Sri Lanka’s E-passport project has come to the limelight once again following the entry of the Government Printing Department to take over the gigantic task of passport printing.
Minister of Mass Media Keheliya Rambukwella has issued a directive to Ministry Secretary Jagath P. Wijeweera to initiate action to commence the provision of facilities to print passports by the Government Printer.
The Ministry has already prepared a cabinet paper and presented to the Cabinet on Wednesday by Minister Rambukwella seeking its approval to procure high volume passport printing machine system at a cost of around Rs.1 billion, relevant official documents revealed.
“Passports and government documents are currently being printed by foreign printing companies and printing them at the Government Press will retain the foreign exchange outflow in the country,” according to the paper, leading to the decision for the government to print passports.
The Business Times reliably learnt that the Department of Immigration has suggested the Government Printer to submit its bid at the upcoming international competitive bidding process for the new ePassport provided that the Government Printer can comply with the minimum standards of a security printer as recommended by international standards.
The Department of Immigration intends to issue the new ePassport in approximately 18 months, so doubts have been raised on whether the Government Printer can meet this tough deadline.
The Government Printer has informed that it can print and supply the requirement of 600,000 passports annually at a cost of Rs.700 million if cabinet grants approval to bring down machinery worth Rs. 1 billion.
However this is the initial step and cost towards the printing of passports, National Identity Cards and driving licenses at the Government Printing Department but it has a long way to go before undertaking this task, a senior official said.
The department has expressed its interest to enter into the e-passport printing arena without even having a fraction of necessary infrastructure, machinery, technical know how and skilled manpower, printing industry heavy weights claimed.
Minister Rambukwella told a progress review meeting of Mass Media ministry affiliates that from 1989, the Government Printer has incurred a loss of over Rs 500 million, and that steps must be taken to make it a profit-making institution.
However several relevant ministries including the Finance Ministry which had reviewed the relevant cabinet paper was of the view that spending a massive sum of Rs.1 billion for printing machines under the present financial crisis would not be feasible for the time being.
The eligible printing company should have the technological and professional background necessary for biometric passport production, including intaglio printing technology, cutting-edge printing to produce passport booklets with security features complying with the standards as recommended in the ICAO DOC 9303 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
It is also a mandatory requirement that a security printer should possess minimally ISO 14298-Governmental Level Certification issued by INTERGRAF in order to print and supply secure travel documents to governments