The government of Liberia is looking to enter into a BOOT model contract for e-visas, with less than 4 months left until a new government comes in. I examine the technical requirements, by the government, which are farcical, later in this piece. But first, some housekeeping.
What is the BOOT model?
"BOOT (build, own, operate, transfer) is a public-private partnership (PPP) project model in which a private organization conducts a large development project under contract to a public-sector partner, such as a government agency. A BOOT project is often seen as a way to develop a large public infrastructure project with private funding…Such contracts are typically long-term and may extend to 40 or more years."
The BOOT model is entirely unnecessary and does not apply to this type of contract (which would cost under $2M USD). There is no need for any party to BUILD the technology infrastructure (storage, database, transport, ecommerce) can all be purchased using the “SAAS” or Software As A Service model. Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services are two vendors offer these types of infrastructure services.
The issue here is the services being requested, cannot, in any way, be considered “a large public infrastructure project.” The requirements in the Request for Proposal, are vague, specious, devoid of any over-arching technology philosophy. Reading the RFP, it is obvious it was SPECIFICALLY WRITTEN by a specific “vendor” with a “specific vendor” in mind.
This contract will essentially ensure, for the next 10, 20, 30 years that some group, family, cartel will get a percentage of each and every Liberian visa issued.
Imagine this: if there are 50,000 visas issued annually and the “cartel” gets $50 per visa, the “cartel” collects $2.5M annually. Extend that over a 10 – 30 year period, the amount balloons to $25M - $75M.
Why do people believe they must “soak” the Liberian people in perpetuity?
FYI, the Maritime contract with LISCR was a BOOT contract. The GoL did not spend the money to build the data infrastructure, as a result, the infrastructure is owned by LISCR and the price for turning over that infrastructure is so exorbitant, it is unaffordable.
So the question is why would the Unity Party government be in such haste, to commit to a long term contract, for a project that will not be implemented BEFORE 2018, tying the hands of the next government? This is a question I would actually like BOTH the President, and the Vice President to answer.
Sadly this is not the only such “contract” being entered into.
The National Identification Registry is embarking on a $6M USD, biometric ID card project in October (the election month). Their plans call for them to build two (2) datacenters, even though there is an unutilized data center at LIBTELCO. According to the NIR, they will register 50 persons a day. At this rate, it will take 252 years, to provide IDs to 4.7 million people. They are obviously in it for the long haul. Haul being the operative word.
The NIR has contracted with a Kenyan company to provide the service. The software and technology is not developed by the Kenyan company. They are simply the vendor who will implement the service.
Then there is the NEC, which has reportedly hired a Ghanaian company, to do/manage database work for them.
How is it that the most important, private data, data with national security and privacy implications is being given to foreign companies, as if there are no Liberians, anywhere in the world, with the capability.
Government agents standard arguments is people “have to be on the ground.” Since when did Kenya, and Ghana become “on the ground” in Liberia? Is it simply that they are planning for their lives outside Liberia? The people of Liberia will continue to suffer, while past leaders make money off them for the next 30 years.
What is obvious, in these contracts, is there seems to be a concerted effort, to direct all of the GoL information technology contracts AWAY from Liberians and Liberian companies. This hinders the development of the sector in LiberIa. How many Liberian companies are there working for the Ghanian Election Commission or the Kenyan Biometric Registry?
The VP/UP Problem
The problem for the Vice President, is he cannot run to continue the Unity Party governance, while at the same time, claim he has been oblivious to these types of shenanigans.
Analysis of the E-Visa Request for Proposal
The term service provider is actually the “integrator,” and speaks to a lack of understanding of the types of vendors that do this kind of work.
1) The Service Provider must have been in the Software Engineering business for at least 10 years.
This is a lark, because these e-visa packages are not “developed/engineered” by the service provider. The developer of the software, and the software itself should meet those standards, not the “service provider.” This is like demanding the Toyota dealership have 10 years in the car manufacturing business.
2) The Service Provider must be accredited in the key software technologies used in the development of the Web Based Online Visa Application CMM Level 5 Certification is preferred.
Again, this continues to conflate the actual developer of the software with the “service provider.”
3) The Service Provider shall demonstrate experience in the development of large and comparable software systems in the government sector. Experience working with the Liberian government will be an added advantage.
These are software packages that are purchased. If the government of Liberia were actually serious and committed to the development of the ecosystem for these types of services, it would not contract with a separate vendor for the National Identification Registry, the Biometric/e-passport, and the e-visa.
This is death by a thousand contracts, where each contract is a vehicle for some person and/or group to CHOP.
The turnover of the company should be more than $10 million. How many Liberian IT companies “turnover” $10M. This should tell the reader, there is no intention to allow Liberian companies to qualify for such a bid.
The government is determined to solicit multiple solutions for several requirements that can be addressed by a single integrated platform. This is yet another example of spending large amounts on a solution that can be purchased at a fraction of the cost.
What is even more painful, is the determination of this government, to develop a vibrant internal software services sector, which would further create learning opportunities for Liberian youth.
It is my hope that the next government will do an audit of ALL the technology projects, including those sponsored by aid dollars, and where there is malfeasance in contracting, it will go after, those “former officials” with malice, no matter where in the world they try to hide.