India and US were never going to donate border control system: Immigration Controller

Controller of Immigration Dr Mohamed Ali has dismissed claims that India and the US had proposed to donate a border control system to the Maldives.

According to local media, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had previously stated that India and the US had proposed to set up a border control system free of charge.

The current border control system project contract has been awarded to the Malaysian company Nexbis for a period of 22 years by the previous government, however last month parliament voted unanimously to terminate the agreement over allegations of “foul play”.

Speaking on Television Maldives (TVM), Ali said the Foreign Ministry had confirmed that neither America nor India had proposed to donate the border control system.

“No country has proposed such a system free of charge. I have written to the Foreign Ministry last week and have got it in writing. They said that no country has made such an offer,” Ali was quoted as saying in Sun Online.

According to Ali, the Maldives is currently using US$2.3 million worth of passport reading machines installed in 2003. However the machines are incapable of reading the required software, so Nexbis had won a bid to upgrade the current system.

“The meaning of border control is that, when a foreigner enters the country, we are able know his whereabouts, know when he checks out of one hotel and checks into another, and know how long the person has stayed so that all this will be notified to MIRA, and whatever taxes the person owes can be duly collected.

“For the construction worker, we need to know who brought him into the country, and the site where he is currently working. [The system] has to provide all this,” Sun Online quoted Ali as saying.

Last week the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stalled the handover of 8000 passports to their respective High Commissions claiming that details regarding the owners’ whereabouts still needed to be obtained by immigration authorities.

State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed said the Foreign Ministry would only deliver the passports to the respective consular authorities once immigration clarified the location of the owners, a task described as “huge” and “difficult” by Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali.

In December last year, parliament voted unanimously to instruct the government to terminate the border control project agreement with Nexbis.

All 74 MPs in attendance voted in favour of the Finance Committee recommendation following a probe into the potential financial burden placed on the state as a result of the deal.

Presenting the Finance Committee report to the floor, Committee Chair MP Ahmed Nazim explained that the “main problem” flagged by the ACC was that the tender had not been made in accordance with the documents from the National Planning Council that authorised the project.

The documents were changed to favour the chosen party and facilitate the deal, Nazim said, which the ACC considered an act of corruption.

Nexbis is “systematically denying” any allegations of corruption, according to a company source, adding that if there was any foul play within the contract “we were unaware of it”.

Earlier this month, Vice President for Nexbis Nafies Aziz told Minivan News that “intelligence” received by the company suggested groups backing the country’s lucrative human trafficking industry could be seeking to stymie the introduction of its border control system to undermine national security controls.

Meanwhile, a source with knowledge of the present immigration and border control system said that should parliament’s termination decision be upheld, the Immigration Department would be returning to “a pen and paper system” for monitoring arrivals to the country.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs inaugurated an initiative targeted at raising awareness of the issue of human trafficking in the Maldives at the beginning of January.

The Maldives has come under strong criticism internationally in recent years for the prevalence of human trafficking, and the country has appeared on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking three years in a row.


MDP expresses concern over legality of Immigration Department switch

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has questioned the legality of transferring control of the Department of Immigration and Emigration to the Defence Ministry amidst wider concerns over what it alleges are a number of “surprising coincidences” this week.

In a press statement, the opposition MDP accused President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik of acting suspiciously after parliament voted by 74 votes to cancel the border control system agreed with Malaysia-based IT service provider Nexbis.

The President’s Office said today it rejected any insinuations that it had operated outside the law, while declining to comment on any statements from the MDP.

The former ruling party’s allegations focused on the president’s decision to travel to Malaysia – where Nexbis’ head offices are located – for a personal visit just three days after the Majlis vote.

The MDP also maintained that the president’s decision to transfer the Department of Immigration and Emigration to the Ministry of Defence and National Security was an unlawful act.

The Immigration Department was previously under the mandate of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

According to the opposition party, the structures of the executive ministries compiled by parliament had placed the immigration department under the oversight of the Ministry of Home Affairs.  The party contended that the President’s Office decision to transfer any department outlined in this structure without prior parliamentary approval was therefore an unlawful act .

The Nexbis agreement was signed when President Waheed’s brother in law, Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, was serving as Controller of Immigration and Emigration.

Ilyas has since been transferred to the Ministry of Defence and National Security as a State Minister, to which the immigration department now reports. The MDP statement alleged that the transfer of the department effectively placed control of immigration back under the authority of Ilyas.

The statement alleged that the move was an attempt by Waheed to cover up allegations of corruption in the deal signed with Nexbis.

Nexbis has denied all allegations of corruption in its Border Control System (BCS) deal, while last week filing a case with the Maldives Civil Court claiming parliament lacked the jurisdiction to order the government to terminate the IT company’s contract.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad also dismissed the MDP’s claims, stating “This government will never do anything unlawful. We review actions carefully before doing anything. It’s MDP that conducts unlawful activities.”

Masood refused to comment further on the matter, stating “MDP releases lots of statements. I do not wish to comment on what they have to say in those.”