Saturday, May 6, 2017

Nigeria E-passport Scarcity To Persist As FG Disagree With Vendor On Pricing

The scarcity of the e-passport booklets may not abate soon as Federal Government is yet to reach an agreement on new pricing of the document with the vendor, Iris Smart Technology Ltd.
It was learnt that ISTL had reduced the production and supply of the 32-page passports last year following the foreign exchange crisis in the country which had reportedly increased the production cost of the booklets.

This is as investigation by the House of Representatives Committee on Interior revealed that the Federal Government made arrangements for the production of just 10 million passport booklets for the country in the past 10 years.

It was also discovered that the e-passport project had gulped over N25bn in the past 10 years.

The first contract awarded to ISTL, a Malaysian firm, on March 1, 2007, was for the production of three million passports and embedded substrates under a public-private-partnership agreement at the cost of $138.4m.

The production agreement between ISTL and the Ministry of Interior for the e-passport project was due to expire on May 7, 2017 (tomorrow).

In addition, Federal Executive Council on April 20, 2011 approved the award of another contract to ISTL for the supply of additional six million passport booklets at a cost of N4.2bn.

On May 27, 2014, a second addendum to the 2007 agreement was signed for the production of one million 64-page Machine Readable Passport booklets and embedding of substrates.

But investigations by the House of Representatives Committee on Interior could not establish whether the firm supplied the first set of three million passport booklets as stipulated in the first contract before the subsequent contracts for supply of additional seven million passports were awarded to the firm.

The report of the investigation into the outsourcing of travel documents, international passports, residence permits and border surveillance and patrol by the Ministry of Interior and the Nigeria Immigration Service dated September 2016 was obtained exclusively by Punch on Thursday.

The House of Reps committee described this as a serious national security breach.

It was learnt that the e-passport booklet is produced in South Africa, the chip by a Netherland-based company while the lamination of the data page is done in Malaysia.

It said, “The database which contains the biographical and biometric information of the holders of e-passports is still domiciled with the vendor and controlled by Iris Smart Technologies, the vendor. This has serious security implications.

“The Country Signing Certificate Authority and the public key infrastructure is also domiciled with the vendor. With this situation, the vendor can issue passports and alter biographical and biometric information of passport holders without the knowledge of the Nigeria Immigration Service.”

It noted that the project cost of $138.4m was divided into three phases with phase one costing $62,881,800; phase two, $53,337,470 and phase three, $62,881,800.

The House probe found that the e-passport project also included provision of 5.5 million wafers and laminates to be supplied over three phases for incorporation into the back cover of booklets, System Architecture of Electronic Passport Management.

The scope of the project also covered the Architecture of Electronic Passport Management System which consists passport enrolment and issuance system, automated fingerprint identification system, passport personalisation system, immigration border control system and immigration reporting system.

The committee found that the agreement between ISTL and the Interior ministry stipulated that the company shall bear, pay and shall thereafter be reimbursed by the ministry for all withholding taxes, VAT, duties and levies connected with the execution of the agreement.

It also found that the 2007 agreement, which was for 10 years, did not contain any clause for subsequent renewal.

The passport booklets, the report said, were to be supplied at a unit price of N6,900 for three million copies totalling N2.070bn.

The settlement of the company’s invoice were to be made from 30 per cent of the revenue generated from the sales of the passports while the Interior ministry made an advance payment of 25 per cent of the project cost.

“Also, a separate maintenance agreement was made for the booklets signed,” the report added.

The committee’s investigation also revealed that the Country Signing Certificate Authority, which is the anchor of trust for the Nigerian passport, would expire on May 31,2017 with grave implication for the integrity of the documents.

“The implication is that since Nigeria issues five-year passports, all passports issued after June 2013 will still be valid while the CSSA would have expired. There might be a need to mass recall these passports for re-issuance of new ones to the holders,” the report noted.

In this midst of all these grammar, many Nigerians are unable to travel due to passport issue.

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