By Duncan Mlanjira
Following the debacle that Techno Brain has landed itself that has seen the Kenyan firm been debarred by the World Bank in connection with collusive and fraudulent practices in Liberia, some Malawian ICT service providers allege that the process to do with Malawi government’s Immigration Department’s e-passport project that started in 2018 and also had Techno in the midst of it — was not fairly and professionally conducted.
Even though the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) instituted investigations way back in 2018 on Techno Brain’s alleged suspicious business activities to do with the e-passport project, Information & Communication Technology Association of Malawi (ICTAM) says it never received any tip off or formal complaint from any of its members or any whistleblower.
But going forward, ICTAM says it now has a strong collaboration than ever with the government and is already in contact on a number of ICT projects to ensure that Malawian firms are equally participating and ensuring that delivery of such projects are of standards.
Some ICT industry players told Maravi Express in confidence that when the Immigration Department awarded the e-passport project contract to the Kenyan firm in 2018, they tipped the ACB that the contract was not fairly and professionally awarded.
And following the industry players’ continued concerns, which the media picked up, the ACB instructed Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority to put the e-passport project on hold pending further investigations.
But despite the ACB’s investigation intervention, the Immigration Department still went ahead to announce in 2019 that it was digitalising passport processes through e-payment and application services to be done by the foreign company, Techno Brain.
Two weeks ago, the whistleblowers were vindicated when the World Bank Group banned this IT-services company and its parent company, United Arab Emirates-based Techno Brain Global FZ-LLC for 28 months in connection with collusive and fraudulent practices as part of the ‘integrated public financial management reform project’ in Liberia.
According to the facts of the case, Techno Brain Kenya and Techno Brain UAE engaged in an arrangement to obtain and edit confidential bidding documentation so as to influence the awarding of a contract in their favor in Liberia.
But as the whole e-passport process was underway in Malawi, up to this point, ICTAM president Bram Fudzulani says it never received any tip off or formal complaint of Techno Brain’s suspicious business activities in the case of the e-passport.
He stressed that indeed — as a professional body, just like any other responsible citizen — the regulator is duty bound to report any suspicious activities in the ICT sector, saying their “professional code of conduct forbids our members from engaging in corrupt business practices”.
Asked if there was an open tender in which Malawian ICT companies could have applied when the government wanted to roll out the e-passport service, Fudzulani said all public procurements are subject to the public procurement Act and that, unless otherwise — as ICTAM — it believes the tender was publicly floated for anyone to participate.
“We were not officially involved in the tender process and therefore do not have a manifest of the companies that participated in the tendering process,” he said.
When put it to him that one of the whistleblowers, a top ICT company, had officially expressed its complaints on the unfair practices that involved the e-passport project awarded to Techno Brain by the government, Fudzulani insisted that ICTAM did not receive any complaint during this process.
“ICTAM is a professional body and we operate to promote our code of conduct on our members,” he said. “Usually, when we receive a formal complaint that is when we engage relevant authorities to get to the bottom of the reported activities.
“We normally encourage our organization members to always submit a formal complaint of unfair business activities to enable us engage with relevant bodies on such matters.”
Now that Techno Brain has been banned by the World Bank (of course, to do with the global financial institution’s own business), Fudzulani says ICTAM is “keenly waiting for the official communication from the government in light of this ban advising all departments on the same”.
“On the e-passport issue, we are equally hoping the ACB will look into the matter on how this whole tender was carried out and if any laws were not followed.”
In the same period that Techno Brain was processing its business with the Immigration Department, the Ministry of Information & Technology involved Techno to conduct a training through the Malawi Digital Empowerment Scholarship Programme (MDESP) — a government funded, job-oriented and industry-program for qualified technology talents.
When asked if this did go through an open tender, Fudzulani disclosed that ICTAM was also not involved on this project and went on to give confidence that going forward, the strong collaboration it has now built with the government will allow ICTAM be consulted and has already been done on a number of ICT projects.
This is to ensure that Malawian firms are equally participating and ensuring that delivery of such projects are of standards.
In issuing the ban on Techno Brain, the World Bank had said in a statement that the Kenyan unit will remain banned from World Bank supported projects for 28 months while its parent company will remain blacklisted for 10 months.
“The debarments make Techno Brain Kenya and Techno Brain UAE ineligible to participate in projects and operations financed by institutions of the World Bank Group,” World Bank said.
“It is part of a settlement agreement under which the companies acknowledge culpability and responsibility for the underlying sanctionable practices and agree to meet specified corporate compliance conditions as a condition for release from debarment.”
According to the World Bank, the Liberia project was designed to improve domestic revenue mobilisation systems and strengthen financial control and accountability in public finances.