Mobile security system vendor Nexbis, which is behind the stalled build, operate and transfer agreement to upgrade the Maldives’ immigration system, has issued a statement welcoming the government’s decision to proceed with the project and said it is willing to negotiate the terms of the contract.
The upgrade was stalled earlier this year when the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) expressed concerns about the deal, claiming that there were “opportunities for corruption” during the bidding process.
“A number of further gross inaccuracies continue to be perpetrated, whether intentionally or through ignorance, particularly regarding the cost of the contract,” Nexbis said in its statement.
“Despite sensationalist claims in the media regarding [the tender process], the terms agreed to by the parties, or the suitability of the system being provided, Nexbis will be delivering a state-of-the-art, flexible and cost-effective security solution.”
Under the 20 year agreement, Nexbis levies a fee of US$2 from arriving and departing passengers in exchange for installing, maintaining and upgrading its immigration system, and a fee of US$15 for every work permit card.
“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 claimed.
The company said that “although the bid proposed a fee to be applied to all travellers including Maldivians”, the company waived the charges for Maldivians “as a goodwill gesture.”
“In addition Nexbis is providing a five percent revenue share to the government should passenger numbers grow. In stark contrast to some of the other bids, we have not requested a guaranteed minimum volume of passengers. Essentially the company must bear the cost risk should the number of visitors to the Maldives drop as has previously occurred during the tsunami and financial crisis.”
Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid has expressed concern over both the cost and necessity of the project, calculating that with continued growth in tourist numbers Nexbis would be earning US$200 million in revenue over the 20 year lifespan of the agreement.
At five percent, royalties to the government would come to US$10 million, Shahid said, when there was little reason for the government not be earning the revenue itself by operating a system given by a donor country.
“Border control is not something we are unable to comprehend – it is a normal thing all over the world,” Shahid told Minivan News.
“There is no costing of the equipment Nexbis is installing – we don’t know how much it is costing to install, only how much we have to pay. We need to get everything out in the open.”
Nexbis meanwhile argues 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.”
“This frees up the [Department of Immigration] from managing systems and securing the budget year in, year out to ensure the system is maintained. This will prevent interruption of service and avoid potential corruption as there will no longer be a need to purchase equipment every year.”
Shahid however estimates 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.
“Airport charges are calculated based on government expenditure – such as the cost of the immigration counters. The US$18 collected as an airport tax is included in the ticket, and in the end [under this agreement] the amount for immigration will be going to Nexbis,” he said.
He further noted that despite Nexbis offering not to charge Maldivians for use of the service as a “goodwill gesture”, there was no mention in the contract that Maldivians would have to pay at the border: “the contract says every foreigner,” he said.
Shahid would not comment on the specifics of the pending negotiations with Nexbis, but said that the Immigration Department had the government’s full support in the matter.
Nexbis meanwhile said it had agreed to review the government’s additional requirements, “and have expressed our willingness to accommodate any such changes within commercially viable terms.”
“We have this requires some changes to the solution we ultimately provide, then it is within the scope of our agreement to accommodate these changes,” the company said.
Meanwhile, an ongoing police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives last week uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.
Police discovered several thousand passports confiscated from expatriate workers during a recent raid of 18 ‘paper companies’, created to fraudulently apply for work permit quotas. The imported workers, many of them illiterate and from rural Bangladesh, are then typically employed for a pittance under substandard conditions or else simply abandoned at the airport after having paid up to US$2000 to bogus recruitment agencies.