The MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) official heading the Passport Department was quoted assuring that they would like to opt for online application to facilitate the issuance of machine readable passports to the applicants. It sounds good if they are really committed to serve the Nepali people, who have even been denied of the basic service of receiving passports on time.
The history of Nepal government-issued travel documents especially the machine readable passports has been of agony and so frustrating at times that some of the Nepali workers in foreign countries have lost their jobs because they could not submit their passports on time as required. The procedures of obtaining passport in vogue are so complex and time consuming that one cannot be sure of receiving it even after 4-5 months of proper application. The MFA claim that it delivers passports in 3 months is refutable.
Let me begin with the process of submission of applications, which can be presented to all seventy-five district administration offices in Nepal and all thirty two diplomatic missions abroad. Such applications once collected are routinely dispatched to the headquarters of Passport Department in Kathmandu.
This system of transmitting the hard copies of application forms either from the district headquarters or foreign based Nepal’s missions is not efficient. The receiving office for such applications follows its own practice of sending them to Kathmandu. There is no time bound principle being applied here. The dispatch is delayed depending on the number of applications forms and in case of diplomatic missions diplomatic bags carrying the application forms are hardly sent every fortnight, which means that applicants’ documents are in most cases received by the concerned office after long delays.
The same arrangement is in place for distributing the prepared passports and involves unnecessary longer period of time before the applicants are delivered their travel documents. Passports are sent back to the offices that collected the application forms. In doing so the Passport Department takes into account the number of passports being sent to the destinations in order to save resources. Consequently, it takes a few more months just to deliver them even after preparation at Kathmandu.
The real pain is not confined to this consumption of time in application and actual delivery of passports. There is the strong possibility of some of such application forms being rejected once they are screened in computers in passport department. Problems are varied. Some may be rejected because of non-fulfillment of requirements of the photos’ size, color etc.
Some other passport applications may be discarded because of faulty information provided for in the application forms, which are generally filled up by the so-called legal assistants that surround the district administration offices. The applicants are victimized for no mistake of theirs as the studios assure them of appropriate photographs but are not accountable to when application forms are not accepted due to photos and the assistants filling up the forms may inadvertently supply wrong information (copying from the citizenship certificates or old passports) leading to the rejection of application.
What a pity! The applicants do not know about the rejection of their forms until after the passport department sends back the rejected forms to the point of collection. It has taken more than a few months for some poor applicants to be informed of non acceptance of their forms. Very recently, I have heard of an example of a young Nepali entrepreneur based in Shanghai, who was informed of the rejection after some months of submission and that too when the applicant himself called to inquire about the status of his application. Understandably, this should reflect on our diplomats’ efficiency both at the headquarters and the diplomatic missions abroad. Paradoxically, they are hell bent on demanding increasing quotas for winning ambassadorial posts compared to non-career aspirants.
An evidence of the utter lack of proficiency on the part of our diplomatic staff members is narrated by one of the victims of inefficiency in the U.S. Having waited for months and months together for her machine readable passport, she was really shocked to see the envelope empty upon the arrival of the mail in the home address, which should have contained her passport. How long should the Nepali citizens continue facing harassment before finally obtaining their passports having been forced to pay hefty amount of government revenues, which is not prevalent in any country of the world.
Our sufferings related to acquiring passports do not end here as the Nepalese citizens applying through our foreign missions have been paying an exorbitant rates of fees, which are charged in hard currencies like US $ in America and British Pound in London etc. Take an instance from New York or Washington DC, where we have missions, the applicants pay 150 US Dollars per passport plus the mailing fees.
If a Nepali citizen from St. Louis has to apply at New York or Washington DC, then he or she is required to submit the mailing charges in order that our diplomatic missions would send his or her new passport to the applicant’s home address, once they collect from Kathmandu. One wonders why can’t the concerned Nepalese diplomatic mission at least take care of mailing charges itself in sending back the passport to its holder in his or her home address who it has already charged triple the amount of normal fees (almost 50 US Dollars).
Based on the recent observation of the Chief of Passport Department, my understanding is that the Nepal government has to make available funds required for introducing new technology. His contention is worthy of consideration and additionally the personnel who would be involved in online application process require a special training for efficiently handling their new jobs.
If financial resources are the stumbling block, then there are options to overcome such hurdles. The election government has set a bad precedent of misusing funds by authorizing unnecessary medical checkups of so-called royals of Republican Nepal (the president and a retinue of political leaders and their kith n kin) in expensive hospitals in Japan, Singapore and New York. Showing remorse it can reprioritize its expenses and procure necessary money for utilization by MFA in introducing innovation in the field of passports. The applicants of passports have the every right to demand better service even if the Nepal government is required to invest more resources to use smart technology.
By deciding for online application system the government can achieve the following goals and deliver commendable service to the public.
1. No need for the applicants to be physically present in the offices just to submit application forms;
2. No need to deploy extra personnel for managing the serpentine looking lines of passport applicants seen every day in front of offices particularly the Department of Passport in Kathmandu;
3. Application forms will be received by the concerned office (Passport Department in Kathmandu) instantly and thus save plenty of precious time;
4. Rejection of passport applications due to photos not meeting the prescribed requirements as well as wrong information based on old passport would be minimized significantly;
5. Should such practice become effective, applicants especially living abroad will benefit by knowing the status of their applications when the document is in process and they would have a timeframe when to expect the final delivery of passports. With these arrangements once in place, preparation time for the passport would be shortened drastically and the applicants could be delivered passports promptly.
The most visible example of public service by the election government will be the introduction of a new system of collecting and screening passport applications. Let’s hope that the government embarks upon this viable project to deliver passports within a month from the time of application rather than compelling the applicants wait for 4-5 months at the minimum.