Nipped in the bid

  • Security needs to be considered while awarding contracts to foreign companies

Jan 2, 2019-

Security experts have recently expressed concern over the government’s decision to task Huawei Technologies Co, a Shenzhen-based Chinese firm, with building an ‘action room’ at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). According to the PMO, the room, which will cost around Rs54.2 million to construct, will include modern technological systems to monitor, store and review information related to various ministerial teams, including the Foreign Ministry. The bid was awarded to Huawei after the government suspended a competitive bidding process, violating public procurement guidelines. 

Awarding the contract to a company that originated in a country with direct security and strategic interests in Nepal is a risky move. If the government was really serious about maintaining national security through its ‘action room’, it would’ve thought twice before it jumped to collaborate with a foreign company that is currently embroiled in global security concerns. 

Since December 2018, a slew of governments—from the US, Japan, Australia, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, among others—have banned Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese company, from building fifth-generation (5G) networks for their governments due to concerns over their possible links to the Chinese government. Aside from the fact that Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, was once an engineer in China’s People’s Liberation Army, the company claims it has no other links to the government and has vehemently denied any allegations of espionage. Regardless of whether or not the bans against Huawei are justified, the fact that the government did not conduct a transparent debate over the company’s controversial history and simply suspended the competitive bidding process is concerning. 

Rather than letting cost-effectiveness guide procurement decisions, it is important to ensure that bidders are thoroughly researched, scrutinised and deliberated upon. Project proposals should not be taken at face-value. After every proposal, a well-equipped team of fact-finders should prepare their own evaluation of bids by engaging in a thorough investigation of the bidders’ backgrounds. 

During the bidding process, assessing whether or not domestic companies are capable of the work, and weighing the risks and benefits of granting a foreign entity access to any sensitive data must also be done. For projects related to sensitive national data, local tenders should be prioritised. Shortly before the decision to pick Huawei was made, the PMO suspended a tender submitted by the Kathmandu-based National Information Technology Centre, even though experts say the national organisation was more than capable of building and operating the bid. In response to the series of events, a senior official at the PMO told the Post, ‘We don’t know why a public tender was called, why it was suspended later, and why the contract was awarded after.’

The government may decide to remain unfazed by the growing concerns over Huawei—especially as experts have yet to produce concrete evidence of the company’s involvement in espionage. But a thorough deliberation—with all concerned parties—should have been conducted before the decision was finalised. Reasoning for the suspension of local tenders should also have been provided. Closed-door conversations and unexplained actions will do little to reinstate weakening public trust. And blind acceptance of foreign companies without looking into their backgrounds will only widen the space for foreign interference in the country. 

Published: 02-01-2019 07:37

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