MPs reveal passport cost inflated 10 times

An official displays Ugandan passports. Parliament’s Defence committee says the prices of the passports are inflated. PHOTO /ABUBAKER LUBOWA 

What you need to know:

  • Immigration officials say the price of respective passports and other security documents will go down once Uganda begins to print its own security documents.

Uganda pays Shs170,000 to purchase each blank passport booklet, which is at least 10 times the unit cost of the same on the market as per a new parliamentary report.

A user must spend an additional Shs80,000 to obtain a 36-page booklet passport, which costs Shs250,000. The costs increase for different types of people or when one wants to acquire the same expressly.

In comparison, Kenya charges far less for ordinary passports with more leaflets. Kenya has three types of ordinary passports, including Ordinary passport “A” Series (32 pages) at KShs4,500 (Shs120,000), Ordinary “B” Series (50 pages) at Kshs6,000 (Shs163,208) and Ordinary “C” Series (66 pages) Kshs7,500 (Shs204,010).

Legislators on the Defence and Internal Affairs committee found that the current paper passport—dubbed to be of inferior quality and which the government abruptly announced is being phased out—can be obtained at a market price of Shs17,100. The market price, which excludes taxes—is 10 times what officials at the immigration department pay.

Uganda, the legislators have further noted, is 10 years late to adopting the new highly-secured e-passports (polycarbonate e-passports) with more advanced security features. These, the MPs say, cost an average of Shs45,600 per booklet, excluding taxes.

In the hastily announced switch to the polycarbonate e-passports, the immigration officials did not increase the cost of acquiring the new passport. That notwithstanding, the unit cost of producing the same is more than double the market value of the paper-based booklets.

Immigration officials respond
While appearing before the committee, immigration officials did not explain the drivers of the huge cost of the passports. They, however, told legislators that the price of respective passports and other security documents will go down once Uganda begins to print its own security documents.

The switch to the polycarbonate e-passports followed a meeting immigration officials had with legislators on the committee in which the matter was raised according to the statement of the proceedings published by the House.

In the report, Parliament had directed immigration authorities to migrate from paper e-passports to polycarbonate e-passports to meet the security standards set by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)—a body mandated by the United Nations to establish and set international passport standards. Uganda will take about 10 years to completely phase out the paper e-passports.

Those acquiring passports pay $65.7333 (Shs250,000) for ordinary while official and diplomatic passports are $105.173 (Shs400,000) and $131.467 (Shs500,000), respectively.
Cash denied
Legislators on the committee stressed the need for the House to avoid stock-outs. Officials at the National Citizenship and Immigration Control (NCIC) had asked for Shs76.416 billion to procure 450,000 passport booklets. This translates to Shs170,000 per booklet. Only Shs42.569 billion was, however, provided, creating a shortfall of Shs33.847 billion.

“Government should review the procurement of e-passport booklets before the local manufacturing of passports since their prices are above market rates through international bidding,” the legislators ruled, adding, “The provided amount of Shs42.569 billion is sufficient to procure 450,000 e-passport booklets of polycarbonate type with superior security features.”

While the 450,000 e-passports are more than the 260,000 passports that the department had initially anticipated, they fall short of the 600,000 passports per year that the immigration officials told Parliament are required to satisfy the demand.

Deal questioned
The passports are imported and supplied by Veridos and G&D. The entity has a joint venture with the state-owned Uganda Printing and Publishing Corporation (UPPC) to set up a factory to produce security documents for the government.

The House committee also observed that the factory construction is still ongoing and behind schedule.

In 2018, the government signed an agreement with Veridos to start printing its own security documents. These include bank notes, passports, identity cards, and driving permits, among others. Construction works, which were expected to be complete in two years, only commenced in May 2022.

In addition, the legislators argue that the contractor, NEC-UPDF, has no experience constructing such a facility, which could lead to cost overruns.

“It was also noted that the viability of the factory is minimal since; there will be redundancy after printing passports and other documents,” the committee noted, adding, “Viability could be improved if the factory was to print all security documents within the EAC (East African Community) region. However, regional countries have already set up their systems of printing security documents elsewhere.”

Consequently, Parliament wants the government to review the security printing deal.
“A review of the joint venture between the Government of Uganda and a private company— Veridos, in the manufacturer of security documents to include expertise in the construction of the facility, importation costs of blank passport booklets before completion of the facility, quality aspects of the security documents, risks associated with viability, among others,” the legislators note.

In 2018, President Museveni ordered the sacking of top immigration bosses Godfrey Sasaga and the then director of Immigration Anthony Namara (commissioner) on allegations of corruption. 
President Museveni consequently appointed army officers—including Maj Gen Apollo Gowa Kasiita, as the director of the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control; Brig Johnson Namanya, as commissioner for Citizenship and Passport Control; and Col Geoffrey Kambere, as commissioner for Immigration Control—to head the department. 

Internal affairs says
When contacted yesterday, Mr Simon Peter Mundeyi, the Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesperson, said: ‘‘The factory cost of a passport right now is  €42 which is about Shs171,000. That is what we pay to the vendor who supplies us with these passports’’.

He added: ‘‘Those figures of Parliament I don’t know where they got them. They are not in any of our records’’.

Mr Mundeyi said the cost of setting up a security printing factory and other related entities, including a passport centre in Kampala is embedded in the Shs171,000 that is charged as the factory price by the vendor. The amount, he said, also covers the technology introduced in the passport.  The rest of the money is what government charges as the cost of doing business. In the case of the ordinary passport, government charges about Shs79,000 for administration.

‘‘For Kenya, I don’t know their arrangement with the vendor but ours involves putting up a factory in Entebbe. It is assumed that when all this is done when the factory is in place and the passport centre is working, the cost will actually come down. That is the assumption we have,’’ he said.