Department of Passports once again extends e-passport bid deadline by a weekSuch constant changes to the bid documents will erode Nepal’s credibility, say officials who are displeased with the government’s process regarding the passport tender.
Just a day ahead of the deadline for submission of a final tender for the printing of e-passports, the Department of Passports has extended the deadline to November 8.
The department’s extension of the deadline, announced via a public note on the website of the Public Procurement Monitoring Office on Wednesday, by another week is being seen as an attempt to either cancel the tender or reduce the number of passports from 5 million to 2.5 million so that the rest can be printed after a secure printing press is established in the country.
After several prospective bidders failed to submit the bid documents due to frequent public holidays, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali had instructed Ramkaji Khadka, director-general of the Department of Passports, to extend the deadline until November 8, according to officials familiar with the development.
“We have received several requests from prospective bidders to extend the deadline because they could not furnish the bank guarantee and prepare the documents due to frequent public holidays,” Khadka told the Post.
However, sources at the Passport Department told the Post that there are two primary reasons behind the extension of the deadline. Before leaving for Baku, Azerbaijan on October 24, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had met with Khadka and other senior officials regarding the e-passport tender. During the meeting, Oli had asked about the present stock of machine-readable passports and various other risk factors if the global tender were to be cancelled, according to one of the sources.
Oli’s questions were prompted by increasing pressure from France and Germany, as both countries have offered to help Nepal set up its own security printing press on soft loans, said officials familiar with the developments. Those plans had been stymied by the government’s call for a global tender for 5 million e-passports, which were among the documents the security printing press would be producing.
The government is now mulling over cancelling the bid to give business to the security printing press or trim down the numbers from 5 million to 2.5 million. The timeline for supplying the document could also be reduced from five years to two or two-and-a-half years.
Printing passports, banknotes and identity cards is part of the lucrative business of security printing presses. The estimated cost of establishing the security printing press in around Rs 30 billion.
The idea behind extending the deadline again, according to two senior officials at the Prime Minister’s Office, is to confirm a government-to-government deal with either France or Germany and hand them over the task of printing passports after the press is established.
Both Germany and France have made separate offers to the government to set up a security printing press in Nepal but the government has yet to decide on either, said an official, requesting anonymity.
The French side has already written a letter to the government, asking for the purpose of setting up a security printing facility if separate tenders are to be called for passports, banknotes and national identity cards by their respective agencies.
The department had called a global tender on August 27 for 5 million e-passports to be printed after the end of 2020 as per a rule set by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
But Germany has reportedly sweetened its offer, although details are unavailable due to the ongoing holidays, officials familiar with the developments told the Post. The government seems to be leaning towards Germany’s offer, they said.
Veridos, a special purpose vehicle of the German state-owned Giesecke, Devrient and Bundesdruckerei, is vying with France for a government-to-government deal to install the security printing press in Banepa’s information and communication park. However, Nepal signed a Memorandum of Understanding with France regarding the press in March. If a deal is to be made with Germany, the MoU with France will have to be broken.
Government officials, however, are displeased with the ongoing process of repeatedly changing the bid documents and extending deadlines.
“Inviting a passport tender and setting up a security printing press are two different ball games,” said an official who has been closely following the developments. “Repeatedly changing our stance will erode our credibility.”
The department has already extended the deadline once before, from October 15 to October 31, after holding a pre-bid meeting on September 25 amid several complaints from prospective bidders to change prerequisite specifications for the tender.
The Department of Passports had also changed its specifications in a first amendment, stating that any firm with the experience of printing and supplying e-passports in two countries is now eligible to participate in the bidding process. Earlier, the qualifying criterion was set for experience in three countries. Another condition permitting bids only from firms with experience in printing and supplying five million passports in the last 10 years has been significantly modified to printing and supplying 2.5 million poly-carbonated e-passports and another 2.5 million machine-readable passports in the past decade.