The legal tussle over the government’s planned procurement of e-passport from De La Rue Lanka Currency and Security Print Ltd takes new turn with the Supreme Court’s recent directive to the Attorney General (AG) to look in to the whole deal.
When the fundamental rights case taken up for hearing the Supreme Court has recently directed the AG to look into an attempt to accept an unsolicited proposal for 1.2 billion rupees from this UK owned firm for the supply of e-passports.
In a fundamental rights case filed before the Supreme Court, Epic Lanka Pvt Ltd. challenged the decision of the Cabinet to award a contract worth Rs. 1.2 Billion to De La Rue Lanka Currency and Security PrintLtd, based on an unsolicited proposal submitted for supply of e passports and an end-to-end system to data capture, personalise and issue ePassports.
This decision was taken at the time where the Petitioner was offering the same service at a fraction of the cost. De La Rue is a firm owned by De La Rue, UK with a minority stake owned by Government of Sri Lanka.
Counsel for the Petitioner, Harsha Fernando submitted that although an earlier decision has been taken to use the Swiss Challenge method of procurement, the Cabinet has by a subsequent decision allowed the award of the contract to De La Rue without considering any other proposal, including that of the Petitioner’s for approximately Rs.180 million which amounts to only 15 percent of the cost of the De La Rue’sproposal.
He informed the court that the country stands to lose more than Rs. 1 Billion because procurement guidelines have not been followed.
He further submitted that the justification given in the Cabinet Memo, that Government of Sri Lanka owns 40 percent shares of De La Rue, is not acceptable as the Procurement Guidelines require the Government to own 50 percent shares to consider a Public-Private Partnership arrangement.
He further pointed out that the Cabinet Paper recommends commencement of the work with the Department of Immigration and Immigration based on an alleged MoU existing between the Department, Information Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) and De La Rue. However, requests for information submitted by Epic Lanka CEO under the Right to Information Act to both ICTA and the Immigration Department, has confirmed that there is no such MoU in existence at the time the Cabinet Memo was submitted.
It has been further revealed that even the Government Printing Department has been assured that they too can submit their proposal as the Swiss Challenge method would be used, but deprived of such.
In responding to a request by Senior Deputy Solicitor General VirajDayaratna, appearing for the Attorney General, to re-fix the case in May so that AG can obtain instructions, Counsel Fernando expressed concern that re-fixing the matter would delay the Court from considering what appears to be an instance of a gross violation of procurement guidelines at huge financial costs.