Four international firms in fray for multi-million-dollar e-passport bid

After a year-long controversy and dispute, four international firms have submitted final bid documents to supply two million biometric passports to the Department of Passports as the bid deadline expired on Friday

Aug 01, 2020

After a year-long controversy and dispute, four international firms have submitted final bid documents to supply two million biometric passports to the Department of Passports as the bid deadline expired on Friday.

Officials had expected a dozen international firms from Asia and Europe to take part in the competitive process but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, only four firms submitted their financial and technical bids.

Ramkaji Khadka, director general of the Department of Passports, told the Post that the office opened the bids on Friday and would start their technical evaluation from next week.

During the first call for bids, which was later cancelled in the second week of November, over a dozen foreign firms had shown their interests to supply e-passports.

Four months later, the department called international bids in the second week of March. The fresh tender came amid allegations of corruption in the procurement of a security printing facility that would have enabled Nepal to print the passports in the country.

The earlier tender called for printing and supplying 5 million e-passports, three million more than the number quoted in the new procurement process. The number was reduced, as officials hope to set up a security press system in the country within the next three years.

The plan to print the passports at home hit a roadblock after Gokul Prasad Baskota, a minister in the Oli Cabinet, was caught on tape negotiating a Rs700 million “commission” with an “agent” of a Swiss company vying for the press contract. Hours after the audio recording was leaked, Baskota, who was minister for communication and information technology, resigned.
The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has also asked the government to put the entire security printing process on hold.

Those submitting the bid documents by Friday are IDEMIA Identity and Security (France), Muehlbauer ID Services GMBH (Germany), HID Global (USA) and Aisino Corporation (China).

According to sources, to supply two million e-passports by the end of this year, IDEMIA has quoted a price of $26.59 million, the lowest among the bidders. IDEMIA is the current biometric ID card supplier to the government of Nepal. The second lowest bidder is HID Global that has put a price of $29.27 million. The third lowest bidder, Asino Corporation, has quoted $32.65 million and Muehlbauer ID service is ready to provide the services for $39.32 million.

The price of each firm covers polycarbonate passport booklets with a number of features and installation of civil, technical and electronic equipment in all 77 districts and Nepali missions abroad. Other supplies include computer hardware, personalisation centers, air conditioning and fire-fighting devices. The procurement also involves personnel training, according to the bid document.

If the lowest bidder is awarded the contract, each copy of e-passport would cost at least $14 dollars, according to officials at the department.

The evaluation process is expected to take another 20 days to complete, before the winning bid is decided, according to Khadka.

After the stock of machine readable passports started declining, the government had called global bids for the supply of e-passports as per the new guidelines released by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
The department has a stock of 550,000 passports, including ordinary, official, diplomatic and travel documents. As the distribution of passports slows down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the current stock is expected to last six months to one year.

According to the bid documents, the winning company delivers 1.6 million e-passports having 32 pages and 400,000 e-passports with 64 pages. The second type are to be issued to frequent flyers.

The new passports, being procured to comply with International Civil Aviation Organization standards, will come in new shades. According to the bid document, the cover of ordinary passports, which at the moment is green, will be changed to chocolate-brown. Diplomatic passports will have a crimson-red cover, official passports navy-blue, and peacekeepers’ passports will come in tiger-orange colour.

Travel documents will be black, temporary passports chocolate-brown and seaman's record book slate-brown. The front page of all passport booklets is specified to bear a hot foil stamp of the national coat-of-arms.

In the new process, the government can order upto 15 percent more or less passports than the number mentioned in the tender.

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