Nepal reopens tainted passport deal

Nepal`s earlier contract awarded to an Indian company had to be scrapped.

Kathmandu: Nepal on Monday reopened a deal to buy new passports after an earlier contract awarded to an Indian company had to be scrapped due to protests by lawmakers.

The Foreign Ministry on Monday invited bids from international security printing companies to print about four million modern Nepali passports that will be machine-readable instead of the earlier handwritten ones.

The 32-page documents with holographs to prevent forgery will cost an estimated USD 6-7 per copy.

The tender bid has made several changes. It has put no bars on firms from neighbouring countries from bidding, which will enable both China and India to compete.

In the past, both had shown interest in the project, India especially so, saying it was for its own security concerns, arising due to the open border between the two countries.

Another major change is bringing down qualification criteria.

In the past, the bidding company had to have the experience of having printed passports for four countries and needed a transaction volume of USD 18 million. Now it needs to have worked only in two countries and has to show a turnout of USD 13 million.

Within 45 days, when the bid period expires, it will be clear if India`s state-owned Security Printing and Minting Corporation or any other Indian company will show an interest.

Earlier this year, Nepal`s coalition government halted a tender bid process started in 2004 to award the contract to the Indian company, overlooking the foreign companies that had already been shortlisted.

Though Nepal`s members of parliament objected, saying it contravened Nepal`s procurement laws, the government still tried to push the deal through due to pressure by Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala, who is also the deputy prime minister.

After critics went to court to stop the deal and the opposition Maoist party began vigorous protests, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal was forced to cancel the contract to the Indian company, causing New Delhi to be displeased.