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November 15, 2017

Pak HC awarded visa service to company with no experience


November 15, 2017

LONDON: Pakistan High Commission has awarded the visa facilitation service contract from Britain to Pakistan to a firm with no relevant experience.

Three companies were shortlisted for the financial bid, TCS Express worldwide, Gerry’s Offshore and Sentinel Group Securities. The bid was won by Sentinel Group Securities being the lowest bidder from the three.

The new company Sentinel Group, which has won the contract, has experience in providing security services, as shown on its website, but has no previous experience in visa handling or providing visa customer services.

The other two contenders, Gerrys and TCS, have been providing visa services to clients in Pakistan over decades. Whereas Gerry’s is also the current service provider for the Pakistan High Commission in the UK for the last five years.

Sentinel Group Securities doesn’t meet the two key requirements that were essential for any company to qualify in order to contest in this bidding. The tender prerequisites published by PPRA on their website were “the company must have adequate relevant experience or be able to demonstrate the capability to provide the requisite services” and “must possess necessary experience and capacity to handle a large number of visa applications”.

In a statement, Pakistan High Commission said: “The Visa Facilitation Services Selection Committee of the High Commission opened the financial bids from the shortlisted companies for Visa Facilitation Services at the Chancery premises. In order to ensure transparency, all the bidders brought along their sealed bids which were opened at 04:30 pm in their presence at the High Commission. The bidding process is now complete and following all legal and codal formalities, the contract will be signed by the High Commission with the lowest bidder.”

But Pakistan High Commission spokesman refused to comment on what were the merits followed to ensure only companies, capable of conducting such services, were shortlisted; whether the HC demanded for a performance assurance by the new companies contending in the tender, and, if so, what were the assurances?

The spokesman answered some of the questions and said that the shortlisting of three companies was in accordance with the government rules, the contestants were shortlisted after a prequalification process that was carried out for all firms that had submitted their expression of interest. All shortlisted companies will have to follow the existing set guidelines for ensuring maximum convenience for the visa applicants, he said.

The spokesman said that all companies have met the prequalification criteria for short listing but didn’t explain how a security company was suitable to provide visa services. The spokesman said: “The winning company will have to comply with the legal requirements contained in the contractual agreement therein. Maximum relief and facilitation will be ensured for the community.”

A source in Pakistan High Commission said that the Sentinel Group had received the security clearance from all Pakistani institutions but had no presence in Pakistan. Previously it was mandatory for any firm taking part in the bidding process to have presence in Pakistan.

Previously, when inquired through the High Commission that some of the contenders in this bid had no prior experience in visa facilitation and how the HC had determined that such a company could perform and deliver in a new environment, the spokesman said they will provide answers later.

A source in the HC said that it was made essential for all companies previously, taking part in the bidding, to have interests/ offices in Pakistan for better security and accountability; however, this fundamental requirement has also been bypassed this time. He said that having presence in Pakistan is particularly important to hold companies accountable in case of breach in sensitive information or in case of failure to deliver, but having no presence in Pakistan means no accountability.

The UK solicitor for Sentinel Group has informed that Sentinel has amassed wide experience of conducting due diligence and providing data processing and security in the tightly regulated legal environment of EU data protection law.

The representative added: “In addition, Sentinel Group has already delivered services to clients requiring pre-employment screening and vetting of individuals in accordance with the UK Security Industry Authority standards BS7858 which applies where the safety and security of persons or property is in issue. In order to reach the final stages of the High Commission’s tender it was necessary for Sentinel Group to satisfy the Commission’s pre-qualification requirements. The company remains confident that it can provide assured, security aware, delivery of visa services between UK and Pakistan at good value to the Pakistani taxpayer.”

The representative also commented that Sentinel Group believes that the tender process was open, fair and transparent.”

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