Border loopholes benefit human traffickers: Immigration Controller

“If one country has a loophole, all countries suffer,” said Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid, referring to the Maldives’ lack of a border control system amidst rising concerns over human trafficking. “The present border control system is only helping human traffickers.”

Authorities have reported a daily increase in human trafficking to the Maldives, particularly in the case of expatriate workers. The industry has a calculated value of US$123 million, making it the second largest contributor of foreign currency.

“This is a serious issue, there are about 40,000 illegal workers in the Maldives right now,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem. “A border control system would be useful, especially in the future for maintenance. But there is a lot to do within the country as well, and we are currently trying to address these matters.”

The Maldives currently uses an eight year-old, outdated border control system. Plans to upgrade to a modern system have been delayed for over a year on allegations of corruption.

In November 2010, the government approved a Rf500 million (US$39 million) Border Control System by Malaysia’s Nexbis Limited, proposed by the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Shortly thereafter, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) requested that the agreement be halted due to “a serious public complaint” alleging corrupt dealings. The President upheld the ACC’s request in January 2011, by in May the Cabinet approved the program.

The ACC subsequently renewed its concerns and filed a case at the Civil Court and submitted a report to the Prosecutor General’s (PG) office earlier this month. The report accuses Former Controller Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim and Director General of Finance Ministry, Saamee Aqeel, then head of the Tender Board, for allegedly abusing their authority for undue financial gain.

Nexbis threatened legal action over the delay, citing millions of dollars in losses over equipment already imported to the Maldives. Shahid noted that the equipment is still sitting in Customs.

Immigration matters

Shahid said the public misconception that Immigration is a mundane department doing no-brainer tasks has led to a general misunderstanding of need for a border control system.

“Immigration personnel have to be trained to detect forgery, to profile passengers–we recently had courses for officers on how to detect physical alterations like makeup.

“In general, the public is not aware of the system’s value. It is to everyone’s benefit, even distant countries, to have a strong border control system in the Maldives. Terrorism and human trafficking involve other countries and their borders. If we have good communication, starting at Immigration, and a system, then we have good results.”

Currently a passport check requires an individual to manually scan hundreds of photographs, Shahid said. Without the key components of a modern system – facial recognition, finger-print identification technology, and eye scans – “people who were deported on criminal violations can re-enter the country. If they have a new or fake passport, we rarely detect them with our current system,” Shahid explained.

“A passport is just a piece of paper nowadays. The modern system, with the recognition technology, is almost a 100 percent guarantee of proper identification,” he added.

Nearby Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia have been using modern systems for years.

“I think the proof is strong enough”

Shahid believes that cases against Ibrahim and Aqeel will be difficult to ignore in a court of law.

When the Nexbis system was first considered, a proposal was sent by Immigration to the National Planning Council. According to Shahid’s review of the documents, the final contract drafted deviated significantly from the initial proposal.

“The proposed system could be implemented in six months for US$4-5 million, with the company charging a further US$150-200 thousand per year for maintenance,” he asserted.

“According to this, the Maldives would pay US$8 million in the first year to Nexbis. Over 20 years that would be US$4 million paid annually. That’s fair. But right now the Nexbis plan is one-third of the budget.”

Taxes are also a consideration, particularly given the high numbers of foreigners and expatriates traveling through the Maldives.

“In 2011 we are reaching 1 million foreign arrivals. If we charge US$2 for arrival and US$2 for departure, that’s US$4 per person. Annually, the government would collect US$4 million for Nexbis. It would break even.”

Nexbis proposed these charges as part of its 20-year contract with the government in 2010.

“This means that neither the government nor the Maldivian public have to pay in exchange for a state-of-the-art border security protection,” Nexbis earlier claimed.

Shahid also noted that GMR is expanding Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) to accommodate 3 million arrivals annually, indicating that revenue will increase.

Nexbis also planned to levy a US$15 fee for expatriate identification cards. With the current 100,000 registered expatriates, Shahid said, the company receives US$1.5 million annually from expatriate cards alone.

“Nexbis will get US$27.5 million in 2025, according to the current statistics,” he said. Calculating for a gradual increase of arrivals over the next 20 years, “the generated revenue could build an airport of GMR’s standards and implement an up-to-date border control system.”

According to Shahid’s calculations, the approximate cost in the first year of installment and operation (US$8 million) of a Nexbis-quality border control system is far lower than the cost proposed in the final contract (US$39 million).

Shahid earlier estimated that maintaining a free system given by a donor country would cost at most several hundred thousand dollars a year, and said he was unsure as to why such an agreement had ever been signed.

“I don’t know much about the details of the ACC’s report,” he concluded. “Since I saw the contract for the Nexbis system, my argument has always been that the amount charged is ridiculous. It should not be done and must be halted. It is wrong.”

Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim declined to comment on the grounds that the issue was “politically risky.”

The Nexbis case is currently the largest corruption case before the courts and PG, the ACC confirmed. While corruption charges are regularly issued in the Maldives, resolution at the PG level is not so common. Speaking to Minivan News on the occasion of International Anti-Corruption Day, ACC President Hassan Luthfee said that of the 16 cases filed with the PG this year, zero have been addressed.

Vice President Muaviz Rasheed today said the ACC had received no information from the PG, but was hoping for the Civil Court’s ruling by the end of this month.

“The Civil Court has not been cooperative with the ACC on all counts, however the hearings ended in late November and we expect a ruling within the month,” Muaviz said.

Banana republic?

Although Shahid is confident in the court, he is unsure when the Maldives will take actual steps towards updating its border control system.

Without local capacity and expertise to produce a state-of-the-art border control system, the Maldives would turn again to the international market. Shahid said there are many options: “we could go anywhere, we could even get it as foreign aid.”

But after the dealing with Nexbis, withstanding international scrutiny could be difficult.

“Nexbis sees the Maldives as a banana republic that it can squeeze money out of,” Shahid observed.

With a score of 2.5 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and ranking 134th out of 185 countries, the Maldives may not be so inviting to foreign investors.

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19 thoughts on “Border loopholes benefit human traffickers: Immigration Controller”

  1. Ahmed Shahid is completely incompetent. On one hand he's saying that we can train people to recognize people wearing make up, and then he says we need a proper system. Which is it? - And his admits he has not investigated the issue, but still claims that we are being robbed blind. - This issue started as a political squabble between MDP and the former controller. And now all of a sudden the ACC says there was financial gain, but both of the immigration people's accounts have been checked and there was no evidence of them benefiting. The only thing they did was try to get the system in place before the middle of this year and to not allow MDP people to interfere in the process. - See, this is the price of defying the all mighty MDP. If We r serious about tackling the bengalies, then we should be professional about it. If. We could get this system as aid, why don't u get it shahid?? -- Why are we even focusing on this when there is Yameen, Nazim, Reeko, and all the people who are aetually profiting off of corruption. These political cat fights are a waste of time and money.

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  2. I think shahid you are telling Lies and since Immigration Department know knows you are the person who spread rumors and who submit a cabinet paper for this matter, non of immigration seniors and officers had been seen only you had done that paper also with the people who want to cancel the project and with Iris people, we all knows the truth and it is better not to spread lies and you think you knows about project who said it was given price, non of company given price for this project which you must respect all companies. may be you are getting millions of dollars and that the reason ,.

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  3. Better you learn how to handle the matters, you are a person not fit for immigration full of corruption because of deal ACC hold your cases.. How many cases with proof ACC have but you got deal with border system and that’s why it was hold,… Good work

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  4. I dont think any goverment will give free system, since i think malaysia immigation system is quite ok since they use mobile phones to check our passport and they can read. great system they have and it was written nex code in our passport, then what shahid is preffer a sri lankan tamil company like nov 3rd fund.

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  5. Since I had read the article and I understand they are points and information Must share between tender board and immigration to controller , any project BOT means and will be approved by president of planning council, I don't think controller can challenge for that , but since I am working one of the ministry I understand the new controller does not understand about this project and we heard he gave a cabinet paper to ACC also to cancel the project. What he had told reporter have lot of misjudge to the company that win. I think he got some personal matter with Nexbis or Ilyas. But we heard he had approved equipments from some other companies who had lost in this bid and the deal is going on, I think these people must learn how to manage the Goverment and how to respect each other.

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  6. No sensible and more importantly, reputable business in the world will approach the Maldives! It's clear to see what has been happening to those brave enough to sign agreements with the Maldivian government.

    GMR is a case in point. This was supposed to have been the most transparent and financially sound prospect, since the tendering was overseen by the International Finance Corporation which is an arm of The World Bank. Now, we are going to see court case after case against GMR.

    Nexbis has suffered even a worse fate. My conclusion is that as this article suggests (towards the end), the Maldives has got a very bad reputation for corruption and a non-existent judicial system of international standards. Under such circumstances, ETHICAL foreign investment in this country is going to amount to a massive 0. Of course, foreign crooks will always try to take advantage of this situation. Was Nexbis such a case?

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  7. Honestly Hon. shahid is not a person to save a cent to the government and the nation. I know him personally, when he was released from jail he doesnt have a cent. today he share so many business, Dhoanies and he had used his earlier post for his benefit. Even today he is the same man. He has not changed. The whole is issue is that Shahid did not know about theis BOT project. he keep saying a system. He has mentione a free system he is getting from the Americans, then from Israel, than from India. This was to delay Nexbis. They have approached Nesbis thru many people to get a good sum of money to start the project but Nexbis been a public listed company and most top 10 of Malaysian Companies, they refused. Shahid has then thought its easy with all his negatice statement and reports to the President and the Cabinet the project will be cancelled with full support of ACC. Today ACC is to be investigated for corruption too. Many cases where they leave whom they want and go after whom they want. Infomatics and Iris has said have taken care of Shaahid. From day one he is in contact of Infomatics colombo and Iris to take over the boardecontrol contract. The thing is Shaahid is the most trusted person of this government for Israel connection. He has gone thrice to Israel without endorsing his passport at Israel. If any one does a clean deal they dont have to hid their visit to Israel or even to other countries. Therefore Shaahid counting on the President Nasheed that he now cannot be our of Immigration because these secret deals. Now that even after ONE year THREE months, he and the ACC could not find any corruption on awarding this contract to Nexbi they have created and new stand. Maa agubodee!! well, why than his buddy Informatics and Irix then didnot give a better deal when they bid for the project. Four parties bid for it. Now that Nexbis won, Iris and Infomatics telling Shaahid this so called"SYSTEM" can get very cheap. We are not talking about a system here. Its a BOT project for 20 years. All hardware and software inculding training looking after the full boader security included. Shaahid is thinking others dont know about it? Today the whole system is in a mess. Shaahid and Hassanko keep fighting for each other to collect money while the business people are fedup with the government of handling their labour passes and entery permit. Many companies have been heavily fine. No proper records can be obtained from both Labour ministry and Immigration. Govenment is so busy trying to get big families and infuluential poeple support to keep their grip on power by given them unnecessary high posts and so on. It is sad these poeple talk about he Rayyithun and keep bleeding the public. This is the kind of people whom you can never trust. they will come to their sense in 2013 by then start all kind of lies try get public support for next general election 2013 October. It is sad this type if shelfish people around Anni.Indeed very sad.

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  8. Eleanor Johnstone should be sacked.

    Minivan News has changed the headline news articles to the most unnecessary and most un-newsworthy articles ever since Eleanor Johnstone appeared on the scene. She will report on old news and completely unwanted news stories as if they are big issues.

    If I were your boss, Eleanor, you are fired. Pray to God I am not your boss.

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  9. Shahid is right we are robbed in day light by this BZZZZZZ and Ilyas should not have changed proposals without the due and proper approvals. We need to punish those who break law to make this country corruption free.

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  10. BOT means Built, Own/Operate, Transfer.

    According to the Finance Ministry document none of the company gave a price for the project. Not even the alleged 39.00 million by currently signed company.

    So do you own math and see whether the government profits from low-cost system or an affluent system.

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  11. Yes must punish telling false stories shahid documents were leak to AG office which he communicate with iris n OSD . There is no free system only Indian system may bring .. Look o article as state minister do you think he can talk like that He have some personal issues

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  12. Again bringing passport scanners from iris and OSD , what about previous hardware that cost million ruffiyya not install.. All immigration budget is going to be empty because this fellow, where is seniors that act like fools in immigration , I heard one day shahid told all immigration officers and seniors are courrpt people saying in MDP haruge what about him?

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  13. Its not nice to Talk shahid, since we heard you are going to Bid for ADDU Saarc summit center , how can you will be fair for Immigration projects which we know who you are from the past which you got millions of rufiyaa from corruption and now your are working with Israel and Lanka companies, all passport printing also shifting now to Colombo, non of your cases now never forward I ACC because of your deal with ACC vice president Muawiz.

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  14. Shahid may be incompetent but he is right in this case. Nexbis is taking the Maldives for a ride. No let me correct the Maldivians involved in this bid is taking the Maldives for a ride.
    Nexbis is a very competent company and I do not think Shahid would have any technical issues with their product but Illyas and his people Nazaki ZAki in Malaysia is behind this whole thing.

    If he can save the Maldives any money on this then Shahid would be vindicated.

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  15. Manik I had seen the comments that was wittten by you in previous articles , i think courrption involve for bribes did u seen ACC report and how much shahid tried to proof , since friend ship is not a problem which your friend Ibrahim Waheed did the project for Iris and even himself request Former controller Ilyas MIS project handover to Iris or informatics but it was done by independent IT guys evaluation wIn the tender , who ever what ever truth you will know well , since your case in ACC was caught with proof and Your Self some seniors went to change Ilyas to president office for your own benefits and when shahid came to office first day you guys spoil everything did by former controller because you guys need courrption that was stop by him . Immigration need to change seniors and now controller shahid because he is one side man which is now again agent of iris

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