a GRA logo highlighted that “warning, closed temporarily under section 215 of the Income and Value Added Tax Act for not paying tax”.
The Gambia originally awarded Semlex a contract in June 2016 to produce biometric national documents such as national identification cards, drivers license among others but the government terminated the contract soon after. This original contract contained numerous tax waivers. However, after President Adama Barrow’s Government took over in January 2017, the Government went into a new agreement with Semlex. In February 2018, Gambia’s Minister of Justice Ba Tambadou announced that a contract between The Gambia and Semlex had been restored to provide the technical infrastructure to produce biometric identity documents.
In 2018 Reuters published an article highlighting that Belgium Police had searched Semlex Offices. The article detailed that a spokesman for Belgium’s federal prosecutor said “We are carrying out those searches in a case of possible money laundering and corruption.”
According to the Reuters publication, authorities from the Comoros Islands, off the eastern coast of Africa had cancelled 170 passports supplied by Semlex. Despite numerous warning from the Belgian Government and Civil Society, the Government still decided to proceed with Semlex. Gainako has received information that a Civil Society Organisation has taken the issue of Semlex Contract to court and will be having a hearing on the 20th of February 2020.
In 2018 Gainako reported that one National Assembly Member Hon. Toum Njie for Banjul South aired her concerns. “I’m totally disappointed to see that after so much effort and advice our government still went ahead to sign a deal with Semlex for our National Documents. I had hope for my country but all that hope has now vanished. I can see that we have a team trying to get involved in criminal actions as our leaders as only the criminally minded would want to work with alleged criminals.”
The outspoken lawmaker boldly declared that if the President fails to look into the matter he “has conducted himself in a manner which brings … the office of President into contempt or disrepute; as it known that Semlex as [a]company is under investigation in many countries.” The company has since continue operations while being investigated by the National Assembly. Since the findings of the National Assembly Committee have not been made public, it is left to be seen what has motivated the closure of the company Semlex as many customers who had arrived at their premises cannot get their national identification documents.