Muhammad Sadiq has been waiting to get hold of his passport since December last year – one he ordered on an urgent basis.
He is one of the many Pakistanis who have endured months-long delays for their passports, despite paying a fee of Rs5,000 for a seven-day urgent delivery.
Present scenario dictates that they will have to wait for at least a month more.
“It’s a pity that this is the state of a government organisation. They earned million of rupees in fees, where did it all go?” asked Sadiq.
A simple answer was given to many disgruntled applicants like Sadiq by the directorate general of Immigration and Passport (I&P): the department has run out of lamination paper.
Normally, the immigration and passport authorities would procure lamination paper well before time. However, in September 2012, vested interests and rampant corruption on the part of the previous government triggered the passport backlog.
According to a senior I&P officer, the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government, for the sake of its vested political interests, put ‘corrupt’ and ‘incapable’ officers in charge of vital departments in the passport office.
“They ruined the entire set-up, but made millions in the process,” said the officer. He admitted, however, he had no documentary evidence to prove his claims.
Besides former director general I&P, Wajid Bukhari — a close aide to former interior minister Rehman Malik – two other officers were blamed for the passport fiasco.
Acting Manager Logistics Rao Imran and Project Director MRP Maqbool Gondal, a relative of former Chairman Public Accounts Committee Nadeem Afzal Gondal, were held responsible for creating the lamination paper crisis.
“Gondal and Rao established a network of agents in other regional passport offices who provided them with hundreds of cases against thousands of rupees where he authorised urgent delivery of passports,” another officer at I&P office said.
His agents at different stations would charge applicants a minimum of Rs5,000 to Rs10,000 for delivery of passports within a couple of days, said the officer, which Gondal made possible using his position. “This was going on at multiple sub-offices at a time. There would have been countless other applicants besides the regular 8000-10,000 passport offices receive everyday,” the officer said.
The project director put the work force under extra burden when the number of passports printed daily increased from 8,000 to a whopping 14,000 – well beyond printing capacity.
This consumed lamination and ink quickly. Adding to the woes, during the last five years of the PPP government, the number of passport offices has increased from 27 to 70.
The interior ministry – that runs I&P department – took no notice initially, and when it finally did, the former interior minister Rehman Malik-led effort went nowhere.
“He did not touch upon the real problem because it involved his people,” said an officer who has been associated with the printing department at the passport office.
Rao Imran delayed the process of tendering and bidding for lamination paper on Malik’s instructions. “For kickbacks, Malik wanted to award the contract to American company while another German company showed interest and was providing a better quality paper at lower price,” said the officer.
Imran, however, raised false objections on the quality of the paper, following which the interior minister cancelled the tender to the company for alleged violations of PPRA (Public Procurement Regulatory Authority) rules.
Currently, the process of procuring lamination paper is stalled by the Islamabad High Court. It has stayed the interior ministry’s decision to award the contract to a US firm, which was allegedly violating rules set by PPRA.
Furthermore, the court has summoned passport authorities on April 15 to answer a French company’s, Hallogram Industries, claims that it won the contract in terms of quality points.
Even the Interior Secretary Siddiq Akbar and former DG I&P Wajid Bukhari were silent at first, though Akbar came into the picture when things went out of hand. Instead of fixing the problem, the interior secretary suggested an ‘innovative’ solution to the problem in March this year.
He wrote a summary to the law ministry to change the I&P department into an independent authority just like National Database and Registration Authority so that it could keep and spend its earned revenue. The summary is still lying with the law ministry.
Federal Ombudsman Salman Faruqui on Thursday constituted a four -member inquiry committee to probe charges of ‘widespread corruption and inordinate delay’ in the I&P office.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2013.