By Sufi Faruq
The Department of Immigration and Passport (DIP) under the home ministry, in collaboration with the Bangladesh Army, is working relentlessly to finalize the consultant for the implementation of Machine Readable Passports/Visas (MRP/MRV) in Bangladesh. But as the final decision draws near, tension sparks among the competing companies and others concerned: will the authorities ensure a fair and accurate evaluation?
The project has to be implemented by April 2010 to meet the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) deadline. ICAO is a major agency of the United Nations that is responsible for the regulation and development of international air navigation and transport. Neighboring countries such as India and Pakistan have already started issuing machine readable passports to their citizens.
DIP started floating its tender from September 15 2009 and is in search of a qualified company in the field of Information and Communication Technology that will be responsible for the supply, installation and integration of all necessary equipment and technology. The selected company will also be responsible for the operations and maintenance of the project for two years. Deadline for submission of the tender was October 27, 2009. DIP in the meantime has already completed its financial evaluation and is in the process of completing the technical evaluation after which the winning company shall be announced.
Companies such as ‘Iris’ (Malaysia), ‘Beijing Jinchen Ciccone Security Printing Co., Ltd.’ (China), ‘Gemalto’ (Luxembourg), ‘Oberthur’ (France), and ‘ST Electronics’ (Singapore) stand as the leading contenders for this project. The lowest quotation was made by Iris with 27.52 million Euros and the highest was by the consortium ‘Info System (UAE) and De La Ru’ (UK) with 110 million Euros. Companies such as Oberthur and ST Electronics stand at 33.95 and 37 million Euros respectively.
While price quotation is undoubtedly an important factor in the selection criteria, experts feel that the authority should take extensive care in ensuring that the selected company is technically strong and has full capability and experience to completely deliver all the requirements of this project. Experts also feel that the authority should thoroughly investigate the background of all companies to ensure that they have immaculate and outstanding reputation as the supplier of identity documents.
Concerns have surfaced among the different communities about the background and previous performances of a few of the leading contenders of this project. A report that came out on ‘Today’s Zaman’ (a national Turkish newspaper) on October 27, 2009 shows that after winning a bid in Turkey, Iris had delayed delivery for three months. Serious flaws were also found in the devices that included failure in: the successful operation of devices, insertion of the digital image in passports, and reading of biometric passports by optical devices. After several breaches of contract by the company, the contract was cancelled by the authority and it now has to hold a new tender altogether. Reports have also come out on Ciccone Calcografica of Argentina, a joint venture partner of Beijing Jinchen Ciccone Security Printing Co., Ltd. (J&C), for printing fake notes for Zaire and Bahrain. They have allegedly circulated more than 75,000 fake 20 Dinar notes worth 1.5 million Dinars in the United Arab Emirates from June 4- 11, 1998.
It has also been told that the bidders, who are at the lower side, have missed out many items to quote even one bidder missed out the main item passport booklet in their offer. According to the Public Procurement Regulation, 2008, there is no option to take any price from these bidders, and for missing any major item in the response, the bid is supposed to be declared non-responsive. However, the bid committee is being surprisingly flexible for these companies irrespective of their being non compliant. In fact, DIP is willing to relax certain requirements to accommodate these companies. One such requirement was the supply of sample passport booklets as one of the tender submission criteria. Another requirement includes the capability of producing 8 million passports a year and having issued a minimum of 25 million passports to other states. These criteria are important benchmarks in assessing a company’s competence and will definitely help to measure and differentiate the technical strengths of bidders. Experts feel that by relaxing these requirements DIP will be taking huge risks that include: selection of a company that will not be able to deliver the required products and services, failure to meet the ICAO deadline on time which would in turn make it impossible for Bangladeshi citizens to obtain new passports from April 1, and the risk of incurring huge financial losses by the government.
Also it has been told that during the pre-bid meeting the project office had intentionally changed the router configuration for 262 routers to high-end expensive routers where only 1 MB links will be used. It alone had increased the project price by 10%. There are many such examples. Also now the project office is not transparent in the evaluation project. Initially BUET was involved but now they are doing it alone without any involvement of BUET. It’s also known that there is no expert in the evaluation committee and the whole process is not at all transparent.
Keeping in mind that this project will take us a step closer towards Digital Bangladesh and help us improve our image in the international community, it is hoped that the authority will conduct a thorough check on each of the companies and their tender responses to ensure that they fully comply with the requirements of the tender. Moreover, it is expected that the winning bidder will be a reputable company that will be able to deliver satisfactory products and services in a timely and efficient manner.
May 2006, Moneymakers: The Secret World of Banknote Printing, http://as.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-352750236X.html