Stabroek News

Bring this contract home

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As if there was some monumental exigency, the government on March 10th hurriedly signed virtually a US$34m contract with a German company for the rollout of an electronic citizenshi­p card which is intended to contain a wide range of personal informatio­n including a tax ID number, blood type etc.

While modern governance is increasing­ly transacted using a single ID format there are of course numerous attendant issues that have to be addressed first such as one’s right out to opt out of such a system, the right to privacy and security of data. These all require robust legislatio­n and amendments to a clutch of laws and possibly the constituti­on. Data security requires custom-made infrastruc­ture and layers of security and training to circumvent cyber breaches.

However, we are not even there as yet. We have fallen at the very first hurdle. The deal concluded with the German firm Veridos, apparently through the auspices of the government of the United Arab Emirates, is a flagrant breach of the country’s procuremen­t law and one would would hope to see shortly from the Attorney General the government’s principal legal adviser - an ironclad defence of what has transpired.

Convention would dictate that if Guyana were interested in an electronic ID system that would allow entry to the country and a range of other hassle-free interventi­ons that it would issue invitation­s for bids and these would then be tendered to the National Procuremen­t and Tender Administra­tion (NPTAB) for an evaluation committee to make the final determinat­ion. This was not the case. The government it seems did its own procuring by apparently seeking a waiver from the NPTAB on security grounds.

This excuse provided by the government has been rightly rubbished by the former Auditor General of Guyana, Anand Goolsarran. He noted that while sole-sourcing is catered for under national emergencie­s and national security, the awarding of the contract facilitate­d by the UAE’s Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al Maktoum and for electronic cards does not qualify.

Mr Goolsarran pointed out that while the solesourci­ng section of the Act was used, the justificat­ion is flawed because the project cannot be classified as being one of national security.

“Section 3(2) of the Procuremen­t Act states that the Act does not apply to procuremen­t involving national defence or national security. Additional­ly, by Section 28 (e), where the procuring entity determines that Section 3(2) is applicable as a result of national security concerns, then it may consider the single-source method as the most appropriat­e method of procuremen­t. Singlesour­ce procuremen­t occurs mainly in relation to the following: a) where the goods or constructi­on

are available only from a particular supplier or contractor, or a particular supplier or contractor has exclusive rights with respect to the goods or constructi­on, and no reasonable alternativ­e or substitute exists; b) the services, by reason of their highly complex or specialize­d nature, are available from only one source; and c) owing to a catastroph­ic event, there is an urgent need for the goods, services or constructi­on, making it impractica­l to use other methods of procuremen­t because of the time involved in using those methods.”

“The Act does not define ‘national security’ and therefore we have to apply the ordinary meaning of the words. National security is defined as ‘the safety of a nation against threats such as terrorism, war, or espionage’. It is concerned about foreign relations and protection from internal subversion, foreign aggression to terrorism. It can hardly be argued that the production of electronic ID cards is a matter of national security,” he added.

Aside from its transgress­ion of the law, the manner of the conclusion of the agreement was not transparen­t. To date no one knows how this deal is being financed. No one knows exactly whether the UAE has any fiduciary interest in this matter and to what extent. The loose manner in which the agreement was contracted is also appalling.

President Ali’s defence of the contract was unconvinci­ng. He told the virtual signing: “Given the Government of Guyana’s commitment to promote e-governance in order to improve the productivi­ty of businesses and delivery of government services through e-health, e-education, e-security, eagricultu­re, electronic permits, and licence processing, et cetera, there is an immediate need to implement a robust national identity management system, one that focusses on the integratio­n of identifica­tion services across government agencies, security ease of use and acquisitio­n of IDs”.

There is no immediate need except perhaps for the avaricious investors who are descending on this land and demanding, for example, a dedicated desk at the Ministry of Finance. Guyana can take its own time in moving towards an Electronic Identifica­tion Card.

The President also said that from speaking with Sheikh al Maktoum from 2021 to the date of the

signing, a process evolved where this country was invited by the UAE Sheikh to view a demonstrat­ion from two companies. After evaluating both presentati­ons, it was determined that the Veridos system was best suited for Guyana.

“This process took some amount of time. The Government of Guyana sought the assistance of the UAE in October of 2021. On an invitation of His Highness Sheik Amah al Maktoum, two internatio­nally recognized industry leaders [a Swiss company] and Veridos presented their national ID system solutions. These solutions were evaluated by a technical team comprising members of the National Data Management Authority and the office of the National ICT Advisor. The evaluation criteria factored technology use, other government clients, as well as biometric security subsystems and Veridos was the company in the estimation of the evaluators that presented the best solutions for Guyana.”

This is certainly not convincing or in consonance with the Procuremen­t Act. Thankfully, the government is not the final arbiter in this matter - the Public Procuremen­t Commission (PPC) is. The PPC has taken an inordinate amount of time to get itself together. One hopes that it will immediatel­y take this “procuremen­t” on board and rule on it. One also expects that the opposition will be asking questions in Parliament on this deal and using every means available to ensure there is full transparen­cy.

As of this moment, this contract should be cancelled for egregious breach of the

Public Procuremen­t Act. Following public discussion­s and at the level of Parliament and upon the passage of the requisite legislatio­n, an invitation for bids should be issued and the matter taken from there.

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