ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Tuesday turned down a petition of a French firm moved against awarding of a contract to a US firm for provision of lamination paper to the department of Immigration and Passports for making machine-readable passports.

Justice Noor-ul-Haq N Qureshi rejected the petition of French firm M/S Reliance International that was earlier heard by IHC judge, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui.

In the last month, Justice Siddiqui had reserved the judgement on the matter after hearing arguments of the petitioner, respondents including the American firm M/S Security Laminates Opsec and the Directorate General of Immigration and Passports (DGIP) while a representative of US firm Security Laminates Opsec had also briefed the judge in his chamber about the security features of lamination paper being imported in Pakistan.

However, the petitioner firm approached the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) before the announcement of the verdict through its counsel Salman Akram Raja and had requested the court to transfer the said case to any other bench. Later, the case was transferred to Justice Qureshi who re-heard the entire matter. In the judgement, Justice Qureshi expressed his displeasure over the behavior of the petitioner firm as they insisted for the change of bench instead of waiting for the verdict.

The court observed that the authorities concerned were empowered either to accept or reject the offers of interested parties under the terms and condition of the tender. The judge also observed that the delay in the disposal of the case might add miseries to the citizens because it is directly related to the production of hundreds and thousands of passports.

It is pertinent to mention here that petition was moved in April 2013 while there was a backlog of over 700,000 passports because of shortage of laminate patches. After initial hearing, Justice Siddiqui had issued a stay order and restrained the DGIP authorities from awarding the contract to any other firm. Later, the court had vacated the stay order after the DGIP Zulfiqar Ahmed Cheema assured the court of transparency in the awarding of tender.

In this petition, the management of Reliance Company had moved the court against awarding a contract to a US firm for provision of lamination paper to the Department of Immigration and Passports for making machine-readable passports. The company had challenged awarding the contract to the US company, Security Laminates Opsec. The counsel for the company contended that the contract was awarded in violation of Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules.

Chief Executive Officer Reliance Company, Sameer Baig, through his counsel maintained in the petition that his company got the highest points for quality when its lamination paper was sent to a laboratory after the immigration department and the interior ministry sought bids for paper for passports through an advertisement. But later, the contract was awarded to the US company without informing his client.

The petitioner company alleged before the court that the authorities in the interior ministry and DGIP wanted to award billions of rupees contract for the supply of laminates to their existing supplier a US based firm M/s Opsec.

According to the petition, the DGIP on February 19, 2013 invited requests for proposals (RFP) from the pre-qualified firms including the petitioner company.

The petition claimed that during the process of pre-qualification, the petitioner company secured 940 marks out of total 1000 marks and was placed at the top but the respondents wanted to knockout them on some technical grounds.

Muddassar Naqvi, counsel of DGIP, on the other hand told the court that the French firm instead of availing remedy provided in the terms and condition of the tender filed the petition in the IHC against the rejection of their offer.

He claimed that the DGIP authorities after thoroughly examining the credentials of all the interested firms had awarded the contract to M/S Opsec purely on merit. According to him, M/S Opsec was the lowest bidder and was already working with the DGIP since 2004.

Maqbool Elahi Malik, counsel of M/s Opsec, informed the court that the company is supplying quality laminate patches to the DGIP. He said that after fulfilling all the legal requirements and formalities the government has awarded the contract for the supply of the laminates to the firm.

Giving his arguments, Advocate Salman Akram Raja had contended that security features of lamination paper of his company are better than that of the American firm. However, the US firm Security Laminates Opsec’s counsel Advocate Maqbool Elahi negated this claim of French firm. During the hearing on May 21, Director General (DG) Immigration and Passport Zulfiqar Cheema had appeared before the court and informed about the irregularities committed by former Interior Minister Rehman Malik in the department.