Passports department proposes a third bid for e-passportsOfficials warn of a passport shortage with the stock likely to last just a few months.
The Department of Passports has recommended the Ministry of Foreign Affair to scrap the e-passports bid after none of the four bidders submitted the required documents.
The department has now proposed calling another bid with a short deadline to the prospective bidders in order to avoid passport shortage.
The department has around 360,000 passports in stock but with the decision to scrap the tender on Monday, it must rush the bidding process, otherwise the country will face severe shortage of passports, officials said.
Ramkaji Khadka, director general of the department, said that as per the report prepared by an evaluation committee, the decision to scrap the bid and recall a new one has been forwarded to the ministry for its final consideration.
Khadka is preparing to brief Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali and Foreign Secretary, Shanker Das Bairagi of the latest development on Tuesday.
The department, meanwhile, is preparing to call a fresh bid to international firms with a three-week submission deadline.
“All issues should be cleared within one or two days. Soon after we receive instruction from the ministry, we will start work for the next possible alternative to print new passports,” Khadka told the Post.
Earlier, when the department had called a bid to print new passports on May 6, four international firms had entered the bidding process. However, none of the firms submitted the complementary documents.
“After the four firms who had participated in the bidding process failed to meet the criteria, we disqualified them and recommended the Foreign Ministry to call a third tender immediately giving only 21 days for prospective bidders to submit their bid documents so that we could avoid passports shortage,” a member of the bid evaluation team, told the Post.
The official said IDEMIA Identity and Security (France), Muehlbauer ID Services GMBH (Germany), HID Global (USA) and Aisino Corporation (China) had submitted their documents to supply two million biometric passports.
They, however, did not submit the other required documents, which led the department to scrap the bid.
“The companies had failed to submit some documents through e-tender and submitted hard copies, which the evaluation team refused to consider,” said a member of the bid evaluation team.
Another official at the department said the current stock of passports may not last for six months if the new ones are not printed.
“For the past six months, we have been distributing passports only to the security personnels who go for peacekeeping operations abroad and those who really need one,” the official said.
For now, he said, the coronavirus pandemic is holding off the otherwise high passport application rate. But once the situation becomes normal, or worse in other countries we will face a serious shortage, the official added.
“If things become normal, there will be a surge in the number of people seeking to go outside. If they become worse, the demand for passports will increase among the Nepalis based in foreign countries because they need valid passports to return home. Thousands of people may have to renew their passports. We need to be prepared to cope with the situation.”
The passports department distributes over half a million passports annually inside and outside the country. If international flights were to resume in full capacity and foreign employment were to become normal, the present stock of passports will not even last for three months.
Some members of the bid evaluation team say that there was no need to scrap the entire bidding process.
At least two members of the team the Post spoke with said that it was a minor error that could have been fixed by simply seeking additional documents from the four bidders.
The Prime Minister’s Office, however, said that there was no way the process could be moved forward as the price listing was not available.
The members of the bid evaluation team said the issue was a technical one, the one that could have been sorted out without the necessity of cancelling the bid.
The Department of Passports has already failed to see the passport printing deal through on several occasions in the past.
After two failed attempts, the department on March 3 had called for an international bid for printing and supplying e-passports, but the bid timeline was extended twice due to the four-month long Covid-19 lockdown.
On August 1, the department opened the bid documents where four international bidders had submitted their documents. But since the bidders had submitted insufficient documents, the department had sought legal and procedural opinions with various line agencies.
The concerned line agencies had suggested that it would be illegal to evaluate the bidders who had not submitted sufficient documents, which led the department to scrap the bid.
“Some bidders had failed to quote the price of some essential products. As per the public procurement law, it cannot be considered. So the evaluation committee recommended disqualifying the bid,” the two members of the evaluation team said.
During the first tender , which was later cancelled in the second week of November 2019, over a dozen foreign firms had shown their interests to supply e-passports.
After the cancellation, the government had said that it will print and supply the passports after setting up dedicated security printing press facilities inside Nepal.
However, the plan to print the passports at home hit a roadblock after Gokul Prasad Baskota, former minister in the KP Sharma Oli-led government, was caught on tape negotiating a Rs700 million “commission” with an “agent” of a Swiss company vying for the press contract.
Baskota resigned following the disclosure.
Four months after the scandal, the passport department called an international bid in the second week of March amid allegations of corruption in the procurement of a security printing facility that would have enabled Nepal to print the passports inside the country.
The passport printing issue, after hitting a series of scandals and roadblocks, is still tangled in uncertainty.
“This is a matter of grave concern,” Muktinath Bhatta, a former ambassador and director general of the Department of Passports, told the Post.
“We started the concept of machine readable passports in Nepal in 2003 and it was finally materialised in 2010. If numbers of passports are declining, then it is a matter of worry. Our political and administrative leadership should be serious about this.”