By Amin Kef Sesay
This medium has been privy to an Open Letter dated 30 January 2020 written by an organisation called Civil Society Consortium on Human Rights and Good Governance –Sierra Leone and addressed to His Excellency the President Dr. Julius Maada Bio. The caption of the letter reads: “Call For Immediate Remedial Action Following a Fact Finding and Further Price Increase on our National Passport.”
In as much as the members of the said consortium decided to champion a noble cause bordering around our national passport going further to raise the point that the contract of printing our passport is wrongfully in the hands of Netpage/De La Rue and how Government is not generating meaningful revenue from that sector, yet it is very pathetic that seemingly the very members of the local CSO are seriously ignorant of the origin and content of the contract that was signed between the Government of Sierra Leone and Netpage/ De La Rue. Probably, to remedy such a deficiency it would be helpful to proffer an advice for the members of the local CSO to do their homework very well before this medium proceed to dissect the hollows in the Open Letter.
It is totally erroneous for the architects of the letter to refer to the contractor, Netpage/De La Rue that prints our Sierra Leonean passports as incumbent and worse of all that they were handpicked. It is on record that the contract was advertised for a bidding process and due diligence was followed until ultimately the contract was won by Netpage. According to investigation mounted by this Press, Netpage is only a third party in the tripartite ePassport contract agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and Thomas De La Rue by financing the contract while Thomas De La Rue handles the printing of the ePassport.
It is therefore very unfortunate for members of the CSO to create the impression that Netpage was handpicked. In fact it has been proven beyond all reasonable doubts that the business credibility of Netpage was what qualified its head, Jamal Shallop, to successfully emerge as the Local Content Provider in the ePassport contract agreement. Though it was disclosed that the contract is a Non-Disclosure Agreement ,however,it was ascertained by this medium that one hundred dollars ($100) is the price for a passport in the contract agreement but is sold for about Eighty or Eighty-Five Dollars ($80 or $85) which is equivalent to seven hundred and fifty thousand Leones (Le 750,000).
With members of the local CSO trying to paint the picture that Netpage is really exploiting the Government and People of Sierra Leone when we properly analyse the situation against the backdrop that the value of the Leone keeps depreciating to the dollar but the price of the passport remains the same then it could really be seen that it is a business that is highly volatile. At this juncture, we pause to ask the question whether certain personalities or entities will venture to go for it and play the current role that Netpage is playing?
What is so preposterous in the concerns raised in the aforementioned letter is when mention was made that our passport is not an ePassport as it is not electronically readable as the contract dictates. What is certain is that our passport has features that are electronically readable.
Logically, if the Sierra Leone passport was readable from 2013 when the contract was signed that could have been picked up and a lot of fuss made over it. What has been established is that Thomas De La Rue has been doing business with successive Sierra Leone Governments for more than four decades by printing passports and our legal tender. It is a reputable and professional company and it could only beat one’s imagination that a company of such a reputable standard could be deceptive enough not to print ePassports.
Indeed it is prudent to review contract agreements from time to time to match up with evolving trends and the passport contract could not be an exception. If the Government thinks it is not realising much from the contract agreement it is up to members of parliament to look at it properly and come up with another best option by reviewing the contract and make modifications.
But for a recommendation to be made for the contract to be terminated is totally out of context. What is so certain is that Netpage has been steadfast in honouring its own part of the contract and has been doing so well over the years. Since it took over the contract there has not been a single instance of shortage of the country’s passport. It is indeed fool hardy on the part of members of the local CSO to recommend the printing of our passport in another different country, suggesting India as one. Maybe it is advisable for them to note that the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know.Cognisance must be taken of the fact that we are talking of a sensitive State document and not just a mere toilet paper.
With regards other issues that the authors seemingly were at pains to put on paper the best that could be said is that they are incoherent and therefore do not merit any comment. There are indeed more important issues to draw the President’s attention than this one.