Stop the blame game and fix passport mess

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:

  • The issue: Passport mess. 
  • Our view: There must be a deliberate clean-up to weed out the corrupt and middlemen from the system. These reforms will help change things.

In an attempt to explain what appears like persistent problems at the passport office, officials at the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration were quick to pass the buck, citing Covid-induced backlog and peoples’ last-minute approach to deadlines, among other factors.

The basis of the current passport crisis in the country is, however, not Covid-induced backlog or Ugandans’ procrastination, it is a stockout of passport booklets as a result of a provision in the agreement signed with the supplier.  

There is also a lucrative black market in which paying, or highly-connected individuals, are issued the travel document ahead of those following procedures. The other issue officials don’t want to talk about, is the failure to plan for emergency situations. 

As a country, we knew about the planned migration from machine-readable passports to biometric ones – the East African electronic passports (e-Passport) in 2018. Unfortunately, for unclear reasons, the people at the Immigration Directorate did not take these things seriously. Even the Covid-induced backlog itself, was obvious.

People just did not plan ahead. This laissez faire approach to public affairs must stop. Those in charge of passports must up their game. These inadequacies have created the current crisis. The country is losing billions of shillings at a time when the economy is struggling to recover.

Ugandans, especially those seeking jobs and education abroad, are now stuck because government took their money and cannot give them the service. The phasing out of the old passports without reliable systems for biometric passports has also made matters worse.  

Disappointingly, instead of accepting responsibility and looking for solutions, they are busy trying to shift the blame. The board must rein in this situation. 

We, therefore, call upon the Inspector General of Government (IGG) to investigate the reports of corruption at the passport office as a matter of urgency. Regrettably, the lawmakers on Internal Affairs Committee equally slept on the job. They should wake up and look into this passport crisis, the inefficiencies, the shortage of booklets and the gaps in the contract immigration officials signed with the supplier.

To facilitate externalisation of labour, a sector that contributes about 10 percent to GDP annually, authorities at Immigration should consider separating job seekers from the general public. The online appointment bookings must be respected and only seekers with text message summoning them should be allowed at the collection centre in Kyambogo. 

There must be a deliberate clean-up to weed out the corrupt and middlemen from the system. These and other well-planned reforms will help change things and leverage the use of technology in a bigger and smatter way to speed up application and delivery of passports.