The Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure has said that The Gambia government has not made any deal with any firm or country on the country's seaport. In an exclusive at his office yesterday, Minister Bai Lamin Jobe said the government has so far received five proposals on the seaport expansion project, but none has been given the green light to carry on with the project yet.
"Government has to put all dimensions into consideration before we make a decision. So the thing you are talking about is something in the process and is not finalised. There is nothing definite about it," Jobe said.
The proposed project has been designed with extending one new jetty and building, a new approach bridge, channel dredging and maintenance dredging, rehabilitation container terminal, head office for the port authority, and pile repairing for Banjul Wharf.
However, other ideas being considered is the relocation of the ports to coasts of Tanji to enable deep sea vessels that are unable to dock at Banjul to be able to dock there in the future.
"You know that the activities at the seaport are drowning our city. We cannot sit down and do nothing or engage in debates for the next 12 months on what to do. The government has to make a decision which will be the best for the ports as a service and for the city," Minister Jobe said.
So far, there are five proposals on the minister's desk, coming from various internationally renowned firms in France, the UK, Holland, Dubai and China.
"Everybody wants a piece of the ports so to speak, and we are looking at those proposals currently," he said.
The minister added that among the proposals, the new government is trying to choose the best option for the country. However, in doing so, he said, procurement and tender are not the best for The Gambia port situation as the government does not have the money to finance the seaport expansion.
"It is not simple tendering... This is called a public-private-partnership, which comes in different forms. There is BOT (build, operate, transfer) to you later but they have put their money in. There is even a BOOT (build, own, operate, transfer). There is also EPC (engineering, procurement and construction)," he explained.
Gambia's Minister of Works Transport and Infrastructure has many decades of technical experience in public works. He had successful career with the World Bank, Gamworks (as founder and CEO) in 1992, and later on moved on to work with the UN System in Sierra Leone and Sudan - all in technical capacities.
In this interview with journalist Sanna Camara, Bai Lamin Jobe speaks on the Banjul seaport expansion project, and sets the records straight on information floating around town about related matters.
The Gambia's port expansion project requires a $177 million financing. Tell me how you managed to secure such a deal?
It looks like you talking about something you read in the media already. And you are putting it as a statement. We have to understand that there are a number of proposals on our table about this project - about five proposals. The French, British, the Dutch, Dubai ports and Chinese - everybody wants a piece of the ports so to speak, and we are looking at these proposals.
But the underlying is that we have to take a route that is best for the country, that is best for our capital - the ports is a very important dimension of our capital so we have to put all dimensions into consideration before we make a decision. The thing you are talking about is something in the process and is not finalised.
There is nothing definite about it. It is just floated around and I do not want to engage myself in back and forth... but I welcome opinions. Everybody is entitled to your opinion, but you cannot have you own truth. So that is all I can say about this.
So if no deal has been finalised, tell me what is going on with the ports?
I want this thing going around to be seen in the right perspective. We are faced with a number of proposals about our seaport and what we are trying to do is to choose the best option for this country and our city. And, to do so fast...
You have visited Banjul and you know that the activities at the ports are drowning our city. We cannot sit down and do nothing or engage in debates for the next 12 months on what to do. The government has to make a decision that is the best for the ports as a service and for the city.
What procedures are you employing to process the proposals presented to government? Are you following the international bidding procedures or other methods?
Now let me come to that. This is somehow where people are getting confused by certain media outlets concerning this problem. When you have your money as government or institution or individual; and you want to buy something - especially government - you have to call for tender. You can say what services you want or which studies to be done, and you invite proposals and you evaluate. What is most responsive and cheapest for you is what you choose. This is only when you have your money to do what you wanted.
These days, procurement is not done like that. For people who know, especially when governments don't have the money to call for bids, they either ask for proposals that come at different times, or people even approach them. For example, they can say 'you have this problem at the ports, this is a solution we can have for you, and this is the financing we can get for you, and these are the quotations. Do you like it or not?'
This is the way that most works are done now, it is not simple tendering - whoever is telling you that do not know much, I can tell you that... This is called a public-private-partnership (PPP) and it comes in different forms. There is BOT (build, operate, transfer) to you later but they have put their money in. There is even a BOOT (build, own, operate, transfer). There is also EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) so it is not a simple idea of tendering; the world is even past that.
To tell you the truth, I even asked the minister of justice that we should look at this situation because this country is still dealing with procurement rules which are outdated and no longer applicable. That we have to expand those rules because what is coming now is not tendering... .
Well, if you want to buy stationery or furniture for education, yes you can tender and procure because you have your money. But we need to expand the rules because that kind of rule is not applicable in what we are dealing with now.
So there was no tender?
That is the crux of the matter. We are getting proposals and we don't even ask for them. Even this morning, somebody came to me and he wants to install security for the airport and for the seaport. They have a proposal. I say 'this is fine but go to the MDs of the two ports and give them the presentation. If they like it, they can work with you to explore the possibility of implementing... .
At what stage are you right now in trying to choose 'what is best for the country?'
What I can tell you right now is that the process is still on and is not concluded. There are many dimensions and we are exploring... .Ministries of Justice, Finance, and technically, my department. All these components have to come together at one point and it is not finalised yet. There is nobody who has been written to, to go and do the project, I can tell you that.
What message would you have for interested firms wanting a 'piece of the Banjul port?'
All I can say is that this government is going to do the right thing for the country. They cannot have their way if their way is not the right thing for this country.
Thank you sir, for your time...