The Ministry of Foreign Affairs quashed a proposal of Oberthur Technologies to supply four million additional Machine Readable Passports (MRPs) on existing per unit cost of US$ 3.59 and went on to buy 2.5 million MRPs on a higher per unit cost of $4.89.
Oberthur Technologies, a French digital security company which has been supplying Nepal’s MRPs for the last four years, had given two options — either to buy four million passports on existing rate or pay additional $1.3 per unit for less volume, according to an OT proposal seen by The Himalayan Times. MoFA chose to go for the second option, which will now cost additional $3.25 million (approximately Rs 330 million).
“Had MoFA gone for the first option, four million MRPs could have been procured at $14.36 million,” said an official. “The ministry went for the second option, as a result the state has to pay $12.225 million for 2.5 million MRPs.” At MoFA’s suggestion, the Cabinet’s Economic and Infrastructure Committee had recently decided to extend the contract of the OT to supply 2.5 million MRPs for two years.
An official warned that this higher rate might set a precedent for international bidders to supply passports to Nepal in future. MoFA, however, stated that under the new agreement, the French company will install some 50 live enrollment centres in seven-eight countries that have high concentration of Nepalis.
It will also hand over all the passport data to the government after the completion of the contract in two years, according to MoFA Spokesperson Tara Prasad Pokhrel.
He stated that Nepal itself would have paid to set up 50 live enrollment centres if the government had gone for the first option.
Apprising the International Relations and Labour Committee of the Legislature-Parliament yesterday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Mahendra Bahadur Pandey stated that ‘the decision was taken for an interim period of two years as a fresh tender was not possible within five months’.
The House panel had summoned Minister Pandey, Acting Foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi and Director General of Department of Passport Lok Bahadur Thapa to clarify the matter. Nepal’s contract with OT to supply four million MRPs is expiring on November 24, which is also the ICAO deadline for Nepal to replace all existing handwritten passports with MRPs. Nevertheless, the decision to extend the contract without going for fresh bidding contradicts the public procurement law, as per which a fresh bidding is a must.
As an attempt to justify the decision, MoFA officials claim that at least two years will be needed go for a fresh global tender to safely transfer existing passport data into its own system.
The IRLC, however, directed the government, MoFA in particular, to go fr a fresh international bidding to buy MRPs instead of extending the contract with OT for a longer period.