Koirala refuses to endorse MRP deal; PM turns to cabinet

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal sought to get the deal approved by the cabinet after Koirala refused to sign on the final documents, saying her consent was not needed.

Updated: Aug 23, 2010, 14:44 PM IST

Kathmandu: Nepal`s smart passport supply contract to a French firm has run into a hurdle, with influential Foreign Minister Sujatha Koirala refusing to approve it and the caretaker Prime Minister now seeking an endorsement of his cabinet to push it through.

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal sought to get the deal approved by the cabinet after Koirala refused to sign on the final documents, saying her consent was not needed.

French firm Oberthur Technologies (OT) was awarded the contract as it was the lowest bidder in the tender process after Indian and Chinese bidders did bid.

The lucrative contract for supplying Machine Readable Passports (MRPs) has been mired in a series of controversies and hit by differences within the government.

The government was earlier forced to withdraw its decision to award the deal to India after pressure from the Maoists and repeated orders by the Public Accounts Committee
not to go ahead with the deal as it lacked transparency and might compromise national security.

Koirala, from the outset, has been in favour of awarding the contract to the Indian firm.

"I have already told the Prime Minister that I cannot put my signature on the deal without thoroughly studying and investigating the matter," she told a news agency.

She said there have been deep differences over the deal, with some people favouring it and some claiming there have been errors.

"Rival parties have sent letters questioning the pre-qualification of the Oberthur, which bagged the contract as a lowest bidder... But the works will not be obstructed without my signature as the Foreign Secretary`s signature will do the job," she said.

Koirala has insisted that the French firm lacks authenticity and reliability of service and claimed that the Foreign Secretary has been putting undue pressure on her to sign the MRP contract, the Nepal News said.

"The whole process began with Foreign Secretary`s signature, now why is it necessary for me to put signature," she said.

Koirala, however, denied reports that she had any differences with the Prime Minister on the issue.

Following Koirala`s refusal to sign on the documents, the ministry officials had forwarded the bid proposal to the cabinet seeking approval from the PM instead.

Nepal, and some senior cabinet ministers are reported to have discussed the issue and how to go ahead with it.

"The Prime Minister asked me to put my signature but I told him it will not be required to reach the deal. He has hence told the Foreign Secretary to `go ahead` and assured to
endorse the deal through the cabinet," she said.

Officials said the deal is likely to be finalised today with the French company.

After cancelling contract with the Indian printer to supply 4 million smart passports at the cost of USD 4 per passport, Nepal government had called fresh tender for the
smart passport.

Oberthur was selected with lowest bidding of USD 4.59 from among the four competitors for the MRP supply. The Indian company did not participate in the bidding
process as a new qualifying provision in the tender document required the bidding firm to have supplied smart passports to two countries.

Nepal will have to meet the fresh deadline of January 1, 2011 to introduce MRPs.

The delay in supplying the smart passports has caused inconvenience to many, mostly foreign job seekers who have been queuing up outside the Foreign Ministry.