Witness narrates ordeal at passport office

An official from the Internal Affairs Ministry is seen placing blank passports on a printer at the Ministry's headquarters in Kampala on May 9, 2022. PHOTO/ISAAC KASAMANI

What you need to know:

  • Under normal situation, passport processing takes between two to six weeks, however, for express window, you can receive your passport within three to four days, but there is a mandatory Shs500,000 charge

The easier part in a frustrating passport application process is the filling of an online form through the DCIC Passport Portal.
Under normal situation, passport processing takes between two to six weeks, however, for express window, you can receive your passport within three to four days, but there is a mandatory Shs500,000 charge.

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In an attempt to cut off the middlemen and endemic corruption, the government phased out the manual processing of the passports and adopted a digital system. Authorities at Immigration Directorate hoped to ease crowds, distressing long queues, and unscrupulous brokers.
In 2018, the government announced plans to migrate from machine-readable passports to biometric ones- the East African electronic passports (e-Passort) — in compliance with international standards.

For many, the digital system is as useless as the traditional system in view of the  delays at the passport offices, long queues and the corruption in the system. 
The submission of a complete application form together with confirmed appointment schedules, is the beginning of the pain in a clumsy passport application process. It doesn’t matter whether you are renewing or applying for the first-time, you suffer the same way.
A queue snaking through Port Bell Road welcomes you to Ministry of Internal Affairs. Awkwardly, some people (especially those with connections within the passport office and other higher offices) simply wave coloured chits and they are allowed to jump the queue. With a chit, the appointment schedules don’t matter.

When you finally beat the logjam, you are again struck by a sea of interviewees crammed in a giant warehouse, many of them young girls seeking jobs in the Arab world. Some have no seats, they are either standing or seated on a dusty floor. 
Here, after hours of waiting, you are cross-examined to confirm your citizenship and after a few minutes, you are given a special identification number before another immigration officer captures your finger prints, National ID data and other details needed.

Witness account
One of the applicants [names withheld], joked in February as we braved crowds, waiting for long hours to access service that “this warehouse is not for the fainthearted, people especially with peptic ulcers can simply collapse from here.”
After finalising the application process, you are given a reference number for picking your passport upon receiving a text message. However, I learnt from people in the queue that the politically connected individuals at times collect their travel documents without receiving any text message and that others bribe their way into the buildings. One of the girls in her 20s told us that lining up is for people with “shallow pockets.”

Alleged corruption 
At some point, I had decided to go through a broker who had promised to help me jump the queue and cut the waiting time to a maximum of 20 minutes. He had asked for Shs50,000 and later settled for Shs20,000 before I changed my mind. But as you sweat in a snaking line, you realise that it is even worse at the passport collection centre in Kyambogo. 
Many frustrated applicants complain of long waits, with some forced to leave in protest. The absence of a well-staffed information desk, has made matter worse. If you don’t pay attention to the order of your names and the counter number, “you suffer locally”, one of the angry applicants told us.

The new system, intended to improve service delivery, is being cursed by many frustrated applicants, especially those with “shallow pockets” and have no connections in higher offices. 
The loopholes at the passport offices, now threatens to undercut government efforts to shorten lines at the immigration directorate. 

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