By Favour Nnabugwu
Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) has attributed the dearth International passport booklet to unavailablity of foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to aid production abroad.
The NIS and Irris Smart Technology Ltd were before an ad hoc Committee of the House of Representatives investigating the proposed domestication and processing of Nigerian international passport in Abuja on Tuesday.
Speaking at the public hearing, the Comptroller-General of the service, Mr Idris Jere said the Service does not have access to the forex it generated.
He lamented the absence of a producing factory in Nigeria, saying that the production of the passport booklets was done abroad.
“Foreign exchange regulation policy of the government and CBN’s refusal to grant access to forex for importation of the passport booklet.
“We generate forex from sale of passport but we do not have access to buy the same booklet and that is a challenge for NIS.
“The factors responsible for scarcity of passport include the inability to setup passport producing factory in Nigeria as its production is done abroad.
“The major seven component used for producing passports are sold in international market and the assemblage and production are done in Malaysia.
“This makes the production process solely dependent on forex and the scarcity of forex due to the fall in Naira value is of major concern”.
In their own presentation, the foreign contractors handling the passport production, Irris Smart Technology Ltd while advancing the same reason however accused the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting (NSPM) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) of sabotaging their efforts at getting foreign exchange.
The managing Director of the Company, Yinka Fisher who appeared before the committee said “Today we have a system where we have a central processing centre with a strong inventory control mechanism.
Last year, we delivered a record number of booklets to NIS which was about 1.9 million booklets. This year, for the first four months, we have delivered nearly 800, 000 booklets. We are on course for another record supply this year.
“Immigration gave mint the opportunity to print the first set of booklets. When they were delivered, it was sub standard in 2004. The government discarded them and decided to have an international tender for the production and embedding of chips.
Continuing he said, “Five companies were invited. Three foreign companies, mint and ourselves to submit bids were analyzed, mint company were found to be incompetent and most expensive. The iris bid was found to be technically competent and competitive.
“Since mint lost that initial bid they have been trying to scuttle the project. In the past, we would ask our bankers to bid for forex on our behalf to open LCs for us. CBN and mint decided they would tell our bankers to stop selling forex to us so that we cannot open LC, so we cannot deliver booklets.
,”We would be in breach of our agreement. They instituted that and for a while, we were at a loss because banks did not sell us forex and we could into open LCs. That was what gave rise to the first scarcity of booklets in Nigeria. It was not our inability to deliver but the sabotage by the CBN and the mint.”