There is a public uproar in The Gambia over the content of an audit report by Securiport, a US-based company tasked with providing aviation and immigration security.
The National Audit Office, among other things, found that key government officers, including diplomatic passport holders, were exempt from paying an airport security fee in contravention of the law.
The audit also looked at “financial transactions including revenue collections to ascertain government share in accordance with the contract terms from September 1, 2019, to May 31, 2021.”
Citizens also expressed disappointment at the Office of the President’s recommendation to extend the Securiport contract; decision auditors have decided to investigate.
Following the release of the audit report, What’s-On-Gambia wrote: “So Barrow, his ministers, senior government officials and all diplomatic and service passport holders have not been paying the airport fee? The fee is only for ordinary Gambians and tourists. Criminals run our country. Very dangerous criminals!”
The post generated 1.4K likes, 443 comments and 43 shares. One of the followers commented: “This has been the case since. Even National Assembly members don’t pay.”
Another wrote: “This nonsense security fee must stop. We are all equal in the eye of the law. If the ordinary citizens are paying, why not government officials?”
“So usually, as a NAM, if you travel with your diplomatic passport, you are exempted from the port fee. But if you present an ordinary passport, they levy the charges on you,” said Omar Jammeh, National Assembly Member for Janjanbureh.
In August 2022, Malagen published an investigative story on the State’s deal with Securiport. The story revealed that a $20-dollar (now $25) security levy at the airport caused the state’s possible financial loss of at least D274 Million due to procurement breaches, exemption of diplomatic passport holders, etc.
There has been public outrage since the introduction of the security levy, and Malagen’s revelation of the financial loss the country has suffered as a result of the deal sparked more rage.
Prior to this, in January 2022, The Gambia Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) sacked a Whistleblower, Ebrima L Dampha, for revealing that the security fee was already charged on passenger flights.
There has been a lot of talk about the issue. The National Audit Office has recommended that the government reviews the Securiport project as there is a risk of tourists choosing less expensive destinations and public outcry over the security fee leading to civil unrest.
The Gambia government awarded Securiport a contract to provide civil aviation and immigration security and to introduce an e-visa system.
As per the contract, The Gambia government must give a directive to airlines at the Banjul International airport to collect a security fee from each arriving and departing passenger on behalf of Securiport.
The audit’s findings revealed that diplomatic and service passport holders do not pay the $20 security levy at the airport, therefore, breaching the contract awarded to Securiport by The Gambia government.
As shown in the NAO’s findings, the contract lists only five categories of passengers as those exempted from paying the security levy, which does not include diplomatic passport holders.
DUBAWA contacted Securiport to discover why the contract was breached and if they have taken any steps to curb it. Their communications consultant Fatim Badjie, said: “I will advise the Ministry of Transport and Gambia Immigration Department to grant clarity for answers as they are in a better position to share their position on who pays.
“We continue to provide a service and oversee collections on behalf of both parties, in the meantime, until payments are included in tickets. We have a circular from the government which we post at booths, about the security fee for passengers who need clarity.”
Although the Securiport contract does not exempt diplomatic passport holders from paying the levy, the government spokesperson, Ebrima Sankareh, maintained that they are one of the exceptions.
“The diplomatic passport holders don’t pay, and no department reimburses them. So, that is a given. Service passport initially, according to the proposal, they were not also supposed to pay. After that, there was an addendum that came into force, and then that nullified that proposal for the service passport holders.
“Even if it is not Securiport, service passport holders, even when they travel and incur a cost based on their passport, it is their departments that defray that cost but not in the case of diplomatic passports,” he told DUBAWA.
The audit reveals that The Gambia government has lost a seven-month share to Securiport.
“During our audit, we noted that since the collection of the security fee started in September 2020 to April 2021, there was no 25% government share transfer to the GCAA account. This contradicts the provision in the contract,” the report says.
NAO found that Gambia Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) only started receiving its first 25% share on 20 May 2021, which is seven months after collections started, amounting to D16, 452,987.3 The report also states that there is no evidence showing that payment was made in the Dollar, Pound and Euro accounts in the same period.
This violates Section 126.96.36.199 of the contract: “The GCAA will open conjointly with Securiport a bank account designated for this purpose to be jointly managed by GCAA and Securiport. This bank account will be opened with irrecoverable instructions to transfer the balance of the account monthly to the GCAA and Securiport 75% (Seventy-five cents) or USD15 (Fifteen United States dollars) for Securiport and 25% (Twenty-five cents) or USD5 (five United States dollars) for the GCAA.
The Securiport contract stipulates that the security fee would rise as inflation increases.
According to section 3.1.2 of the audit report: “The task force set up by the government to assess the viability of the project recommended the replacement of the 15% sales tax currently levied on air ticket with the new security fee considering the numerous charges included in the air ticket. However, executive approval from the Office of The President was issued to forge ahead with the contract without considering this recommendation.”
The National Audit Office advised the government to recover over 164M ‘Unjustifiably’ paid to Securiport. The audit report referenced a provision in the contract that requires the government to make payment to Securiport if there was a delay in enforcing the collection of the security levy. The arrears are said to have been accrued between October 1, 2019, and August 31, 2020.
Despite calls for the government to terminate the Securiport contract and the public outcry over the security fee, there seems to be no sign that The Gambia government will be backing out of the deal.
The researcher produced this explainer per the DUBAWA 2023 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Malagen to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.