Curbing corruption in passport offices

Dhaka,  Sun,  20 August 2017
Published : 06 Aug 2017, 20:13:55
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Editorial

Curbing corruption in passport offices

At a time when digital technology has virtually worked wonder in reducing incidence of corruption and irregularities in public offices, a FE report carried on August 5 on middlemen still fleecing passport-seekers comes as a shock. Interestingly, a middleman in Agargaon office of the Department of Immigration and Passport (DIP) mistook the FE reporter as a passport-seeker and demanded Tk 14,000, in addition to payment of formal fees, to get one. Telling her that none could get passport in time without a middleman's services, he claimed that so far he made such deals with 1,000 passport-seekers. And the money is shared by all involved in issuance of passports. The irregularities in the DIP lend credence to rating of passport offices as the most corrupt by the Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International last year. The TIB survey said at least 3.5 per cent of the households surveyed received services from the passport office while 77.7 per cent of them were victim of corruption. On an average, 76.1 per cent service recipients had to bribe. 

Corruption is not limited to passport offices at home alone. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has already formed a committee to investigate alleged misappropriation of Tk 37.86 billion received in passport and visa processing fees by 65 Bangladesh missions abroad. The foreign ministry owed the home ministry over Tk 15.86 billion for hand-written passports delivered between 2000 and 2016. During this period, Bangladesh embassies and missions distributed over three million hand-written passports. The home ministry was supposed to get about Tk 20.52 billion the foreign ministry collected for Machine Readable Passport (MRP) between 2010 and 2016. During the time, Bangladesh missions abroad delivered nearly three million MRPs. The Home Ministry was also to get Tk 1.48 billion the foreign ministry received from Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees between 2012 and 2016.

Given the state of affairs in the entire passport sector, the government, with the help of the ACC, needs to intervene immediately in an effective manner to stem the rot. While online submission of passport forms and fees could help passport-seekers get relief from the clutches of middlemen and dishonest passport officials, regular public hearing by the ACC, jointly with the DIP, at least once a month, could work as a deterrent to malpractices in delivering services to passport-seekers. This is very crucial as speedy issuance of passports is linked to more manpower export that fetches the second largest foreign exchange after the readymade garments. With the help of a social accountability tool, such as public hearing, it would be possible to deliver corruption-free public services to citizens. Article 7(1) of the Constitution stipulates that all powers in the Republic belong to the people. The Cabinet Division in a circular also authorised the ACC to conduct public hearings for improving integrity and preventing corruption in public offices. 

The DIP needs to be decentralised further at home to give the passport-seekers the ease of getting passports. Bank branches located in the passport offices should have more booths so as to end difficulties of clients. Complications in getting passports give rise to growth of money-spinning middlemen in the process.  
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Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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