The House of Representatives has warned the Federal Government against terminating a contract signed with a private firm, Iris Smart Technologies Limited, for the production of electronic passport booklets.
According to the House, procuring the equipment capable of putting the latest security features in the Nigerian e-passport will cost the government about N22 billion. The legislative chamber also warned that the production of 10 million booklets by the firm would be stalled.
These are part of the recommendations contained in the report by the House Ad-Hoc Committee to Investigate the Proposed Domestication and Processing of Nigerian International Passports, which the lawmakers considered and adopted at the plenary on Tuesday.
In the report, the committee noted that the Iris Smart Technologies Limited Renewal Agreement with the Federal Ministry of Interior of April 2015 clearly stated in Article 4:0 that the duration of the contract shall be for the delivery of an additional 10 million passport booklets.
The committee stated that “time will be of the essence if the contract expressly states it or if there are clauses to show that parties intended time to be of the essence.”
It further stated, “It will be to the legal detriment of the federal government to unilaterally terminate this agreement for any reason until it runs its course, which is the production of 10 million e-passports or the current remainder under the circumstances.
“The Federal Government can go into negotiations in line with Paragraph 4 above with ISTL to explore suitable options of how the e-passport infrastructure can be maintained until the contract is fully performed.
“The Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Plc should be further advised to abide by this opinion in the overall best interest of the Federal Government, in order not to incur unnecessary liability on our lean financial resources through avoidable litigation or other costlier dispute resolution mechanisms.
“Since the current domestication project was initiated by the Nigerian Immigration Service, in conjunction with the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, and based on the reports and presentations by all the relevant stakeholders, especially the ICRC, the process was fair, equitable, transparent, and followed all international standards. Therefore, the process should be allowed to be concluded.”
The committee added that the current management of the NIS initiated the domestication process, which requires 90 to 180 days to fully implement the process and other processes of the passport, which will solve the issue of scarcity.
It stressed that the forex generated by Iris Technologies and the NIS through the sales of passports in foreign countries “should be unlocked by CBN and allow NIS and Iris Technologies to have access to the revenue component being generated,” to solve the issue of booklet scarcity before the domestication process.
Listing its findings during the probe, the committee explained that an e-passport project is technology based and not a security printing task, as with the Machine-Readable Passport era; that the security printing aspect of an e-passport constitutes only 13 percent of the various components of an e-passport booklet; and that the domestication of the manufacturing of e-passport booklets does not eliminate the need for foreign exchange and importation of components.
The committee also explained that an e-passport booklet is an active electronic device, as opposed to the old MRP, which is a merely printed booklet; that the chip embedded in the e-passport has a security access module that allows for a ‘handshake’ with and amongst other devices and equipment within the e-passport network; and that the system does not allow the “infiltration” or use of non-prequalified third-party devices or other booklets within the network.
It stated, “The Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Plc is not a technology company; MINT is a security printer and cannot be an e-passport solution provider. Therefore, it requires a technology partner if it must go into the e-passport project.
“There is over N22 billion worth of systems and equipment, both local and international, in this secured e-passport network. Therefore, if a new booklet solution provider is appointed, this technology infrastructure would have to be discarded. This investment would be lost, and a new network must be purchased and implemented at a greater cost to the Federal Government.”
The panel also stated that it is impossible to have two different e-passport projects running concurrently in any country and that to establish a new e-passport solution, it would require a duration of 36 to 48 months for the rollout of the new infrastructure, “with the attendant consequence that no e-passport would be issued both locally and in foreign missions for that period.”
It added that, as a result, “there would be no passport issued and no revenue accruing from the project for the entire duration of the rollout of the new e-passport solution.”