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Court snubs Techno Brain employee

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By Rebecca Chimjeka

The High Court in Lilongwe has dismissed an application by a Techno Brain Malawi employee who sought a judicial review and an injunction on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services alleged unlawful detention.

Prakash Naidu alleged that he was detained by way of house arrest by the department for apparently refusing to release credentials and keys for the e-passport electronic issuance system.

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On January 7, 2022, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services stopped employees of the multinational company from continuing working in the department’s premises following the termination of a contract between the two entities.

Two months ago, Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda terminated the $60 million (K48 billion at current exchange rate) passport deal which government had signed with Techno Brain and gave the firm a 30-day notice based on Section 46(c) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act.

In the contract, which was signed in March 2019, Techno Brain was tasked to upgrade Malawi’s passport issuance system apart from introducing electronic passports under the build, operate and transfer model by producing 800,000 electronic passports.

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However, the deal was later discovered to be too expensive, hence the decision by Nyirenda to cancel it.

In the letter announcing that Techno Brain employees should cease being found at Immigration premises, director-general Hannings Mlotha cautioned the company against interfering with or sabotaging the issuance of passports in any way.

“Your employees may only be present to perform certain duties relating to other subsisting contracts you have with the Malawi Government through the department,” the letter read in part.

In his ruling where he dismissed Naidu’s application, Justice Kenyatta Nyirenda condemned the claimant for abusing the court process.

“To my mind there can be no doubt that the claimant is guilty of abuse of court process. The facts speak for themselves.

“It will be recalled that the claimant commenced the application in the Criminal Division after his application for an order of interlocutory injunction was questioned by this court in a number of aspects,” reads the ruling in part.

Apparently, the case had already commenced in the Criminal Division of the High Court before it came before Nyirenda as a civil one.

The judge faulted Naidu’s lawyer for stating that the claimant did not consider it necessary to disclose to the Civil Division about the case in the other court because the judge handling the matter had stated that she would ask the Assistant Registrar to bring her ruling to Justice Nyirenda’s attention.

Last week, High Court judge Annabel Mtalimanja also threw out an application by Naidu against what he described as abuse of his fundamental right that protects against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment after she found that the application had been applied to two judges.

AG Nyirenda said he was happy with the latest ruling in the matter.

“It was clear that Mr Naidu was abusing the court process by commencing multiple proceedings on strikingly identical matters,” Nyirenda said.

In 2018, government entered into an agreement with Techno Brain to supply electronic passports and upgrade the passport issuance systems under the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) model.

According to the contract, it was agreed that Techno Brain would fund all the initial processes including training, meetings, travels as well as production costs as regards deliverables for the printing of passports.

At a press conference prior to the cancellation of the contract, which he addressed alongside Minister of Information Gospel Kazako, AG Nyirenda stressed that the passport contract was not supposed to be signed in the first place as it was reportedly fraught with irregularities.

He faulted government officers who sanctioned the deal that time.

Nyirenda said apart from retaining proceeds from producing the passports, Techno Brain had also been asking for payments from Account Number One.

According to the AG, officers who were involved in the misprocurement would have to face the law.

So far, no one has been arrested in relation to the contract.

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