Kathmandu, Aug 31: Phasing out the one-decade-old Machine Readable Passport, the Department of Passports has issued a global tender to introduce electronic passports, also called biometric passports, probably by the end of 2020.
According to the tender document, the winner of the bid has to produce 5 million passports for five years at a competitive price.
Nepal introduced the machine-readable passports in 2010, replacing the decades-old handwritten passport as per the mandatory provision of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Though the Department of Passports has called competitive pricing for each passport copy, it is not known how much a passport would cost in dollars. The firm quoting the lowest price wins the bid.
The department earlier forwarded a proposal to the Ministry of Finance stating that it requires Rs 8 billion ($69 million approx) to print the next generation passport for five years. The e-passport will cost more than the current MRP, said the official. The cost of each copy of MRP is $4.8 (Rs 557), but an e-passport will cost at least $15 (Rs 1,739). The government pays around Rs 500 for each MRP, but charges citizens Rs 5,000, 10,000, 12,000 and 15,000 depending on how fast the document is delivered. The e-passport document will be polycarbonate with laser engraving.
Confirming the move, Director General of the Passports Ram Kaji Khadka told the Post that his office on August 27 issued global tender for the introduction of biometric passport in Nepal, giving interested bidders 45 days to submit the required documents.
Any company that is experienced in printing more than 5 million passports in at least three countries is eligible to compete.
Within days of the tender publication, at least three local agents of some international printing firms have complained at the Department of Passports for preparing the specifications to suit only one or two firms.
“They have not lodged written complaints to us,” said one senior official at the department. “And we have urged them to express their grievances in the pre-bid meeting. A technical team was formed to prepare the specifications representing the Nepal Rastra Bank, Nepal Police, and Nepal Telecom, among other government entities.
Similar complaints and grievances were lodged in 2010 while adopting the MRP, delaying the tender process.
This time, according to Khadka, pages of the passports will be increased and divided into two categories. “We have proposed two types of passport in terms of their pages. One kind of passport will have 32 pages and the other 64 pages. Those acquiring 64 pages have to pay a higher price,” said Khadka.
A huge section of frequent flyers has complained of the limited number of passport papers as it caused them to acquire the document frequently.
“In view of the grievances of frequent flyers and Nepalis working in the Gulf countries who cross international border frequently, we have decided to increase the passport pages,” he said.
The department issues 2,000 to 2,200 passports on an average day. Now the department has a stock of around 800,000 passports, which will last hardly till early 2021.
“If the process goes as per our plan and contract negotiations complete, we’ll be able to introduce the e-passport before the end of 2020,” said Khadka. The department is also planning to shift its office from the Narayanhiti palace to its own building in Tripureshwor, which is under construction.
“We are preparing to shift our office. It also depends on how fast our new building in Tripureshowr will be completed,” said Khadka.