Nexbis not consulted over US border control deal

Malaysian mobile security firm Nexbis has said it has not been consulted or provided any details regarding a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed Thursday (March 28) by the US government, to provide a border control system to the Maldives.

Representatives for the Malaysian company said it was uncertain what the MOU would mean for the group’s own border control technology that has been in use since September 2012, as part of a troubled concession agreement with the Maldives government.

Nexbis signed a “legally binding” deal in 2010 to provide a customised border control system under a ‘build, operate and transfer’ agreement to Maldivian authorities that still remains in use at present. The deal is presently the subject of legal wrangling over whether the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has the power to demand termination of the contract. Parliament has also voted to cancel the system, but this is subject to a court injunction.

Earlier this week, Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali said it was too early to tell if the new border controls being provided for free by the US would be a direct replacement for the system provided by Nexbis.

Lawyers representing the Malaysian firm have told Minivan News that official enquiries had now been sent to the Department of Immigration and Emigration and the Maldives Ministry of Defence, while attempts were also being made to contact the government over where their agreement now stood.

“We do remain confident that the Maldivian government will honour its obligations under the 2010 concession agreement,” read a statement from lawyers representing the company.

“We are confident also of the support we have received by the Immigration Department in implementing and fully operating the system, but remain cautious of individuals that continue to pose obstacles to prevent the success of this project is stemming the national security issues faced by the Maldives today.”

The border control system project contract was awarded to Nexbis for a period of 22 years by the previous government, however, parliament voted unanimously to terminate the agreement in December 2012 over allegations of “foul play”.

Nexbis has refuted allegations of corruption, later seeking a legal injunction in the country to prevent any cancellation of the agreement while court hearings over the contract were still ongoing.

Under the concession agreement, Nexbis’ lawyers said the company continues to work with the Maldives government and immigration department to personalise the system and its various components.  The company claimed the developments were a result of its own investment in the project, with the implementation taking place at no direct cost to the government.

Under the agreement, Nexbis agreed to levy a fee of US$2 from arriving and departing passengers in exchange for installing, maintaining and upgrading its immigration system, and a fee of US$15 for every work permit card issued.

Lawyers for the company added that it planned to continue working with state officials on developing the system going forward.

“There are more features and functionality of the system that will progressively be rolled out by the Department of Immigration for nationwide enforcement, foreign worker management and automation as well as further enhancements to security that will aid the government to address human trafficking issues and illegal foreign workers,” read a statement from Nexbis representatives.

US agreement

Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Michele J Sison signed an MOU that will see a US technical team coming to the country next month to begin work on planning and implementing a border system, according to local media.  The system is scheduled to be installed by June this year.

Defence Minister Nazim said during the signing that the system proposed under the MOU would be provided free of charge to the Maldives in a move he estimated would save the country MVR500 million (US$35 million), according to Sun Online.

Minivan News was awaiting a response from Nazim at time of press.

Local media reported that the border controls would be based around the US Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES).  The same technology is reported to be used not only at US airports, but in a number of other countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Thailand.

Maldivian staff are also expected to receive training on using the biometric-based system, as well as assistance with any expansion to the system in future, Sun Online has reported.

Immigration sources had told Minivan News earlier this month that the country faced a potential return to “pen and paper” border controls should the government be made to cancel its agreement with Nexbis without an adequate replacement.

Nexbis has meanwhile refuted allegations of any corruption or wrong-doing in the awarding of the contract, and said it would not rule out criminal involvement behind attempts to “sabotage” the deal.