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Idemia says no consortium for DR Congo ID card, Afritech holds contract

French firm is national ID technology supplier to $697M deal
Idemia says no consortium for DR Congo ID card, Afritech holds contract
 

When the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Inspectorate General of Finance (IGF) approached Idemia to inquire about its role in the $697 million contract with the Office Nationale de l’Identification de la Population (ONIP), it found a discrepancy which threatens to upend the deal.

Contrary to media reports and the impression of some officials, there is no consortium between Idemia and Afritech to deliver biometric national ID cards in the DRC, Idemia Senior Vice President for the Middle East and Africa Olivier Charlanes tells Biometric Update in a phone interview.

The company representative explains that Idemia does have an agreement with Afritech to supply technology for ID cards and a national identity system to support them but the French digital identity giant has no direct contract with the ONIP. Questions about procurement, financing and so on are therefore outside of Idemia’s involvement, and Charlanes says the company is not in a position to comment on any of them.

“What we know for sure is that, yes, we have a contract with Afritech for the supply of a system and of ID cards for this project,” Charlanes says.

Afritech and Idemia previously worked together through a joint venture in Mali to supply biometric passports, back in 2015. They did not work together between then and signing the supply contract for DRC.

The first time Idemia had any direct contact with the Congolese administration about the ID card project was around the beginning of June, Charlanes says, when the IGF asked and was provided answers about the nature of the relationship between Idemia and Afritech. “This is the first time we heard about the so-called “consortium” of Afritech and Idemia.”

The IGF continues to seek clarification about the contract and the business arrangements behind it.

“For sure, there are some inconsistencies between contractual scheme of the parties involved,” Charlanes says. “We do not want a situation in which there is a mismatch between contractual setup to remain.”

Idemia has expressed concerns to Afritech, and asked them to clarify the situation and make any correction necessary.

Biometric Update reached out to Afritech Founder Samba Bathily for comment, but had yet to receive a response as of publication.

If the situation cannot be sorted out, Charlanes says, all options are on the table for Idemia, including cancelling its contract. He also expressed optimism, however, that all parties are committed to finding a workable resolution.

In the meantime, Idemia has already conducted demonstrations of its ID card technology in the DRC in the second half of 2023, prior to the contract being signed. That work was carried in collaboration with Afritech, but not as partners in a consortium, which Charlanes emphasizes carries with it specific legal meaning and obligations.

Beyond these basic facts, Charlanes is left, like everyone else, attempting to glean information from media reports that in many cases are not entirely accurate.

Potential outcomes

A resolution that maintains the current arrangement, with the exception that Afritech is clarified to be the sole holder of the contract with ONIP, is still possible from Idemia’s point of view.

Whatever happens, Charlanes insists that it must protect Idemia’s good name in the market, as an identity technology partner of more than 80 governments around the world.

“What we are selling is not a piece of plastic, it’s not a piece of paper, for passports; we are selling trust,” Charlanes says. “It takes a lot of time to build trust, and it can be damaged in one day. So, this is exactly the kind of situation we don’t like.”

Maintaining the trust it has built up over the years is more important for Idemia than any commercial contract, he states. While this is the most important consideration, it is not the only one.

“There is a country with 100 million citizens, and they have not had an ID card for the past 40 years,” and Idemia is ready to help. “We have already started to deliver the personalized ID card in Congo, meaning that we have everything it takes, ultimately, to fill the need of the country,” Charlanes says.

A new contractual arrangement is also possible, in theory, Charlanes admits, but the company wants clarity to come first.

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