Cozened contract, personal data compromised: Corruption in the PM Office

KATHMANDU, Nov 13: A recent revelation regarding Prime Minister K.P.Sharma Oli’s information technology expert (IT) Asghar Ali’s unauthorized interference in the construction of software for Nepal’s only Tribhuvan International airport has come to light.

The interference comes at a time when the airport is seeking to upgrade its immigration information system, and the contract has gone to Ali’s brother.

The new biometrics information system that is to be upgraded at the international airport includes developing new software and the contract was received by F1SOFT International Pvt.Ltd is owned by Ali.

There is enough evidence to show that Ali had gone out of his way misusing his position to provide the contract to his company violating the Public Purchase act and its subsequent rules. The company employees are now working to develop the software which has not been made yet.

PM Oli’s chief political advisor Bishnu Rimal was instrumental in awarding the contract to Ali’s company. The latter has also served as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of E-services (e-sewa), and 6 others are working to upgrade the immigration information system to include biometrics in the new software.

The company has missed an important deadline and has not been able to produce the software yet, but no action seems to have been taken due to pressure from the PMO’s IT adviser Ali.

The Department of Immigration had laid a stake into the contract through its resources. It had two engineers which included Suraj Prakash Aryal who was transferred.

The Director-General (D-G) of the Department of Immigration Ishwar Raj Poudel had also made this clear through a press conference regarding the contract and work of upgrading the information system at the only international airport.

D-G Poudel back on 9th January 2019 had organized a press conference and said that he would be using internal resources including the engineers available to make the software required for the airport. But the immigration department through IT sourcing misused legal provisions to outsource the contract to another company.

It has been revealed that this has been done illegally and that nothing was under legal parameters while outsourcing the contract to another private company owned by PM Oli’s chief IT adviser Asghar Ali.

The outsourced contract that went to Ali’s company further was given to family members, his younger brother working for e-sewa Akhtar Ali, another member of the family Aslam Ali and his owned company employees Niraj Shrestha, Yuvraj Shrestha, and Kamal Kafle who received Nepalese rupees (NRs) 500,000 each. This information was provided by an internal high-level source from the immigration department.

The source has also revealed that according to the meeting held between D-G Poudel and the department’s incumbent deputy secretary Bishnu Hari Upadhay acted on vested interests under the direction of Ali.

The entire contract of the software was then taken by the team, not only that but it is also said that data was collected and kept through Extenso Data Company and the prime motive is also to store data and information.

The engineers brought for actually making the software Suraj Prakash Aryal and Pramod Sharma is been given work outside their purview. This was all done on the recommendations of Ali, the entire work was given outside the department to his private company.

While existing resources and manpower were available for the necessary upgrade and modification for the software it is seen that due to undue pressure and lopsided interest the work has been outsourced to said private companies.

Currently, the information system includes an online visa, keeping records of the machine-readable passport, signature passport data capture, trekking passes, hotels, and other data’s that can be stored. It does not include biometrics and the new technology available to gather data.

This upgrade required new software to make e-visas, including retina capture and biometrics was a necessity at the international airport. Given the fact that resources were available yet, it clearly shows collusiveness in the part of the PMO’s tech adviser to take the contract for himself and the members of his family.

(Nepali Study team in Indonesia)

The immigration department had also gone for a study in Indonesia under D-G Poudel regarding the upgrade along with a team of eight others. The team also included Ali’s name but he refused to participate toward the end and canceled his trip.

IT adviser Ali is seen to be misusing his position and abusing power. He is also seen to illegally take data from the immigration department, which is an undue advantage of his position.

According to the sources at the immigration department, Ali had time and again pressurized the department to release the data of migrants and various other data within the airport that is stored for national security. The officials were forced to release data of all the travelers coming in and out of Nepal as said by the sources.