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The Belgian company Semlex Europe has closed down all its operations in Mozambique, and will no longer be responsible for producing Mozambican identification documents.
Although the Semlex press releases announcing the closure is dated 23 October, it states that it ended its activities on 30 September.
This is the culmination of a lengthy dispute between the government and Semlex arising from the incapacity of Semlex to produce documents in good time and with the quality demanded by the government.
The Semlex release says that it has handed over its offices, and all its equipment, documents and raw materials to the relevant Mozambican authorities.
Semlex signed with the government, in 2009, a BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) contract, valid for 10 years for the supply of secure solutions for the production of identity cards, travel documents, identification and residence documents for foreigners (DIRE) and frontier visas.
Semlex claims that the government decision, announced in May, to cancel the contract was “unjustified and illegal” and that Semlex had been obliged to continue producing documents to a high standard “without any remuneration from the Mozambican authorities, in addition to the existing debt of around 53 million US dollars”.
The government terminated the contract after an audit found Semlex in violation of the contract. In August Semlex said it demanded another audit which should be “carried out by an independent entity, a recognised company, with proven technical and professional experience in the area”. It says the government turned this proposal down.
What Semlex omitted was that its contract has always been mired in controversy. The deal was struck by the previous government, under President Armando Guebuza, and the contract was given to Semlex in 2009 without any public tender, in violation of Mozambique’s procurement rules.
Immediately there were claims that the contract was illegal, and protests at the high prices charged for the Semlex identity documents. Thus the price for a Mozambican passport jumped from the equivalent of five or ten US dollars (depending on type) to 100 dollars. An identity card more than tripled in price (from the equivalent of less than two dollars to six dollars).
According to press reports of the time, the greater part of the revenue from the issuing of identity documents went to Semlex – the original calculation was that, of the predicted annual revenue from the project, about 63 per cent would go to Semlex and only 37 per cent to the Mozambican state.
According to a 2015 investigation by the anti-corruption NGO, the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), Semlex promised to invest 100 million dollars in the ten years of the contract. But by the time of the CIP report only 25 per cent of this amount had been invested.
A new tender was launched to select another company to supply biometric document production systems.
Semlex did not submit a bid in its own name, but as the Lithuanian company UAB Carsu Pasaulis. Since the Semlex Group purchased this company in 2014, the Lithuanian bid can be regarded as coming from Semlex under another name.
A jury from the Ministry of the Interior assessed the technical bids from five companies and announced its classification on 9 August. Two of the bids were disqualified – one was submitted beyond the deadline, and the other did not meet all the requirements for a preliminary assessment.
Of the remaining three bidders, only two are now in contention. The Mozambican subsidiary of the German company Muhlbauer ID Services, received a score from the jury of 87.67. UAB Garsu Pasaulis trailed with a score of 70.05.
Only when it became clear that the Lithuanian bid was most unlikely to win did Semlex protest and claim the government was behaving illegally.
The government reacted to the Semlex August protest by stating that the decision to rescind the contract was “irreversible”.
The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of the Interior, Zefanias Muhate, said there was generalised discontent among members of the public applying for identity documents, because they are not delivered on time. This leads people to visit the offices repeatedly in attempts to pick up their documents.
He attacked the poor quality of the documents produced by Semlex which “calls into question the prestige of the Mozambican government, within the country and abroad”.
Some of the Semlex documents cannot be read by the machines at immigration posts on Mozambique’s borders with neighbouring countries. This caused enormous difficulties when travel documents issued for Mozambican miners working in South Africa proved to be illegible, forcing the government to send a brigade to South Africa to issue new documents.
There were also problems in reading the bar codes on identity cards, and poor quality of the photographs put on travel documents. Travel documents for refugees and emergency certificates for foreigners contained gross spelling mistakes.
“The contract envisaged that Semlex would train Mozambican staff who would manage the process and this did not happen”, accused Muhate. “Nobody was trained, and they do not allow the system to be managed by Mozambicans”.Source: AIM