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.