Immigration Department denies vital components missing from replacement border system

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has rejected accusations that a replacement border control system provided by US authorities will not be fit for purpose without “enhancements” currently being made to the technology.

An immigration source speaking on condition of anonymity last week told Minivan News that the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) – provided free of charge by the US government – was not an adequate replacement for the previous system provided by Malaysia-based Nexbis.

The PISCES system would only provide one of several functions afforded by the “total solution” installed by Nexbis under an agreement recently scrapped by the government, alleged a local source experienced in working with both border control systems.

“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,” the source claimed at the time.

Enhancements underway

Chief Superintendent of Immigration Zubair Muhammad today confirmed that enhancements were continuing to be made to the functionality of the PISCES since its installation as a direct replacement for the Nexbis system earlier this month.

Asked for more details on the nature of changes being made to PISCES, Zubair responded that a press conference had been scheduled for Sunday (September 1) at which representatives from the Ministry of Defence, the National Centre for Information Technology (NCIT) and immigration officials would discuss the ongoing work.

He also declined to provide details on whether any Immigration Department systems would have been affected by the changeover from the dismissed Nexbis technology at the present time.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali meanwhile declined to comment on the PISCES technology when contacted today, and Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim had not responded at the time of press.

Nazim earlier this month claimed that both US and local authorities were continuing to develop PISCES since its introduction at Ibrahim Nasir International airport (INIA) to ensure it could meet the technical criteria required by immigration officials in the country.

“During training [to use the system], we realised that we needed to do enhancements,” he said at the time.

Asked if the country’s border controls could be open to abuse while these enhancements were being implemented, Nazim had responded that several amendments were expected to have been completed over the last week.

Immigration Department Spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf at the time said that the country’s border controls had been transferred from Nexbis’ technology to Pisces without many issues.

He added that PISCES was nonetheless reliant on data from the Nexbis system, with technical staff from the Malaysian firm and the immigration working on transferring the necessary information.

Nexbis agreement

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.

Nexbis has 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.

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.

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 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.