Sunday PUNCH gathered that the delay was due to the inability of the Ministry of Interior to terminate the contract awarded to Smart Technology Nigeria Limited for the production of the passport booklets.
It was gathered that the Ministry of Interior and the NIS officials have been holding meetings with ISTL for over one year on the termination or variation of the contract valued at over $138, 443, 740, signed in May 2003.
The situation has led to the scarcity of passport booklets as ISTL has reportedly suspended production of the booklets following moves by the Federal Government to cancel its contracts and commence local production of the travel document.
An impeccable source said the Federal Government was facing serious legal challenges terminating the contracts which had no terminal date.
The official stated, “What I can tell you authoritatively is that the issue has been enmeshed in some legal tangle which they are trying to untangle. They discovered that previous administrations had committed the country to unfavourable contracts which may even be for life. Everybody has been on tenterhooks over it.
“What the government is doing now is to resolve the legal conundrum and I think they are almost done with it. They would be making arrangements for local producers of the passport (booklets) after sorting out the problem.’’
Documents obtained by our correspondent indicate that the Federal Government entered into six agreements with the contractor between March 2003 and April 2015 for the production of e-passports.
The first contract was in three phases with the first phase costing $62,881,800 (over N10bn), while the second phase costs $53,337,470 (over N9bn) and the third phase, $62,881,800 (over N10bn).
The contract, which included the implementation of the Nigeria Harmonised ECOWAS Electronic Smart Passport and Autogate, was for the production of 5.5 million wafers and laminates for incorporation into the back cover of passport booklets, supply of Electronic Passport Management System, comprising the Passport Enrolment and Issuance System, Automated Fingerprint Identification System, Passport Personalisation System, Immigration Border Control System and Immigration Reporting System.
Checks indicate that the Federal Government did not commit any funds to the project, leaving the contractor as the sole financier of the contract.
ISTL reportedly took a loan of N3bn in 2003 to fund the implementation of the project.
The agreement states that ISTL shall bear, pay and thereafter be reimbursed by the Ministry of Interior with all withholding taxes, VAT, duties, fees, levies and other charges connected with the execution of the agreement which did not contain any renewal clause.
However, on March 1, 2007, the Ministry of Interior and Iris Smart Tech signed another agreement for the production of three million machine-readable passport booklets and the embedding of the substrates.
The booklets were to be supplied at a unit price of N690.08, totalling N2,070,240,000.
According to the agreement, the settlement of the company’s invoices was to be made from 30 per cent of the revenue generated from the passport sales.