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Machine-Readable Passport:Bangladesh set to miss deadline..

Govt yet to decide on the firm for the project..

Bangladesh's chance of meeting the international deadline to introduce machine-readable passport (MRP) and machine-readable visa (MRV) on April 1, 2010 looks bleak as the government is yet to choose a company for implementing the project.

Bangladesh could not finalise the project due to frequent change of decisions. Steps to introduce MRP and MRV originally began 12 years ago. Several strong quarters comprising politicians and businessmen have been in a race to grab the financial benefit out of the multi-million-dollar project, virtually delaying introduction of MRP and MRV.

The home ministry had sent a summary of the project to the cabinet committee on government purchase on December 27 recommending a Malaysia-based company for the job. Four meetings of the committee were held since then but for mysterious reasons the summary was not placed at those meetings.

The summery was placed before the committee's meeting yesterday but the project was not approved due to some "inconsistencies" the committee found in the summery regarding the amount of money required for the project.

The finance minister asked the home ministry to clarify, through a note, the issues it found in the summery and place the summery before the committee's next meeting, meeting sources said.

"Even if the project is approved next week, Bangladesh may miss the deadline as there are many formalities, including signing of contract and installation of machinery," said an official involved in the project.

The summary was prepared after a number of hitches in the process of selecting responsive firm by the evaluation committee, which was given the job of examining tender documents and choose a capable firm.

"It may take more time as the policymakers are still dillydallying to make a decision and choose the most capable firm. The country has only two-and-a-half months to meet the deadline," said a senior official at the home ministry.

"Everybody knows the importance of this project. Despite this, it is not being finalised due to the lobbying and counter lobbying by influential quarters," he said wishing anonymity.

In less than a month, the seven-member evaluation committee headed by Brig Gen Md Refayet Ullah changed its decision a couple of times, allegedly due to lobbying and counter lobbying of those quarters. Brig Gen Refayet is the project director (PD) of MRP and MRV project.

The committee on November 23 last year selected Malaysian IRIS Corporation Berhad as the lowest bidder and recommended the government to give the job to the firm. It recommended awarding the project to Flora Telecom Ltd, which came out as second lowest bibber, if IRIS declined to implement the project.

On December 8, the same committee following suggestion of the home ministry held a re-evaluation meeting and declared IRIS non-responsive. It then suggested that Flora be given the job as the lone remaining responsive bidder. A number of allegations against IRIS and newspaper reports on them made the committee change the decision, the official said.

One of the allegations were that IRIS got blacklisted in Turkey for failing in a similar project but IRIS claimed that the company that got blacklisted in Turkey was a different company altogether.

Following instructions of the home ministry, the committee on January 6 backtracked on the decision and chose IRIS again. It considered the documents of IRIS and overlooked the allegations made against it.

Home ministry officials said IRIS was reconsidered as it quoted much less than Flora. The government has to pay about Tk 260 crore additional if the job is given to the second lowest bidder, they said.

IRIS Berhad quoted Tk 267 crore while Flora Telecom quoted Tk 347 crore in the bids. As per evaluation cost, IRIS will get Tk 697 crore for issuance of 11 million passports in five years against Flora's Tk 956 crore.

As per requirement of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Bangladesh has to introduce MRP and MRV from April 1 to ensure a safe and risk-free travel of its citizens. Soon after this Awami League government assumed office, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved a Tk 283 crore on March 19, 2009 to implement the project.

The government involved the armed forces division to expedite the finalisation of the project and go for introduction of MRP and MRV before the deadline expires.

In the summary, home secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder described in details the project and the bidding firms and urged the cabinet committee on government purchase to approve the project. He also explained the reasons behind change of decisions regarding the firm.

Bangladesh citizens' access to international manpower markets and all types of visas would be at risk if the government fails to introduce the MRP and MRV by April 1.

The Awami League government of 1996-2001 took the initiative first to introduce MRP after ICAO instructed all its 181 member countries to introduce it to avoid hassles during international travel.

After assuming office in 2001, the BNP-Jamaat government scraped the move. The then state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar took a fresh move and included national identity card option in the project.

The move was, however, scrapped by the BNP-Jamaat government as a group of influential people, including some businessmen tried to make cash out of the project and there were numerous loopholes and anomalies in the project.

>>Source: The Daily Star
Published On: 2010-01-13


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