ISLAMABAD, May 21: The director general of immigration and passports (DGIP) on Tuesday alleged that former interior minister Rehman Malik caused an artificial delay in preparation of passports in a bid to award the contract for the supply of laminate patches to a private firm.
Zulfiqar Ahmed Cheema, the DGIP, during the hearing of a petition filed by a French company, contended before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that during an inquiry he had learnt that the former interior minister was ready to award the multi-billion rupees contract for the supply of laminate patches to a firm “Hologram”.
He told Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui that a deputy project director of the machine readable passport project had also confirmed that the former minister summoned him to his house in connection with the award of the contract to “Hologram”.
According to him, because of the pressure of the media and resistance from some senior officials of the interior ministry, the minister could not award the contract to his desired company.
But this delayed the award of contract for months which resulted in the huge backlog of passports.
The allegation raised by DGIP, however, was denied by the counsel for M/S Hologram who was also present in the court.
It may be mentioned that a probe into the matter of passport backlog conducted by senior officials of the ministry of interior and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on March 14 revealed that the authorities in the interior ministry and the passport office were responsible for the deliberate delay in floating tenders for the procurement of laminate patches.
The report, however, did not hold any official responsible for the delay.
Mr Cheema said prior to April 9 when he assumed the charge, there was a backlog of about 700,000 passports and the tout mafia in connivance with the corrupt officials in the passport office was charging a bribe of Rs10,000-Rs15,000 for preparation of a passport within a routine timeframe and Rs20,000-Rs25,000 on an urgent basis.
“I started a crackdown against the tout mafia and corrupt officers of my directorate and sent a number of them behind bars.”
He added, “In April, the passport office was issuing less than 1,000 passports but now its capacity has been enhanced and we are issuing about 20,000 passports daily and gradually increasing the number.”
Mr Cheema also disclosed that the interior ministry under the political influence had issued hundreds of blue (official) passports to non-entitled persons.
“The voters and supporters of the political party, even workshop mechanics, were blessed with the blue passport. The authorities devalued the passport to the extent that foreign embassies refused to issue visas on the official passport,” he pointed out.
He demanded that a through inquiry should be initiated against those who brought disrespect to the blue passport as well as to unearth the passport backlog scam.
Mr Cheema claimed that the contract for the supply of laminate patches was awarded to a US firm in a transparent manner. He said the US firm, Op Sec, fulfilled all the requirements, including the security features of the passport lamination.
On the other hand, the French company, who was denied the contract, through its counsel Salman Akram Raja informed the court that the passport directorate had compromised on the security features of the laminate patches by awarding the contract to the US firm.
He alleged that Op Sec was supplying substandard lamination paper to the passport office which lacked security features.
Deputy Attorney General Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, representing the ministry of interior, maintained that the laminate patches being supplied by the US firm contained necessary security features.
He said a committee headed by secretary interior Javed Iqbal had examined the security features of the lamination paper. He claimed that the contract was awarded to Op Sec after it completed all the prerequisites.
The DAG suggested that before deciding the matter the court might summon the US firm for hearing its point of view.Justice Siddiqui issued notice to the management of Op Sec and adjourned the matter till Tuesday next.