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Parliament probes K50 billion passport deal

Faults bloated prices

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Gift Trapence

The International Relations Committee of Parliament has started probing the $60.8 million [about K50 billion at the current exchange rate] electronic passports contract which the government awarded to Techno Brain Global FZE in 2019.

The probe comes barely a month after Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) wrote Homeland Security Minister Richard Chimwendo Banda, asking him to cancel or vary the conditions of the contract.

A member of the committee confided in The Daily Times on Monday that the committee has, so far, met with a number of stakeholders in the matter, including Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda, Department of Immigration, Ministry of Homeland Security and Treasury officials.

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The lawmaker said the probe has, so far, yielded some vital information on the real pricing of electronic passports. He said one thing that is coming out very clearly in the probe is that the deal’s contract price was bloated.

Among other things, the lawmaker said they have gathered that, within the Southern African Development Community region, a copy of a passport ranges from $25 to $60 but that, in the current contract, the passports were pegged at $76 per copy.

Chairperson of the committee Patrick Bandawe confirmed that they had instituted a probe but fell short of divulging more information on the matter.

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Bandawe said the committee was pursuing the matter on behalf of Malawians, arguing that at stake was taxpayers’ money.

“We need to make sure that there was justice during the signing of the contract,” Bandawe said, adding that, at the end of investigations, the committee would write a report and submit it to the august House.

On March 22 2019, the erstwhile ruling Democratic Progressive Party administration entered into an agreement with Techno Brain Global FZE to supply 800,000 electronic passports.

In a letter dated September 7 to Chimwendo Banda, copied to Attonery General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda, Anti-Corruption Bureau Director General Martha Chizuma, Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets acting Director General Irene Mlewa and Immigration Director General Hannings Mlotha, HRDC argued that, after reviewing the contract, it held the view that it was tailored to favour the contractor.

Among other things, HRDC argued that, in commercial contracts of this nature, the limitation of liability is normally 10 percent of the contract price but that Clause 24 of the contract put limitation of liability at $500,000.

“In Clause 49, the payments are not linked to the passports issued. There is no performance bond guarantee and there is no advance payment guarantee. This means that payments are due whether the contractor is performing or not.

“There is no provision for liquidated damages in the contract to cover delays by the contractor in the event that the contractor fails or delays in issuing passports during the period of the contract,” reads the letter from HRDC signed by Chairperson Gift Trapence and other executive members of the grouping.

Responding to a question in Parliament from former Nkhotakota North East lawmaker, the late Martha Lunji Chanjo Mhone, on when Malawians should expect passport fees to be reduced to the promised K14,000, President Lazarus Chakwera said there were some bottlenecks hindering the implementation of the promise.

Chakwera said, upon assuming power, the Tonse Alliance-led administration discovered that its predecessor “entered into contracts that were in favour of people they would contract and not in favour of the people they were serving, who are Malawians”.

“These contractual arrangements and many others are some of those issues that I have mandated the Vice-President [Saulos Chilima] to look into because this country is being defrauded by its own people in leadership,” Chakwera said.

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