Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim has said that “enhancements” will be made to US Government-supplied border controls in the next few days, amidst allegations the technology is not an adequate replacement for the scrapped Nexbis system.
Amendments will be made to the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) installed this week in order to ensure the US technology “matches” the capabilities of a previous border system provided by Malaysia-based IT group Nexbis, Nazim told Minivan News yesterday (August 21).
Nexbis’ border control system, used at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) since September 2012, was replaced on August 20 following the government’s decision to terminate its concession agreement for the use and management of the system.
The US-provided PISCES system would only provide one of several functions afforded by the “total solution” Nexbis had installed, alleged a local source experienced in working with both border control systems. The source spoke to Minivan News on condition of anonymity.
The two systems are not compatible – at present PISCES can handle just one of the many modules managed by technology provided by Nexbis, the source continued.
“Nexbis provided a total solution that not only allowed for checking of biometric data, but would also be used to process visas and work permits.”
By comparison, the source claimed that PISCES was expected to serve effectively as an extension of the US government’s own border tracking system, allowing the country – as well as Maldives officials – to monitor the movements of specific individuals passing through the country.
Meanwhile, Nazim claimed that PISCES, which went into operation at INIA yesterday (August 20), was continuing to be developed by US and local authorities in order to meet the criteria required by Maldives immigration officials.
“During training [to use the system], we realised that we needed to do enhancements,” he said.
US officials are continuing to work with authorities to provide PISCES technical support, which had been provided as a “free gift” by the US government under a Memorandum of Intention agreed in March this year, added Nazim.
Asked if the country’s border controls could be open to abuse while these enhancements were being implemented, Nazim responded that several amendments were expected to be completed in the coming days.
“Total solution” to be replaced with “terrorist tracking”
The Department of Immigration and Emigration has confirmed that the PISCES system came into operation yesterday morning, with officials representing Nexbis and the government present to oversee the transfer of technology.
The system was functioning and had been transferred without many issues after coming online this week, said Immigration Department Spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf.
PISCES is still presently reliant on data from the Nexbis system, though technical staff from the Malaysian firm and the Immigration Department were currently working on transferring the necessary information, said Ashraf.
However, immigration officials today requested Minivan News contact the Ministry of Defence over alleged challenges resulting from the implementation of the PISCES system.
A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Sri Lanka reiterated comments made in an official statement released in March that the system had been “tailored to the Maldives’ specific border control needs”.
Nexbis last week rubbished the Maldivian government’s reasons for terminating their agreement to build and operate a new border control system, accusing human traffickers – fearful of a more comprehensive system – of being behind the decision.
“The US PISCES system that is meant to replace the MIBCS [Nexbis system] is not a border control system nor is it an immigration solution, rather it is a terrorist tracking system that simply captures information of travellers and Maldivians who transit in and out of the country,” read an official statement.
In June, the Maldives was placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year.
The PISCES system, designed by US tech firm Booz Allen Hamilton, has already been implemented in numerous other countries around the world, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Thailand.
Nexbis’s statement also took issue with Defence Minister Nazim’s claims that the installation of its system was causing “major losses” to the state – this claim was reported in local media on August 6 when the Malaysian company was informed it had 14 days to vacate the country.
Nexbis contended that the official notice of the termination it had received contradicted the statement given by the Defence Minister.
The company argued that its system was also installed and operated free of charge, and that the US$2.8million it had billed the government was the amount due for the arrival and departure of foreigners as per the original agreement.
The terms of the agreement are governed under Singapore law, as are those of the GMR airport contract – terminated in November last year. The cancellation of this deal, the largest foreign direct investment in the country’s history, has led the GMR to seek US$1.4billion in compensation.
The Nexbis deal has been dogged by allegations of corruption since it was agreed under the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2010. The failure of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to conclusively prove foul play in this respect has exonerated Nexbis from such charges, the company has claimed.