Zimbabwe: Nikuv Rewarded With New Project

SHADOWY Israeli security company, Nikuv International Projects Ltd, which was accused of manipulating the July 31 general elections in favour of President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party, has been awarded a new tender by the Zimbabwe government to continue producing new passports, it has emerged.

Nikuv, which deals with population registration, births and deaths, marriage and divorce issues, ID cards, passports, immigration and citizenship, agriculture, security matters and elections, landed a new contract after the July 31 general elections.

This is not the first time Nikuv has been working on Zimbabwe's identity documents. It produced the current e-passports, also known as biometric passports, which contain an electronic chip encoded with surname, given name, date and place of birth and gender information. It also includes a digital picture of the bearer's face.

Nikuv had already been producing biometric passports for Zimbabweans, but it recently got a new contract to continue doing the job. This follows its controversial role in the run-up to elections where it was paid at least US$10 million by Registrar-General (RG) Tobaiwa Mudede's office in a blitz of mysterious deposits between February and the day before the July 31 polls.

Sources in the RG's Office told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Nikuv has been rewarded for its role in the disputed elections through a fresh contract for the production of passports.

"Nikuv has totally taken over the production of passports from government printers (Fidelity) who were in charge of the printing of the passport booklet," a source said.

"In the past, their (Nikuv) role was just to input data and digitalise the passport with Fidelity Printers doing the printing. But now Nikuv will expand its role to include the control of the entire e-passport production process.

"It will produce a new digitalised document that will eliminate counterfeit passports and also allow the country to match international e-passport standards. Its role will now include designing procedures, supplying special chemical products and passport issuance workflow. This will include the provision of the passport issuing equipment and passport booklets, including their security features."

Sources said Nikuv's operations will be conducted from new spacious offices at the army headquarters at KG VI in Harare. The new premises are an upgrade from the small one at the same place where they operated from prior to the elections.

During the elections, Nikuv officials found themselves crammed in a room dubbed the "Situation Room" along with some security chiefs from the Joint Operations Command -- which comprises heads of the police, army, prisons and Intelligence services -- to map out election scenarios and the outcome.

"Renovations are currently taking place and Nikuv is now installing high-tech digitalised fingerprint equipment which will replace the traditional ink fingerprint-captured data," another source said. "Go there and see it for yourself."

The Independent yesterday visited the new premises, but failed to gain entry after being told by security personnel that it was out of bounds to the public.

The area was teeming with security details from the state and private firms. Uniformed soldiers could be seen milling around.

Sources also said a number of employees from Makombe Building, where Mudede's offices are, have since relocated to KG VI. Nikuv initially also had a small office at Makombe Building. It also operated from Avondale and Borrowdale.

Contacted for comment on the new Nikuv contract, Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi said his ministry was not responsible for awarding tenders.

"We do not award tenders; all we want is a perfect job to be done. If you want to know why they (Nikuv) got a tender then ask those responsible because awarding of tenders is not our prerogative," Mohadi said.

Nikuv's Zimbabwe representative Ron Asher refused to comment on the current developments.

"I am sorry my friend I have nothing to say, especially to newspapers," Asher said.

However, an official familiar with Nikuv operations said: "Besides these election issues, they got the contract because their system issues an advanced machine-readable passport which is highly secure and tamper-proof. This dramatically improves service to the public and ensures internationally recognised identification."

Mudede's cellphone went unanswered after repeated attempts to talk to him.

In the build-up to the July 31 elections and after, the Independent carried several articles based on information which showed Nikuv, which was accused of rigging elections in Zambia in the 1990s, was deeply involved in the polls. The company handles voter registration, elections and results.Nikuv was formed in 1994 and acts as an integrator of information technology (IT) projects for governmental sectors. It initiated its activities on the African continent in 1994 in Nigeria and has since expanded to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Ghana, Botswana and Angola.

The company has been working with the Home Affairs ministry since 1999, supplying equipment, producing passports and handling electoral issues.

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