Cabinet minister in conflict of interest THIS DAY Home Affairs Minister Lawrence Masha has been caught in a fresh conflict of interest row over the multi-million-dollar national identity cards project. This follows a threat issued by a company the minister formerly represented as a private lawyer, Global ID System Limited (GIDS) of the UK, to sue the government for over $17m (approx. 22bn/-) if it is not awarded the lucrative contract. Masha was the trial lawyer for Global ID System Ltd, previously known as Regional Services Limited (RSL), when the company successfully won a previous suit against the government at the High Court in Dar es Salaam on November 20, 2001. Venturing into politics some years later, Masha in 2005 became member of parliament for Nyamagana Constituency in Mwanza Region, and was subsequently appointed deputy minister for home affairs. In Cabinet changes announced by President Kikwete on February 12 last year, he was promoted to full Minister of Home Affairs. Just a couple of weeks after this (February 25), Global ID System Limited sent written correspondence to now-full minister Masha (formerly their legal counsel) threatening to file a fresh lawsuit if the government continued to pussyfoot on awarding it the much-sought national IDs tender. In the earlier suit filed by Masha himself back in 1998, the defendants named were the secretary of the Central Tender Board, Director of Immigration Services, Attorney-General, and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs. Legal experts now say that given his key involvement in that case, the home affairs minister is now embroiled in a clear case of conflict of interest. With efforts by THISDAY to contact him for comment proving completely futile over the past week or so, it could not be immediately established for sure whether or not Masha stands to gain any personal financial benefit from the UK firms continued courtroom fencing with the government. The letter to minister Masha, signed by GIDS Tanzania country representative Sharif Mohammed Mubago, says in part: ?Briefly stated, the background of the National Identity Cards Project under the Ministry of Home Affairs began in 1995, when the government floated Tender No. 26/1995 for designing, printing and supplying of national identity cards to Tanzanian citizens, refugees and aliens. Regional Services Limited (RSL), a UK firm that had formed a consortium with IBM and SUPERCOM of Israel, was awarded the tender by the government in June 1997, after defeating five other companies in the final race for the contract. Following the award, RSL was on 15th July, 1997 invited by the government of Tanzania (GOT) for negotiations for ID Project Contract. Negotiations continued over numerous meetings leading to a Final Contract being initialed between GOT and Regional Services (Limited) on 8th January, 1998, the letter further states. It continues: However, in June 1998, after one year of negotiations, the government through the Ministry of Home Affairs, wrote to RSL terminating the negotiations citing no reasons for doing so. It is understood that after the government re-floated another tender for the national IDs project (tender no. 22/1998), RSL proceeded to file High Court civil case number 67 of 1998 against the government, with Masha representing the company as legal counsel. Masha eventually won the case on behalf of RSL, the High Court in 2001 ordering the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs to finalize the award process of the original tender or terminate it in accordance with the law. Said GIDS in its February 2008 letter: The company (RSL) had since 1997, on award of the tender, began to incur expenses to prepare necessary documentation, pay for travel, boarding and lodging expenses for consortium experts. The company asserted that since it won the original tender for the project, as well as the subsequent court case, it still has the right to be awarded the contract, stating further: GIDS have neither the intention nor the inclination of going back to court; because in doing so, it means delaying the Identity Card Project further while Tanzanians need for IDs increases by the day, with the increased deteriorating security situation in neighbouring countries. It said while the IDs project has failed to take off for the past 12 years ?for whatever reasons...GIDS shall not keep silent while some greedy government officials will ignore our plea. The company warned that it would hit the government with a $17m-plus lawsuit if it does not get the contract, querying: Will the government risk spending more than $17m on compensation, and further delay the Identity Cards for Tanzanians? The $176m (approx. 230bn/-) national IDs scheme has been reclining on the back-burner of state affairs for years now amidst recurring reports of constant meddling and undue influence allegedly being exerted by certain well-connected individuals. Masha is already reported to have clashed head-on with State House Chief Secretary Philemon Luhanjo over the ongoing tender process for the project. Apparently, the minister formally complained to Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda that CS Luhanjo had instructed the permanent secretary in the home affairs ministry to report straight to the ministerial Cabinet on the implementation of the tender process, bypassing him (Masha) as minister. A total of 54 companies initially tabled bids for the latest tender to supply a national identification, system-based, smartcard technology. A special government evaluation committee picked 21 of the bidders for the pre-qualification stage. Out of these, 16 bidders were found to be substantially responsive, while five bidders were given conditional pre-qualification. According to officials close to the tender process, minister Masha is said to be unhappy at the way the evaluation committee handled the tender. The minister was not immediately available to comment about the latest conflict of interest matter.