The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has appealed a ruling from the Civil Court blocking its order to halt the implementation of a border control system agreement between the Immigration department and Malaysian firm Nexbis.
The commission also called for an injunction on the installation of the system until the High Court case was resolved, however Judge Azmirelda Zahir said such a decision could only be taken after both sides had presented their cases. The ACC requested an injunction on the grounds that it would lose the possibility of appeal should the project be implemented before the conclusion of the High Court case.
The ACC in December forwarded corruption cases against former – and now reappointed – Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim and Director General of the Finance Ministry, Saamee Ageel, to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PG), alleging that the pair had abused their authority for undue financial gain in giving the US$39 million to Nexbis.
The ACC had earlier ordered a halt to the project following the signing of the contract in October 2010, announcing that it had received “a serious complaint” regarding “technical details” of the bid, and that the agreement presented “instances and opportunities” for corruption.
The 20-year Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement with the Malaysian-based mobile security solutions provider was to upgrade border security in the Maldives with new technology including facial recognition and fingerprint identification, facilitating the identification and tracking of expatriate workers and eliminating the opportunity to people to enter the country with forged paper documents.
The agreement allows Nexbis to levy a fee of Rf30 (US$2) from arriving and departing passengers in exchange for installing, maintaining and upgrading its immigration system. The company would also charge a Rf231 (US$15) for every work permit card.
Immigration Controller under the later months of President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration, Abdulla Shahid, contended that the agreement meant that Nexbis would draw US$200 million in revenue from the project over the life of the 20 year contract, while five percent royalties to the government would equate to US$10 million.
Speaking to Minivan News following the ACC’s initial injunction, Shahid claimed that the deal would deprive the government of significant revenues, when “border control is not something we are unable to comprehend – it is a normal thing all over the world.”
Shahid estimated that 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.
However, Nexbis said in a subsequent statement that its agreement meant that neither the government nor the Maldivian public would pay upfront for “state-of-the-art border security protection”, and suggested that “reasonable persons will likely realise that once the hidden costs after are taken into account and adjusted for inflation, the benefits and efficiencies of the Nexbis system will far outweigh the risk, inadequacies and uncertainties of any such alleged cheaper system.”
The Civil Court in January 2012 ruled that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) did not have the legal authority to order Immigration Department to terminate the agreement, with Judge Ali Rasheed ruling that while the ACC Act gave the commission the authority to investigate corruption cases, it was not able to annul contracts.
Judge Rasheed asserted that it was “unfair” to the contractors if ACC could annul an agreement without their input, as this violated their protections under Maldives Contract Law.
During the High Court hearing this week, the ACC charged that the State Attorney during the Civil Court case, Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham, had a conflict of interest as he had been a member of the tender board responsible for awarding the project to Nexbis. Usham disputed the charge.
The case continues.