French firm and embassy express displeasure over Nepal government's call for passport tenderThe French Embassy in Kathmandu has written two letters to the government over the call for tenders despite an agreement with France.
The French Embassy in Kathmandu recently dispatched two letters to the government expressing displeasure over the decision to call for global tenders to supply five million biometric passports.
The embassy’s letters to the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, sent about 10 days ago, expressed “diplomatic displeasure,” according to officials at the Communication Ministry who have seen the letters.
The French embassy declined to comment on whether it had dispatched any such letters and if the French government was displeased with the Nepal government’s decisions.
During Communication Minister Gokul Baskota’s visit to Paris in May, Nepal and France had signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a security printing facility in Nepal with French assistance. After signing the memorandum, the French government had entrusted the state-owned IN Group with carrying out the Rs32 billion multi-year project with the Government of Nepal. A month after the MoU, the German government made a similar proposal for the same printing facility.
The government had yet to take a decision on either of the proposals when the Department of Passports, on August 27, invited global tenders for five million biometric passports for five years, beginning 2021.
After the call, IN Group, too, had sent a strongly-worded letter to the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. IN Group, or Groupe Imprimerie Nationale, represented in Nepal by Yeti Group, protested the tender notice and another decision to separate arrangements for banknotes and national identity cards.
Rishiram Tiwari, spokesperson for the Communication Ministry, confirmed to the Post that IN Group had inquired about the delay in finalising the deal, expressing concern over the Government of Nepal’s decision to accept a German proposal when a prior agreement with the French government existed, according to officials who have seen the letter.
Yeti Group, once led by the late Ang Tshiring Sherpa, is considered close to ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Chairman and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
The letter, and the ensuing diplomatic and political pressure, has sent the Communication Ministry into a panic, with Minister Baskota instructing officials to prepare a draft of the final agreement to be signed with the IN Group. However, a few components of the financial proposal have yet to be settled by the Finance Ministry, a senior official at the Communication Ministry told the Post.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs is all set to invite bids for the printing and supply of national identity cards and the Nepal Rastra Bank is also preparing to call for the printing and supply of banknotes for another three years.
The proposed security printing press would have printed all of the documents for which tenders are being called—passports, national identity cards and banknotes—which comprise a majority of the security printing business, officials said.
“If separate government entities go on their own way like this, it will be difficult to set up a printing press and get business, defeating the purpose of setting up a printing press itself,” one official familiar with the French Embassy’s correspondence told the Post.
Before going for the global tender process, a proposal had been dispatched by the Communication Ministry to the Cabinet and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged to take a call on the number of passports to be printed. After the Foreign Ministry gave its consent, the Department of Passports called for the bids to supply five million passports.
“They knew we are going to set up our own security printing press within three years, but they called a tender for five years anyway,” Baskota told officials, according to the ministry insider.
“We called for a global tender after the Cabinet’s decision,” said Ram Kaji Khadka, director general of the Department of Passports. “As per their [IN Group] business plan, the establishment of the security printing press would likely be completed after three years. We decided not to take a risk and called for a tender for five years.”
France has proposed a mixed model of a soft loan of 100 million euros along with technology transfer while Germany has offered a complete soft loan of 260 million euros at two percent interest to build the printing facility at an information and communication park in Kavre.
Nepal loses nearly Rs5 billion on security printing every year, prompting the government to seek the establishment of a domestic printing facility.
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