Cambodian officials continued yesterday to offer scant details on what may be the biggest deal ever struck in Cambodia, the $700 million agreement announced Monday with the Malaysian national security services contractor Nexbis Sdn Bhd.
The deal, equivalent to 35 percent of the government’s budget for 2010, calls for Nexbis to provide items including identity cards and passports to the government and was signed Monday during a business forum in Phnom Penh that coincided with a visit by Malaysian premier Najib Razak.
Local businessmen described the deal as one of the biggest ever signed in Cambodia.
“That’s a very sizeable sum of course,” said Bretton Sciaroni, chairman of the International Business Club. “By anybody’s calculation, $700 million is a lot for sure.”
The government announced Monday that Nexbis would help the government improve its national security systems in areas such as printing passports, but have given no other details. Officials from Nexbis have also declined to comment on the contents of the deal.
According to copies of the agreements obtained yesterday, the multimillion-dollar deal is between Nexbis and the Ministry of Interior and will span over 15 years. The deal will officially commence in June or July this year.
Nexbis will “supply a turnkey national security system and the ongoing supply of identity cards, passport books and passport visa stickers for the Royal Government of Cambodia,” the document states.
The Nexbis deal made up the vast majority of $1 billion value of deals signed Monday between Malaysian and Cambodian firms in sectors including education, information technology, agriculture, retail and halal foods for consumption by Muslims. In addition to Mr Najib, Monday’s business forum was attended by representatives of 64 Malaysian companies.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak yesterday offered no details on the considerable Nexbis deal.
“I am in darkness. I know nothing,” the ministry’s spokesman said.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong could not provide any further details of the deal yesterday.
The mystery surrounding the deal has resulted in suspicion over how the deal was struck as well as its value for money.
“I doubt that we have that kind of money to spend,” said SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, adding that such a large sum would probably require financing from external sources such as payments made to the government from firms in the oil, gas and mining sectors.
“I got quiet a surprise also when I heard the news,” Mr Chhay said, adding he had suspicions that the deal with the Malaysian firm was etched out behind the scenes prior to the arrival of the Malaysian Prime Minister in Cambodia on Sunday.
“Whatever they do I think they are violating the law. The system of procurement is very week. There should be a bidding process. The parliament itself should be informed before they make that kind of deal,” Mr Chhay said.
Mr Chhay added that local companies would have been able to offer a similar contract at a much cheaper price. He also questioned the government’s priorities.
“Even if we have the expensive systems installed, corruption and under-qualified people will not fix the problem. We have to clean up the mess first,” he said.
Officials working for the government’s national security agencies were also unaware about what the deal with Nexbis would entail.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said he did not know “what was going on.” Pen Piseth, chief of the Ministry of Interior’s foreign police department in charge of visas, said he knew nothing of any plans to improve visa printing systems.
Ke Sovat, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s passport department, also said he was completely unaware of the deal and declined to answer any questions on the technological standards of passport services in Cambodia.
“I do not know about the deal,” said Thong Lim, director of the immigration department at the National Police.