As passports start running out, complaint in House committee complicates mattersComplainant tells the Public Accounts Committee that Nepal does not need an expensive security printing press, putting a hold on the procurement process.
The decision to award a contract to set up a security printing press to either a German or French firm has been further delayed after the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee began a probe into a complaint registered at the House.
The complaint registered last week by Bijaya Mishra, an expert on printing matters, argues that Nepal does not need a security printing press and that the cost of setting up one—more than Rs 12 billion—is too high.
“Since it is a highly technical subject, we have invited two experts from the information and communication field to suggest whether Nepal needs a dedicated security printing facilities, as claimed in the complaint and if so, can it be set up within Rs 12 billion?” Rojnath Pandey, secretary at the Public Accounts Committee, told the Post. “Once we’ve discussed with the experts, we’ll call a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.”
With the stock of passports fast depleting—and likely to reduce further now that Japan has announced that it will hire around 2,300 Nepali caregivers—any delay in taking a decision on the establishment of a security printing press could affect the distribution of new passports.
Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which oversees the Passport Department, said that distribution facilities have expressed serious concern in the delay over the failure of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to take a decision regarding security printing facilities.
A French company and a German company have both said they will set up a dedicated security printing facility within two years of signing the deal. Both companies have offered to provide one million passports in the interim if are awarded the tender.
However, two Foreign Ministry officials said that it will take at least six months before either company can begin delivering passports owing to the red tape. The existing stock of passports is only sufficient for six months at the most, they said.
A Cabinet meeting on December 23 instructed the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to strike a government-to-government deal with the German or French company to procure instruments to set up security printing press, as per Article 85 of the Public Procurement Act.
The German and French firms have offered soft loans of 185 and 175 million euros, respectively, to the government of Nepal to set up a security printing press that will be able to print all sensitive documents like passports and official stickers, but not currency notes. Printing notes requires a high-end facility in a bullet-proof housing, which will only add to the cost.
“I have been receiving regular notes of concern from the Foreign Ministry regarding a possible shortage of passports so we are trying to resolve the issue quickly,” said Dipak Subedi, secretary at the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. “But I don’t know when the decision will be made or who will get the tender. The decision will be made by the minister.”
According to a technical committee formed to evaluate both proposals, the German proposal compares far better than the French in terms of technical and financial strength, global outreach, and experience. The government, however, has an existing memorandum of understanding with the French government to set up a security printing facility.
A meeting of the Public Accounts Committee is scheduled for Monday to discuss the complaint and the two competing bids with the two experts.