Malaysian IT company Nexbis has released a statement rubbishing the Maldivian government’s reasons for terminating their agreement to build and operate a new border control system.
The company has also suggested that human traffickers, fearful of a more comprehensive system, were behind the decision.
“The US PISCES system that is meant to replace the MIBCS 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 the press release.
In June the Maldives was placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year.
Whilst the United States and the Maldives signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the provision of the free PISCES (Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System) system in March of this year, Department of Immigration Spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf told Minivan News last week that this system was not yet fully operational.
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.
Booz Allen’s website describes PISCES as “a critical tool in the war on terrorism”, allowing countries to collect, compare and analyse data in order to secure their borders.
At the time of the March agreement Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News it was too early to tell if the new border controls would be a direct replacement for the system provided by Nexbis.
Contradictory reasons for termination
Today’s statement also takes issue with the claims of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim that the installation of the Nexbis system was causing “major losses” to the state. The quote was given to local media on August 6 as the Malaysian company was informed it had 14 days to vacate the country.
Nexbis contends that the official notice of the termination it received contradicts the statement given by the Defence Minister. The notice – received on August 5 – stated that the agreement was invalid from the outset (void ab initio), alleges Nexbis. This, it argues, would seemingly dispel the need for any further justification for the contract’s termination.
Regardless, the statement strongly refutes the government’s justification for the sudden termination. It argues that the installation and operation of the system was carried out free of charge, with all costs to be levied from foreign visitors and work permit applicants. The fact that these charges – to be added to airline ticket prices – were not obtained was due to the “oversight of certain officials in notifying the relevant international authorities,” says Nexbis.
The company also added that US$2.8million it had billed the government was therefore the amount due for the arrival and departure of foreigners as per its contract, and not for the installation and operation of the system.
Attorney General Azima Shukoor last week told local media that negotiations were being held with Nexbis over reaching an out of court settlement for terminating the contract, a statement also cited by Nexbis as in contradiction to the official notice given.
“The government’s admission and acknowledgement that the Nexbis agreement is till date, a legally valid and binding agreement that is further supported by the statement made by Azima… which suggests nothing less than an assertion that the Nexbis Agreement is legally valid,” said the Malaysian company.
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 former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2010. The failure of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to conclusively prove foul play in this respect exonerates Nexbis from such charges, it has claimed.
Following parliament’s termination of the project in December, Nexbis sought a legal injunction to prevent any cancellation of the agreement while court hearings over the contract were still ongoing.
The company had sought to contest whether the ACC has the power to compulsorily request the government to cease all work in relation to the border control system agreement.
However, in April of this year, the High Court overturned a Civil Court ruling declaring the ACC could not terminate the agreement.