Recently, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) briefed the media persons that the ministry is preparing to deliver Machine Readable Passports (MRP) within 48 hours. According to him, for such urgent service the applicants will be required to pay three times higher fees (15000 NPR) than the normal rate. Undoubtedly, any genuine Nepali citizen holding proper certificate of citizenship is entitled to receive passport constitutionally. Of course he or she has to pay the reasonably-charged amount of government revenues for passport.
The Chief Justice-led government has not been responding to the grievances of the public in an efficient manner. In fact, the majority of MRP applicants demanding urgent service are from the lower strata of the society. The menial workers going abroad have often been pressured to obtain passports urgently by the manpower agencies. The middlemen who tend to handle visa affairs for the uneducated and unskilled workers are responsible to cause panic among the innocent laborers.
The personnel working with the Passport Department are heard saying that a single copy of MRP costs little more than one US dollar for the government. This estimate does not sound unrealistic considering the staggeringly high number of passports printed at a time. At the moment a Singapore-based company has been supplying MRPs to MFA for the last few years as per the agreement.
What one independent observer makes a sense of the above announcement by the MFA spokesman is that the non-political government formed for holding election is obsessed with raising more revenues at the expense of the commoners.
The government should take appropriate steps to provide a basic public service like issuance of passports to the applicants more efficiently. By mobilizing required number of competent, trained and honest personnel, it can better serve the people. Moreover, it has been recruiting additional staff every year justifying the appointment drive on the basis of extra work load concerning passports.
The MFA also hires a large of number of personnel on contract to deal with passport affairs, which sometimes has created problems since they are less accountable to their assigned responsibilities compared to their permanent counterparts.
The Nepali citizens in foreign countries are paying higher charges than is normal in Nepal for MRPs. Such charge varies from capital to capital. The logic of MFA is that those staying outside their country have higher capacity to pay.
At the time of this writing the applicants in the Americas and Europe are paying 150 US Dollars for a MRP. While converted into local currency this would be in the range of 13000-14000 NPR. There are no urgent fees whatsoever in this case. This is an example of how expensive it has become for us to obtain a passport, if we apply for the same document through our embassies/missions and consulates-general.
A few months back this scribe had argued through this paper about the issue of prompt delivery of MRP. Then I presented an agonizing experience in obtaining my MRP. I was compelled to make repeated visits to the Passport Department. It was concerned employees’ sheer lack of competence and carelessness that caused the problem. The avoidable error occurred in the address of my kin whom the MFA would inform in case of emergency.
I was delivered the third passport with the correct address. Two passports were damaged repeating the same errors. I understand that to err is human but committing the same mistakes even after thorough briefing by the supervisors is ridiculous. This reminds us of serious flaw in our bureaucracy that we are not held accountable to our duties strictly. Therefore, I am not completely free of apprehension that others may also be embarrassed like I was in November last.
Understandably, there is a big crowd every day in front of Passport Department and that makes the working staff overburdened. Working in an environment that is less friendly with pressure of completing the work within the prescribed time limit has made the lives of department officials more difficult. But don’t get surprised that the MFA’s own policy of generating more revenues through passports at the expense of the quality of service is the real bottleneck.
Following the introduction of MRP since 2011, all passports are prepared in Kathmandu only. All applicants have been informed of this. They are requested to apply for passport presenting their required documents through concerned district administration offices. In case of application outside Nepal, embassies/missions and consulates-general do the needful.
In view of the reality that about 1500 Nepali workers leave Nepal for jobs daily, one understands that there is an increasing pressure of issuing passports as per demand. This could be better managed if MFA remains stick to its regulations that require any Nepali within the country to apply for MRP through concerned district.
Once this is implemented, the tremendous pressure of receiving applications by the department in Kathmandu would be lowered to a much greater extent. This would save plenty of time for department officials to do their jobs of screening the applications and accordingly preparing the passports. Issuance of a sensitive document like a passport needs to be handled calmly and not the way it is being done at the department under the present chaotic setting.
On an ad hoc basis that MFA has pursued a policy of delivering passports urgently albeit there is hardly such urgency on the part of many who have been paying 10000 NPR per passport. What prevents the MFA to mobilize its hitherto lethargic officials in large numbers and assign them to Passport Department and get the job done more promptly? If there is a strong will power, they can provide credible service by delivering passports within six weeks of application. Such scenario would save tax payers’ money considerably.
MFA’s smartness is not judged by how much revenue it earns every day through passport fees, but by how efficiently it distributes passports to the Nepali citizens without forcing them to pay extra money. If the ministry prioritizes the delivery of such basic service rather than focusing on accumulating more revenues, the Nepali people would benefit immensely. Paying 5000 NPR per passport is already a heavy burden for them. Do not add to their miseries by announcing a new deal of charging thrice the normal rate in the name of urgency.