By Abubakarr Harding
The entities that have the contracts of printing and marketing Sierra Leone’s passports, De La Rue and Netpage are currently picking up a battle with the Government of Sierra Leone.
A Civil Society Consortium on Justice and Development has stated recently that it has been keenly following the execution of the passport contract that was ratified by the Parliament of Sierra Leone about two years ago. “We note with dismay that both De La Rue and Netpage have not been helping the Government of Sierra Leone realize the much-needed revenue from the contract.”
Sources at the Finance Ministry confirmed that several correspondences sent to the two companies through the Ministry of Internal Affairs, calling for a thorough review and management of revenue accrued from the passport deal have not yielded any fruitful dividend.
Accordingly, the agreement is a joint venture between the Government and Thomas De La Rue, which is represented in the country by a company called Netpage (SL) Limited, headed by Jamal Shallop.
The Civil Society Consortium quoted the “2020 Performance Audit Report on the Management of Passports and Other Travelling Documents between the period 2015 and 2018”, which states “The National Revenue Authority (NRA) generated approximately Le20.7 billion (as per its cash book) from the sale of passport forms and other traveling documents at headquarters level for the review period. However, the pattern of recording revenue by streams in its cash book was not consistent and comparable to the payment method in the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF). As a result, it was difficult to ascertain whether that amount was accurately and completely paid into the CRF by the categories of collections stated in the NRA cash book.
It was against that backdrop that in June 2020 the Financial Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, Sahr Lahai Jusu, called for a review of the agreement which he said did not serve the interest of the Government.
Jusu, who served in the same position under the former regime of Ernest Bai Koroma, disclosed that the only money the Government was receiving from the processing of every passport was Le10, 000 (old notes), which is the cost of the sale of the passport application form.
The actual cost of the passport goes to De La Rue and its local partner, Shallop’s Netpage.
“We have realized that Sierra Leone as a nation is not realizing the much-needed revenue from the passport contract. We are therefore calling on the Government and Parliament, by extension, to investigate the implementation of the current passport contract,” says Ezekiel G. Lahai, Head of the Consortium.
It could be recalled that a Civil Society Organization, Right to Life Advocacy Network S/L, stated in a press release that it has been gauging the views of Sierra Leoneans both inside and outside the country on the imposition of an increase in the fees for obtaining a passport from nine hundred and fifty thousand Leones (Le 950,000) to one million three hundred thousand Leones (Le 1, 300,000) as announced by the Immigration Department without a thorough public sensitization.
According to the agreement signed by Jamal Shallop’s organization, a single passport is costing the average Sierra Leonean $100, equivalent to Le1, 300, 000. Ordinary citizens have said that amount is too much and prevents many citizens from acquiring their national documents.
Not more than 2 percent of Sierra Leoneans own a passport. The Finance Ministry has now realized that the agreement deprives the Government of making any money.
The Civil Society Consortium has established that Sierra Leone is currently back to its old days when foreign companies and their local representatives are not only stealing from the Government and people, but they are also seen remote-controlling business agreements signed to develop the country.
The 2020 Special Performance Audit report also states “It was also noted from the review of documents that NRA ceased to collect and make payment of revenue generated from the sale of Sierra Leone passports into the CRF on 31st August 2015. This was evidenced by a tripartite e-passport agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL), De La Rue (DLR), and Netpage on 14th February 2014, giving DLR the right to print Sierra Leone’s e-passports, and Netpage the right to collect proceeds from the sale of same and settle payment with DLR until 18th December 2023. With such a contract in place, GoSL transferred the risk of ensuring that passports are available at all times to its citizens to DLR and Netpage until the 18th December 2023.”