“Technical problem” prevented former President Nasheed from leaving, Immigration Department claims

Former President Mohamed Nasheed was prevented from leaving the country yesterday (December 21) to visit his ill father in Bangkok, Thailand due to a “technical problem,” the Department of Immigration and Emigration has claimed.

Nasheed was told by immigration officials on Friday morning that his passport was held because of a court order by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court that had been sent to the department on December 18 imposing a travel ban on the former president.

The formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate is currently on trial at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court over charges of illegally detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January this year.

However, on December 18, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court authorised the former President to travel overseas between December 19, 2012 and January 6, 2013. The letter granting permission to travel was signed by Magistrate Hussain Mazeed.

Following the incident on Friday morning, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court confirmed to local media that the Immigration Department was informed of the decision on December 18.

In a statement later in the day, the Immigration Department said the court order lifting the travel ban was received and entered into the system.

However, Nasheed was told his passport had been withheld due to a “technical problem with the system,” the Immigration Department claimed.

“The issue has now been identified and fixed a short while ago,” the statement read. The department did not elaborate on the nature of the “technical problem”.

Controller of Immigration Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News today that the system error “affected both arrivals and departures from 7:30am to about 2:00pm.”

He added that the incident involving the former President was “the only case” of a passport being held due to the disruption.

“The system at airport did not show the release, while the release was entered on Wednesday (December 18). It was a simple system dependent decision by the duty officer at that time.  We have apologised to [Nasheed] and all who were affected and even have a letter sent to him assuring that he can leave during the specified period,” Dr Ali said.

However, the Immigration Controller told newspaper Haveeru on Friday that Nasheed’s passport was held due to a court order.

“He cannot leave until the court orders [the passport] to be released. When he wants to go somewhere, the court will instruct us to release it within a certain period,” Dr Mohamed Ali was quoted as saying.

Nasheed was reportedly due to leave for Bangkok on a private visit ahead of his father’s surgery.

Former President Nasheed’s office meanwhile issued a statement contending the move blocking the former President’s departure was in violation of the constitution.

The statement noted that article 128 of the constitution entitles former Presidents to “the highest honour, dignity, protection, financial privileges and other privileges entitled to a person who has served in the highest office of the land.”

Moreover, article 41 of the constitution guarantees “the freedom to enter, remain in and leave the Maldives” to every citizen.

“This office condemns in the harshest terms the act by the current government to deliberately obstruct President Nasheed from leaving the country for his father’s operation,” the press release stated.

It added that the Immigration Controller’s claims in the media that a travel ban had been imposed by a court order on December 18 was a “deliberate falsehood.”

The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court informed Nasheed’s lawyers on Friday afternoon that the Immigration Department was sent the court order lifting the travel ban.

The statement called on the government to “respect the constitution and immediately cease these attempts to harass and hassle President Nasheed.”

The former President’s office also called on the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court to take action against the Controller of Immigration for making false claims regarding the court.


Parliament to vote on whether to halt Nexbis border control project

Parliament’s Finance Committee is to put the controversial issue of the Nexbis border control system (BCS) before parliament to vote on whether to halt use of the project.

The MVR500 million (US$39 million) project finally moved ahead this year after a series high-profile court battles and delays that led Malaysia-based Nexbis to last year threaten legal action against the Maldivian government should it incur losses for the work already done on the project.

However, the Malaysia-based mobile security provider has come under scrutiny by political parties who claim that the project is detrimental to the state, while the Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC) has continuously alleged of corruption in the bidding process.

Nexbis has continued to dismiss accusations of corruption within its deal with the Maldives government.

The vote has been scheduled after Parliament’s Finance Committee earlier this month also revealed that the Maldivian government had agreed to waive taxes for Nexbis.  The committee noted in a letter sent to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan that there was a potential financial burden facing the state due to the BCS deal agreed with Nexbis.

Despite the allegations, the border control system is currently active at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) after a Supreme Court ruling in early September favouring Nexbis ended almost two years of efforts by the ACC to block the project.

Speaking about the BSC project, Majlis Finance Committee member Ahmed Hamza said today he believed parliament would halt the project as “most members” were of the impression the contract is not financially beneficial to the country.

“The nature of the contract means that both the government and Maldivian people will suffer heavily from a financial point of view,” Hamza told Minivan News today.

In September, the ACC informed the committee that the deal would cost the Maldives MVR 2.5 billion (US$162 million) in potential lost revenue over the lifetime of the contract.

A member of Parliament’s Finance Committee member told local media yesterday (December 18) that the project is “laden with corruption allegations” and could have been carried out at a much lesser cost.

When asked if there was a sufficient system to take over from Nexbis, Hamza revealed today that there was a “worry” within the immigration department that their own system will not be sufficient.

Furthermore, Hamza stated that there is a “possibility” that human trafficking could increase should the Nexbis contract be cancelled, and to combat this parliament will need to provide a “sufficient solution to deal with these problems”.

Under the ‘build operate and transfer’ (BOT) agreement with Nexbis, the government is obliged to pay Nexbis US$2 for every foreign passenger processed and US$15 for every work permit for the 20 year lifespan of the contract. Nexbis remains responsible for the upgrading, servicing and administration of the system.

Former Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid has expressed concern earlier this year 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 to be earning the revenue itself by operating a system given by a donor country.

“The option was there to establish the system for free,” stated ACC President Hassan Luthfee, revealing that the US government had offered a free system in 2009.

“Even the Indian government had offered to do it for free. On the other hand this could have been done for MVR2.3-2.5 million. So we can’t believe that this should be done at such a high cost,” Luthfee told the committee.

Minivan News today contacted Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali over the developments regarding the BCS agreement with Nexbis.

“I am not aware of any recent decisions from the parliament over this matter,” Dr Ali claimed, before declining to comment further.

Back in July, Dr Ali claimed that with the Maldives having signed up to conventions pledging to try and more effectively combat Transnational Organised Crime like human trafficking, new systems were needed to help meet these aims.

“From our own experience, we have found people being trafficked back into the country even after they have previously been deported,” he claimed at the time. ”A system like this should put a stop to that.”

Minivan News was also awaiting a response from Nexbis at the time of press.

Nexbis has previously claimed that allegations of corruption in its deal with the government was “politically motivated” and had “wrought irreparable damage to its reputation and brand name.”


Maldives National Movement to protest against Nexbis

The Maldives National Movement is to begin protesting against Nexbis and the Border Control System (BCS) project, should the GMR contract be annulled.

The National Movement was formed by government coalition parties who oppose the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) development being run by GMR.

Speaking at a press conference held at Traders Hotel today (November 26), Steering Committee member of National Movement and Minister of State for Tourism Ahmed Shameem said that the group aims to protest against all illegal agreements made.

“The names of our activities are constantly changing. We had to protest in the name of National Movement because these issues required action to be taken at national level.

“Our first target was to settle the airport issue. After that, we will not hesitate to take action against the Border Control System issue either. We will do that, we will protest against all issues that citizens do not accept,” he said.

Shameem stated that the National Movement is prepared to get the country on the right track, along with the help of Maldivian citizens.

“We have yet to find out if the ‘People’s Majlis’ is in fact a people’s Parliament. We will do that too, if you participate. Some members of Parliament believe that they control the whole country, that they can do whatever they want. So that’s also something we will protest against,” he said.

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has decided to ask the government to cancel the agreement on Border Control System project, a move supported by the Attorney General and Finance Ministry.


Nexbis appeals High Court injunction halting border control project

Malaysia-based security solutions firm Nexbis has filed an appeal at the Supreme Court against a High Court injunction ordering a halt to the border control system, reports newspaper Haveeru.

The High Court issued an injunction after the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) appealed a Civil Court judgment that ruled that the commission did not have the legal authority to order the Department of Immigration and Emigration to halt the border control project.

The High Court ordered a halt to the project pending a verdict on the appeal by the ACC.

Nexbis lawyer Ismail Visham told the local daily today that the company decided to appeal the injunction as the High Court case remained stalled, causing delays to the project.

The Supreme Court has meanwhile scheduled a hearing for next Wednesday. The Supreme Court had earlier issued a writ of mandamus overturning the first High Court injunction on the grounds that the High Court bench that heard the case was unlawful.

A reconvened High Court bench subsequently issued the injunction for a second time on July 16.

Following the Supreme Court intervention, Controller of Immigration and Emigration Dr Mohamed Ali has told Minivan News on July 11 that there was “no legal barrier” preventing the implementation of the border control system.

The High Court meanwhile ordered police to investigate claims made to the ACC that Chief Judge of the High Court Ahmed Shareef met officials from the company in Bangkok.

The dispute concerns the deployment of a border control system, specifically the installation of an electronic border gate system in Male’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), bringing technological upgrades such as facial recognition, fingerprint identification and e-gates to the Maldives.

The MVR500 million (US$39 million) deal had stalled after the ACC alleged corruption in the bidding process, leading to a ongoing series of high-profile court battles and delays that led the Malaysian firm to threaten legal action against the Maldivian government should it incur losses for the work already done on the project.

In May 2012, the project was brought to a standstill by the first High Court injunction and a raid on immigration offices by ACC staff. At the time the MVR10 million (US$650,000) first phase of the border control project had been completed, according to local media reports.


Cabinet passes, ACC challenges Nexbis border control system

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has filed a court case against the Rf500 million Border Control System proposed by the Department of Immigration and Emigration and signed by the government in November 2010.

Malaysia’s Nexbis Limited has been contracted to develop the system.

ACC’s case follows yesterday’s Cabinet decision to resume the border control programme with Nexbis. ACC has not revealed details of the case, and had not responded to inquiries at time of press.

Officials close to the matter said corruption was a concern. Earlier this year, the ACC had asked the government to halt program proceedings on suspicion of corruption during the bidding process.

Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid told Minivan News that the government maintains its aim to launch the system after Eid festivities and SAARC events have been concluded this month.

“It is common in most developed and developing countries to have an electronic border control system, such as this one,” said Shahid, noting that Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Thailand had already subscribed to similar programs.

Immigration Department had signed a 20-year build, operate, and transfer (BOT) concession contract with Nexbis on October 17, 2010 when the ACC requested the department adjourn the signing ceremony due to a “serious” public complaint.

Nexbis shares immediately plunged 6.3 percent on the back of the ACC’s announcement. The company subsequently issued a statement claiming that speculation over corruption was “politically motivated” and had “wrought irreparable damage to Nexbis’ reputation and brand name.”

President Mohamed Nasheed upheld the ACC’s request in January 2011, and in late May the Cabinet deliberated the matter and approved the programme, overruling the ACC’s reservations.

However, operations were stalled and in August, Nexbis threatened legal action against the Maldives’ Immigration Department if action on the border control agreement was not taken. The company had allegedly bought equipment and paid import duties to the government, and was incurring losses while waiting for a resolution from the Maldivian government.

The Rf500 million project would install an electronic border gate system in Male’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), bringing technological upgrades such as facial recognition, fingerprint identification and e-gates to the Maldives, which has struggled with loose immigration policies and reports of human trafficking.

The Maldives currently holds a 10-year contract for passport production and scanning services with an Austrian company, Shahid said.

Local media has reported that the Nexbis program does not include the expected technological upgrades including automated facial recognition, e-gates and passport production. Shahid confirmed today that those features are included in the program.

“The Nexbis system would make the immigration and security process simpler and more secure for everyone involved,” he said.