…as Israeli firm refuses to budge on M34.7m passport, ID project demand
THE Ministry of Home Affairs is looking for an “alternative company” to produce national identity documents (IDs) and electronic passports after failing to resolve its differences with Israeli firm, Nikuv International Projects (NIP), the Sunday Express has established.
Nikuv was controversially granted the M300 million contract in 2012 without an open public tender amid allegations some Home Affairs ministry officials had been bribed to award the company the lucrative deal.
However, the ministry has since fallen out with Nikuv after the firm demanded M34.7 million for “maintenance services” the company claimed to have provided from February to August this year, threatening to withdraw from the project if the money was not paid.
“If such a payment is not made in the next 14 days, NIP will have no choice but to terminate the PKI solution programme application license (e-passport key management system) which NIP is required to pay to the supplier. This will lead to the termination of the passport issuance (sic), all in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Agreement and the Maintenance Agreement with the Ministry,” read part of the letter written on 1 August 2014 by the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Ehud Lurie.
Following this communication, the ministry obtained an urgent High Court order on 8 August to “interdict any possible disruption or suspension of service by Nikuv”, while the issue was being resolved.
However, despite the interdict, Nikuv withdrew its staff in September, forcing the ministry to suspend the provision of e-passports, IDs and birth certificates.
Last month, the ministry made yet another attempt to settle the dispute with Nikuv, with Minister Joang Molapo, and National Civil Registry Director Tumelo Raboloetse meeting the company’s management in Johannesburg, South Africa.
However, the meeting failed to find a breakthrough after Nikuv insisted on being paid the money plus 10 percent interest before resuming its maintenance duties, a source close to the matter told the Sunday Express.
The source said: “When the Home Affairs delegation went to Johannesburg led by the minister, the two parties ended up signing another agreement. Under this new deal, the ministry was supposed to pay Nikuv the M34.7 million with immediate effect, and also undertook to continue using Nikuv experts for the next three years.
“Nikuv had also promised to resume its maintenance duties within one week of the payment. Chief Molapo had even convinced Nikuv to train Basotho how to use the system, and the company was supposed to have resumed services on 15 October, but this has not happened because the ministry did not pay the money.”
However, Chief Molapo on Friday denied agreeing any new deal with Nikuv, insisting what was signed were mere minutes of the meeting.
“It’s true we went to South Africa to meet with the Nikuv team, and held a meeting at OR Tambo International Airport,” said Chief Molapo.
“We only made what one could call a preliminary agreement and we were still to work on a final agreement, which is why I am saying what we did was just confirm that we met and had a meeting.
“But it should be known that Nikuv was already acting as though the meeting we held had resolved everything and that we had a final agreement when we did not.
“The bottom line is I did not sign any document; the ministry’s director is the one who signed the preliminary agreement, which is just as good as minutes of a meeting and not a Memorandum of Understanding as Nikuv felt the document should be taken to be.
“Legally, the minister and principal secretary are the ones who can bind the ministry and not the director. These Nikuv people thought the fact that Raboloetse, as the director, signed a document to show that we had attended the meeting, would bind us to do whatever they were demanding, which was very wrong.”
According to Chief Molapo, Nikuv officials seemed “too eager” to get paid without considering his demands that the ministry should have full control of the system.
In addition to the production of IDs and e-passports, Nikuv was also in charge of the country’s automated border control system.
“Nikuv officials said our demands should be discussed further, but demanded theirs to be met immediately before they could resume work.
“After agreeing that we could continue the three-year maintenance agreement, we emphasised that before the end of this period, we needed to be in full control of the system.
“The officials could not agree to our demands, so we refused to take the invoice they were pressing on us,” the Minister said.
Chief Molapo further said one of the issues he raised during the Johannesburg meeting was that the company had already been paid more than it deserved. Nikuv has been paid over M300 million to-date.
“They now want a maintenance fee of 10 percent above what they have already siphoned out of our government; it is ridiculous and we can’t pay them, especially considering what they have already been paid,” he said.
The Home Affairs minister added that after failing to make any headway with Nikuv, they were now looking for another company to take-over the project.
“Our responsibility is to provide services to Basotho and for Lesotho, so it is our responsibility to find an alternative to Nikuv, and we are making progress in that regard. We are actively pursuing such an alternative,” Chief Molapo revealed.
The Minister declined to name the “alternative company” the ministry would be engaging, telling the Sunday Express: “When we are successful, we will report to cabinet first and then make a public announcement.”
Meanwhile, there was no immediate comment from Nikuv regarding this latest twist to the company’s dispute with the Ministry.
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