The High court has issued an injunction temporarily halting the roll out of the Nexbis border control system, pending the outcome of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC’s) appeal against a Civil Court ruling that the ACC did not have the authority to halt the project.
The ACC in a hearing last week had requested an injunction, however Judge Azmirelda Zahir stated that such a decision could only be taken after both sides had presented their cases. The ACC had expressed concern that the project could be completed before the conclusion of the High Court case.
Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim said he would not comment on the matter and referred Minivan News to Deputy Contoller Ibrahim Ashraf, who was not responding at time of press.
The case was delayed last week after the High Court ruled that Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham could not represent the state in the case, as he had been a member of the tender evaluation board that had awarded the contract to Nexbis.
The case concerns a 20-year Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement with the Malaysia-based mobile security solutions provider 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 for people to enter the country with forged paper documents.
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.
In December 2011, the Commission forwarded corruption cases against former – and now reappointed – 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 granting the contract to Nexbis.
On February 16 Illyas confirmed that the department would proceed with the border control project as there was no “legal obstruction”. He disputed the claims of corruption and insisted that the project was awarded to Nexbis through a transparent international bidding process.
The agreement stipulates that Nexbis will 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.
Former Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid has contended that this would deprive the Maldives of US$200 million in revenue over the life of the 20 year contract. Comparing Nexbis’ earnings to the government’s estimated revenue of US$10 million, Shahid proposed the government instead maximize its income by operating a system given by a donor country: “Border control is not something we are unable to comprehend,” he suggested.
Minivan News reported on February 16 that Nexbis had filed a case in the Civil Court seeking Rf 669 million (US$43 million) in damages from Shahid, alleging that its reputation had been tarnished by negative media coverage.