Perhaps not, in the opinion of the majority of the most privileged civil servants who have been serving the Nepalese government in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Coincidentally, this scribe has gathered the unique experience of receiving machine readable passports (MRP) for him, his spouse and son as they plan to make foreign trip in the near future.
Not surprisingly, I was not required to be in the serpentine-looking queue to obtain tokens for getting the application forms registered and paying the necessary government revenues. My understanding is that this facility has been justifiably accorded to all the retirees like me who have spent their prime youth contributing to the services of the nation as civil servants.
When new system is introduced, extra challenges appear and this is no exception to the issuance of machine readable passports on the part of the Department of Passports, which though operates a separate complex, has seemingly failed to draw necessary attention of the officials at the higher echelon in the concerned ministry. I doubt if those enjoying very frequent government-sponsored foreign visits representing Nepal as top-ranking diplomats are completely aware of the sufferings of passport applicants and their colleagues at Narayanhity as the latter struggle so hard to cope with the emerging problems every day.
We know that the introduction of machine readable passport has had a painful history of its own when then government of Madhav Kumar Nepal was humiliated in failing to meet the international obligations of Nepal as a member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2010. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was forced twice to appeal to the ICAO for providing extra time to conform to internationally-approved deadline of issuing machine readable passports. Understandably, the Nepalese citizens have been obtaining MRPs since 2011 although their fundamental rights of receiving such documents in correct form and in a reasonably shorter timeframe appear to have been compromised.
One may ask a valid question. If the present caretaker government is not making its presence felt in many fronts how can the Ministry of Foreign Affairs alone remain unaffected?
Little wonder also that the country’s top diplomat has been heard grumbling against his own boss. A popular vernacular daily enumerates his complaints against the Chief Executive, the most noticeable of which is his failure to accompany him at the highest level bilateral meeting arranged at the sidelines of the last NAM Summit in Tehran. His consistent appeals to the Kathmandu-based foreign envoys to adhere to the Diplomatic Code of Conduct have been turned deaf ear and the most convincing reason for this is his widening rift with the political boss. In foreign relations, credibility disappears once disunity among the political masters overwhelms them.
It is unfortunate that the country’s lack of economic progress has worsened the unemployment situation, luring more of the Nepalese youth to foreign employment destinations. Available statistics suggest that almost 1500 Nepali workers leave Nepal for work to different destinations and the largest concentration is seen in the Gulf countries, where uneducated and untrained job seekers are increasingly facing hardship more than anywhere else. Outside the six Gulf Cooperation Countries (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates) Malaysia has become another popular destination for the Nepalese laborers and where absence of bilateral Labor Agreement has added complications to the efforts of minimizing the labor grievances.
With little signs of hope for receiving domestic employment as the country slowly moves to state failure mainly due to growing polarization of politics, the pressure of going abroad to be employed will likely be more intense. The most immediate impact of this pressure is to be seen in inhumanly longer lines, where the passport applicants stay awake the whole night. The queue to obtain application tokens, only 800 of which are distributed daily, starts at 2 a.m. and one can easily imagine how torturous the experience has been for such persons especially in freezing temperatures.
The queues of such applicants may have been shorter in the districts but the poor screening of forms and accompanying documents has made their lives no less painful. Firstly, the poor applicants are compelled to rely on the so-called assistants for filling up the forms, which could either be typed or hand-written, and sometimes errors occur in different columns. Such mistakes can be avoided if the concerned district office took care of this. The certifying offices could ensure that the applicants’ old passports are verified to conform to the information provided for in the application forms.
In practice such screening is hardly done carefully and the consequence is the failure of the passport applicant to obtain his or her travel document on time. Annoyingly, the applicant is compelled to pay extra fees i.e. 5000 NPR as the Department of Passports would not consider such errors to have been occurred due to their officials’ faults.
Another side of the story is almost overlooked when mistakes are committed because of sluggishness on the part of the government officials. My own experience this week of having to visit the Department of Passports a number of times to collect the passport is a glaring example of dullness demonstrated by some of the government officials. I was informed of the preparation of the passport of my spouse, and accordingly I contacted the concerned office. Frustratingly, a vital mistake was spotted on the page containing the address of the person to be contacted in case of emergency. The Director of the Department, an old colleague of mine and respectful to me as always, apologized and promised to make correction and asked me to come next time explaining that the mistake was not mine.
I went to the office after a week and was shocked to hear that the same mistake had been repeated. What else could I do other than to wait another four hours, which I didn’t find so agonizing as any other commoner would, because I was served tea being seated in a couch. My old colleague in the revolving chair looked more disappointed than I was even though he helped me obtain the corrected MRP of my spouse after a long wait.
Therefore, my humble petition is that former bureaucrats like this writer may not have to worry so much to collect MRP as many like himself would not have to travel all the way from Taplejung or Humla or Darchula, but those underprivileged ones residing in remote villages and constrained to abandon the motherland for jobs would be hit harder if our friends at the Department of Passports continue making mistakes and ask them to fill up new forms every time an error occurs. Even in my case I am a loser because my government has been deprived of revenue due to the damaged passports.