The government has failed to issue a single machine-readable passport (MRP) from 33 regional passport offices in the last six months due to non-cooperation of a Malaysian contractor.
Eight offices set up in Malaysia last month to provide around five lakh expatriates with MRPs also failed to deliver for the same reason, home ministry sources said.
The government is losing money hand over fist as it is paying rent for the offices and salaries for the employees in the 33 district offices. It is paying Tk 15 lakh in rent and salaries for no service at all.
Malaysian company IRIS Corporation had been providing Bangladesh with the software solution for passports under the first MRP project in 2010. It had set up its central system in Agargaon and it is contractually obligated to technically support future expansion of the MRP issuance centres at home and abroad.
The government had been issuing MRPs from 30 other district offices using IRIS's system.
The problem began in 2012 when the government floated a tender for a new project to expand the service by establishing passport offices in the remaining 33 districts of the country.
Even though IRIS made a bid, it lost the Tk 136 crore project to a consortium of local company, Dataedge and Polish PWPW.
The consortium's software and system need to be integrated with the ones of IRIS but since IRIS lost the expansion project, it started using delaying tactics.
The integration is still incomplete resulting in non-issuance of MRPs from those passport offices.
This conundrum prompted officials of three ministries, foreign, home and expatriate welfare, to sit for a meeting today (Monday) at the foreign ministry to find a solution and urgently start delivering MRPs.
Passport seekers in the affected 33 districts are currently obtaining their travel documents from other district offices.
However, Bangladeshis in Malaysia are in a pickle. They have no alternative source to get MRPs. As per international rules, their passports would become invalid after November 24.
The Department of Immigration and Passport has so far issued several letters asking IRIS to provide the necessary technical support as per its contractual obligation. It recently asked the project director to take legal action against IRIS.
“The matter is technical and complicated. We have been working hard for the last three days to resolve it,” said MRP Project Director Brig Gen Masud Rezwan refuting the allegation that they were not doing enough.
Senior Secretary of the Home Ministry CQK Mustaq Ahmed claimed that during meetings the Malaysian company made verbal promises to him to provide support. “They are bound to do it,” he told The Daily Star, adding that the matter would be resolved in a day or two.
When asked about her company's non-cooperation, IRIS project manager Lee Soo Mei told The Daily Star last night, “I don't have any comments.”
MORE WAIT FOR EXPATS
Around 5 lakh Bangladeshi workers, students and others in Malaysia are waiting for MRP.
Bangladeshi firms Dataedge and ipeople got the enrolment job beating IRIS and two other companies last year.
As per the deal signed with the Department of Immigration and Passport on February 12, the two companies readied eight regional enrolment centres in as many Malaysian states.
The helpline of the enrolment centres would remain open 24 hours a day, enabling the expatriates appointments through phone calls. But the enrolment is yet to start as the integration of the centres with the central system in Dhaka was not done.
Information of the expats, their photos and finger prints, are supposed to be sent to the passport office at Agargaon in Dhaka from the centres so that their passports could be printed.
The enrolment was supposed to start on April 21.
Additional Home Secretary Shafiqur Rahman, who recently visited the enrolment centres in Malaysia, said the crisis would be resolved soon.
Successful implementation of the MRP project in Malaysia is important for Bangladesh expats in other countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE where most of the 45 lakh expatriates have the old passports. The job for providing passports in the Middle East is still going through the tender process.