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Government tough on passport deal

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Gift Trapence

Government, through the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services, has stopped employees of Techno Brain Global FZE from continuing working in the department’s premises following the termination of a contract between the two entities.

Early last month, 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.

Saturday, the AG confirmed the latest demand to the company, but declined to comment further.

A letter that we have seen, from the Immigration Department to Techno Brain, is cautioning the company against interfering with or sabotaging the issuance of passports in any way.

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“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, by Immigration Director- General Hannings Mlotha, reads in part.

In the letter, Mlotha further states that his office has noted that the contractor has not made any handover to the department despite being instructed to in the notice of intention to cancel the contract.

The Immigration chief has since advised Techno Brain to cooperate in the process of handing over a detailed document recording IP addresses, credentials and locations of servers, terminals, routers and any other device associated with the e-passport system whether in Malawi or embassies where the system was deployed.

He had also asked the multinational company to hand over all contact details of internet service provider (ISP) responsible for virtual private network (VPN) links for the e-passport system and updated information regarding payments for VPN links to the ISP.

“Further, you are advised that during the handover exercise, you should provide orientation to ICT officers in the management of the Data Centre and critical issues that require attention from time to time,” the letter adds.

It further cautions that the presence of 12 employees of Techno Brain at Immigration Headquarters (4), Lilongwe (6), Mzuzu (1) and Mangochi (1) will constitute trespassing “which law enforcement officers will not tolerate”.

“In cases where your employee is a non-Malawian, any noncompliance with this communication will lead to their deportation and other immigration sanctions under the Immigration Act,” the letter dated January 7, 2022, adds.

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

In September last year, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) demanded the cancellation or variation of the deal, signed during the then-governing Democratic Progressive Party, due to irregularities.

In an interview yesterday, HRDC chairperson Gift Trapence said he was happy that government is acting decisively on the passport deal and urged authorities to extend the zeal to other departments.

“We were against the contract due to the irregularities and we are happy that government has acted on the complaints. However, there are other deals such as at the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services which are too expensive. These too need to be looked into,” Trapence said.

Assessments of the Techno Brain contract found that for every passport booklet issued, Techno Brain made a profit of between K52,894 and K58 708.

In October 2020, World Bank Malawi office extended a ban to Techno Brain Malawi after the bank banned Techno Brain Kenya and its sister companies for alleged collusive and fraudulent practices in the awarding of contracts.

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