Malaysian company IRIS seems to have gone beyond the control of the passport regulator and it can shut down the entire system if it so wishes.
The government appears to have no power over the contractor or the system it has paid for.
The authorities concerned are doing almost nothing, letting IRIS get away with irregularities and violation of contracts, sources in the home ministry said.
IRIS along with local firm Dataedge and Polish PWPW introduced MRP in Bangladesh under a project in 2010. As lead partner, IRIS was responsible for providing software and technical documentations, and printing passports.
Accordingly, it established a central system at Department of Immigration and Passport (DIP) in Agargaon.
The Malaysian company is contractually obliged to provide technical support to integrate new passport offices at home and abroad.
There was no problem with MRP issuance until in 2012. But then the government floated a tender for a new project to expand the service by establishing passport offices in 33 districts of the country.
IRIS lost the Tk 136 crore job to Dataedge and Polish PWPW consortium.
It did not support integration of the consortium's software and system with the central system, rather kept the system locked with codes, internal documents of DIP and a report of an investigation into the integration problem showed in May.
The DIP had employed a company to probe the integration problem.
The Daily Star obtained a copy of the report which clearly said integration was not possible as the central system, which is operated by IRIS, was locked with code.
The DIP and the home ministry did not consider the above fact and asked Dataedge-PWPW to pay IRIS $250,000 as fee for integration, which the IRIS was contractually obliged to do for free anyway, ministry sources said.
The fee payment agreement was signed in May in presence of State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan, DG of DIP Abdul Mabud, Project Director of MRP Brig Gen Masud Rezwan and Additional Home Secretary Shafiqur Rahman, who has recently been transferred.
After the payment, the integration problem was solved with MRP printing.
But the story did not end there.
MESS IN MALAYSIA
IRIS lost another job to supply MRPs to expatriates in Malaysia to Dataedge-ipeople consortium. It resorted to the same trick, block with codes the integration of six enrolment centres Dataedge-ipeople had set up in Malaysia, and access to data of the expatriates at the central system in Agargaon.
The system was blocked after Dataedge-ipeople successfully sent data from Malaysia in the end of May and some MRPs got printed, according to several DIP letters, which The Daily Star has copies of.
More than 30,000 expatriates in Malaysia were enrolled by August but their new passports could not be printed due to the integration problem.
Dataedge-ipeople had to sub-contract the job to BITARA Abadi, a company of the IRIS CEO Dato Hamdan. He is the managing director of BITARA and has been using the identity, letterheads and email accounts of IRIS in official matters.
Sources in the DIP said the sub-contract was given to BITARA, the dummy company of IRIS, on August 14 after IRIS was disqualified for the job.
But BITARA has not been able to send data using its own set up. It resorted to unauthorised access to the network of the Bangladesh high commission in Kuala Lumpur.
“On August, 28, 2014 two technical people from IRIS came to the High Commission evading our notice and worked on our servers in the name of maintenance but we did not allow them,” the commission wrote to the foreign ministry on September 12.
The commission later found changes were made to its system so that the mission's code could be used remotely to send data to Agargaon office, says the letter, adding that the DG of DIP in a text message requested the commission to allow BITARA to send the data.
Earlier, the DIP did not allow Dataedge-ipeople to use the mission's code to send data.
However, thousands of expats, who were enrolled for MRP months ago, are waiting for their new passports as BITARA was very slow in sending data.
As per the sub-contract with Dataedge-ipeople, BITARA is supposed to work in consultation with Dataedge-ipeople. It kept Dataedge-ipeople in the dark but directly communicated with the DG.
The Bangladesh mission fears its technical capabilities may suffer or the database of the mission could get damaged.
“We do not understand who will then take the responsibility if any 'unwanted' person manages a Bangladeshi passport through this unauthorised channel,” says the letter, seeking immediate measures to solve the problem.
In an email on September 28, The Daily Star asked Dato Hamdan about it but he did not respond.
Secretary (Bilateral, Consular and Training)) of the Foreign Ministry Mustafa Kamal, who have received many complaints regarding malpractices of IRIS in Malaysia and the UAE, declined to comment.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam just said his ministry had asked the home ministry to expedite the MRP issuance process.
MESS IN UAE
IRIS went unpunished even after grossly violating its contract in the UAE by appointing an unauthorised company, Dipon Gulf Infotech Consultancy LLC, on August 13 to collect data of expatriates and fees from them.
In the authorisation letter issued to Dipon, IRIS had mentioned that Dipon would arrange and operate mobile teams to collect data, develop and manage payment module and engage and manage typing centres so that Bangladeshi workers have easy access to the centres for a reasonable fee.
This triggered a widespread cheating of expatriates. Data was being collected at internet cafes, photocopy and fax shops and expatriates were being forced to pay more than the amount fixed in the contract, said embassy officials and expatriates.
The collectors are now charging 280 Dirham, instead of the 47 Dirham mentioned in the contract which applicants were supposed to pay directly to the high commission, say documents obtained by The Daily Star. The contractor or sub-contractor were supposed to a fee against each delivered MRP.
Bangladesh ambassador to the UAE in a letter on August 27 informed the foreign and home ministries of the matter. Expatriates also complained about paying more when housing and public works minister visited Abu Dhabi recently.
Expatriate Delwar Hossain was enrolled on August 23 from Maryal Typing and Photocopying shop at Al Ain Bazar, Dubai. Although 80 Dirham was mentioned in his receipt, he told The Daily Star that the collectors took 280 Dirham from him.
“The people in the shop were saying that Bangladesh had increased tax while taking the fees,” he said over the phone.
When the Maryal Typing and Photocopying shop was called over the phone, a collector there admitted taking 280 Dirham against each MRP application.
The DIP, which is responsible for monitoring the job and taking action against such a major violation of contract, remained silent. However, referring to the ambassador's letter, the DG of DIP issued a letter asking IRIS to clarify the matter.
IRIS termed the giving of sub-contract a “human mistake” by its senior manager for international sales division Bahjat Aman. In response to the DIP's clarification, it apologised for the wrongdoing and the officials of the DIP and the home ministry accepted the response.
The DIP in the letter said the sub-contract was a violation of clause 35 of the contract between IRIS and the government, but no action was taken against IRIS.
The DIP had nothing to say when IRIS claimed that it did not violate the contract and had no links with enrolment at photocopy and fax shops and taking money from applicants.
DG of DIP Abdul Mabud claimed of having no knowledge about the malpractices in the UAE.
The ex-police officer, who was appointed as DG for one-year contract in 2010 and then got extensions on his contract four times allegedly for having good connections with two high officials of the PMO, had nothing to say about the facts behind integration problem and IRIS's role in it.
Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister's Office Abdus Sobhan Sikder said the home ministry should know how to ensure issuance of MRPs to all expatriates within the ICAO deadline.
“The home ministry may seek the PMO's help to speed up the process since providing MRPs to all expatriates is a headache of the government,” he told The Daily Star, adding that he had heard about the problems in Malaysia.
The Daily Star on September 13, 24, 28 and October 25 sent emails to four IRIS officials -- Managing Director Dato Tan Say Jim, CEO Dato Hamdan, Senior Manager Bahjat Aman, Project Director in Bangladesh Lee Soo Mei -- and requested them to clarify the issues in the UAE and Malaysia.