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There is a better alternative to Semlex

Madi Jobarteh is a Gambian civil society activist

By Madi Jobarteh

It is high time that our leaders and technocrats think critically about national development and how to bring it about. Ultimately unless we build national capacity by creating institutions and working with local private companies we shall remain a weak and exploited country. The idea of producing biometric cards needs a rethink in order to determine the best way for the country.

In the first place one must ask what the value and urgency is of having biometric ID cards and passports for the Gambia at this time given the low technology use for these documents by Gambians. Until today Gambians do not use their ID cards to access their bank accounts or transfer money or access some automated services anywhere in the country. Therefore, why the need to urgently enter into a contract for biometric ID cards with a dubious foreign company when there are no facilities and services for such cards?

Even at Banjul International Airport the use of biometric passports is quite limited. Considering this, one wold have imagined that a sober government would make biometric card an optional facility for those citizens who need it to utilise the limited automated services available in the country.

But even where we have to use biometric documents, I strongly believe that our Government could have engaged local companies for that purpose. There are many ICT companies in the Gambia that have the capacity to produce biometric cards. What we need is the Government to engage them and where the capacity is limited the Government could create a consortium of private companies just to meet up basic standards and capacity. Already we had Pristine company which indeed had such a capacity. Amazingly the Gambia Government decided to drop Pristine which was to produce ID cards at D200 to go for Semlex which puts the cost of the same card at D450?

On the other hand, the Government could as well use public institutions and where necessary build their capacity to meet the necessary requirements. I am of the view that Gamtel or the national printing company, GNPC among others has the capacity to produce biometric cards. A third option could be to create a whole new institution for the sole purpose of producing technology products and services and ensure data protection for the government.

All of these options have one thing in common: that is, to build national capacity, make national documents affordable, ensure data integrity hence protect national security.

Therefore, apart from the cost issues, it is indeed concerning to provide citizens’ personal data to a foreign company, even if it is a credible company. This is not a wise decision that any serious government would do. We need to begin to build national capacity in all aspects of our development than to merely rely on foreign companies who we must also pay exorbitantly. That is no progress.

For the Gambia Our Homeland

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