Democratic Republic of Congo resumes making passports after hiatus

by Reuters
Sunday, 15 November 2020 14:07 GMT

KINSHASA, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo is resuming passport production, a government decree showed on Sunday, after a five-month hiatus following allegations of money laundering and corruption by Brussels-based manufacturer Semlex.

In May, a senior Congolese official told Reuters the government would not renew its contract with Semlex, which made biometric passports for Congo in a deal agreed under former President Joseph Kabila that expired on June 11.

The winner of a subsequent tender has not been announced, but the decree, signed by the Congolese foreign and finance ministers on Nov. 10, details new passport costs and delivery times for citizens.

"The decree enters into force as of the date of its signature," it said.

A Nov. 3 letter from Congo's public markets regulator to Foreign Minister Marie Tumba Nzeza, seen by Reuters, suggests the authorities have sought to register a new contract worth over $68 million with Locosem, a subsidiary of Semlex.

Responding to a request for comment on the letter, the foreign ministry said Semlex's contract had not been extended, but did not give further details. A representative of Semlex did not immediately respond to Reuters.

In a 2017 report, Reuters detailed how Semlex, which supplies passports to various African countries, won the original contract. The company has denied all accusations of impropriety, calling them part of a "defamatory smear campaign".

The deal greatly increased the price citizens had to pay for passports, and documents showed a Gulf company owned by a relative of Kabila received almost a third of the revenues.

At $185, Congo's passport was among the world's most expensive, even though its people are on average among the poorest. A five-year passport is now priced at $99, the new decree shows.

Belgian prosecutors have been investigating the allegations against Semlex, while Congolese citizens and international campaign groups filed a civil action in Belgium against the company in May. (Reporting by Stanis Bujakera and Aaron Ross, dditional reporting by Hereward Holland; Writing by Alessandra Prentice, editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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