Industry insiders said the national security had long been exposed to risk with the current Malaysian Immigration System (MyIMMs) incapable of tracing international criminals or fugitives entering and leaving the country.

KUALA LUMPUR: A fresh debate has emerged on whether a review of the cancelled RM3.5 billion Sistem Kawalan Imigresen Nasional (SKIN) project will be a smart move or whether it is better to go ahead with a new immigration and border control system.

Industry insiders said the national security had long been exposed to risk with the current Malaysian Immigration System (MyIMMs) incapable of tracing international criminals or fugitives entering and leaving the country.

They added that it had also been manipulated for fraudulent approval of foreign labour quotas many times.

Late last year, the government announced the SKIN termination would take effect on January 19 and that it would pay a compensation to Prestariang Bhd due to the project cancellation.

The Home Affairs Ministry had then issued a request for proposal (RFP) last May for the Integrated Immigration System (IIS) to replace SKIN.

The due date to submit the RFP for this system is August 19.

The sources close to the government said the development of the new system might take a few more years to complete, leaving Malaysia exposed to security threat.

The sources wanted to remain anonymous due to sensitivity of the matter.

“The SKIN project took three years to complete. Would it make an economic sense to cancel it? Now that a new system will be developed, is there any certainty of when the project will be completed?” asked one of them.

“If the government intends to start from scratch all over again, we could be looking at a further four years before a new system is finally up and running,” the source added.

The source said even though the RFP would be called in August, the process of submissions, reviews, considerations, amendments, technical approvals, etc could take another 12 months.

This will be followed by technological approvals by various bodies and agencies as well as requests for changes, testing and commissioning, among others, and this could take 12-18 months.

“So we are looking at another 24-30 months before a new system even starts to take shape. And that is an optimistic timeframe,” the source said.

The sources said considering that SKIN was already in the final stages with the first phase scheduled for implementation in April 2020 or a mere eight months away, it seemsed ill thought out that the project was cancelled without any consideration for Prestariang to present an alternate and cheaper proposal.

They pointed out that in other cancelled projects, companies were allowed the room to present revised proposals at lower costs, including the LRT3 line and the Klang Valley Double Track projects.

Based on the original SKIN contract, the system would have been fully operational by June 2020, or in less than 12 months.

Prestariang had spent a total of RM250 million to develop the system and had already received all the necessary approvals from various technical committees.

SKIN’s coverage would also have been extensive covering 274 international and local sites (248 in Malaysia and 26 overseas).

The first 11 sites would have been up and running by April 2020 while the Data Centre and Data Recovery hosting all the SKIN modules would have been up and running in January 2020.

The sources said the government would also have reaped the benefit of increased savings from the implementation of SKIN as it would have consolidated all of the Immigration Department’s services such as Biometrics, Mbikes as well as the maintenance cost of MyIMMS.

Apart from savings, SKIN had the potential of bringing in increased revenue for the government based on the consolidation of various services under it – services that had previously been outsourced to private vendors including IMACS, VLN, e-Visa and FWCMS.

It is estimated that savings and increased revenue could total as much as RM2 billion, the sources said.

The government is also likely to have to pay out compensation of around RM730 million to Prestariang.

As of last month, Prestariang was moving ahead with its legal case to seek RM732.6 million as compensation for the cancellation of SKIN.

The entire cost of SKIN would have been RM3.5 billion awarded on a public-private partnership model whereby the government would not have been required to make any payments to Prestariang until July 2021, and even then, all payments would be subject to punitive deductions based on non-compliance with monthly key performance inidcators.

“While the Home Minister has said IIS would see the government saving RM1 billion as it would be developed at a lower cost, these savings could be easily wiped given the time required to develop an entirely new system, not to mention the maintenance and technology refresh costs for MyIMMS,” the source said.

“Given that the government is on a debt reducing exercise, it would make sense to at the very least, review SKIN,” the source added.

The government has reviewed other initially cancelled projects based on public need. SKIN is not only of economic and financial concern for the government, but also impacts on the security of the country given the failing nature of MyIMMS.

Security sources, meanwhile, said MyIMMS was beyond repair and was tearing at the seams.

“MyIMMS was based on a 1996 structure, which means it is already more than 20 years old. It is not a centralissed system but consists of different components and data bases operated by different vendors, hence the inability to integrate with other agencies.

“What this means is that the Home Ministry essentially has no way of conducting threat assessments. This has been proven time and again when various unsavoury individuals have been found to have gained legal entry to Malaysia despite being red flagged by security agencies.”

A government source spoke of his surprise when SKIN was initially cancelled as a paper prepared by MAMPU had actually recommended for its continuation.

“MAMPU had recommended that Cabinet continue with SKIN because even though it entails higher development costs, it would have the benefit of providing savings in maintenance costs plus it is free from government financial risk.”

It is also understood that the government would have easily made savings on the development costs as Prestariang was willing to renegotiate the price and lower it by as much as RM500 million.

Meanwhile, Datasonic Bhd, which is among the companies interested in the new contract, said the new system will be more comprehensive than SKIN and rely on local technologies, which are vital to protecting national cybersecurity.

“It is better to use local expertise and technologies as it involves security risks. It will also make the system efficient, especially on the maintenance part,” said deputy managing director Chew Ben Ben.

“The new IIS is more comprehensive as many more modules will be put in. It is also cheaper for the government to develop the system. It is on pay on delivery and not on 15-year concession basis which would require the government to pay RM490 million every year,” he added.

The firm expressed confidence of having a bigger chance to secure the contract.

“We have relevant expertise and track record in some of the core modules (of the IIS project). There are four core modules –one of them is visa and pass permit system which is very a complicated system as it involves ridiculous number of data. We are well versed in this,” Chew said.

“The second one is the passport system and the third is the border control. The current autogate system, some of which feature facial recognition, at various checkpoints are maintained by us,” he added.