Crack down on graft to ease passport issuance

The faulty passport printing machine at the Directorate of Immigration Services in Nairobi that Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki promised to fix within a week is just a fraction of the problems bedevilling this section.

There are other hitches that will hamper the implementation of his pledge to clear the backlog of 42,000 passport applications within 21 days. He needs to do much more to eliminate the rot in the directorate.

An investigation by the Commission on Administrative Justice has just revealed malpractices in the issuance of passports to Kenyans who urgently need them to travel abroad but are kept waiting for months. It all boils down to a cartel that takes advantage of this vital service to make money. In its report, the commission says it found that applicants are being overcharged and given fewer pages than they have paid for.

Delays in the procurement of blank booklets, the unavailability of a particular series of passports on the e-Citizen portal, and, of course, the much-publicised breakdown of machines are at the core of this mess. There is also blatant bribery, as crooked officials exploit applicants’ desperation.

There is, for instance, an applicant who paid Sh7,500 for the renewal of her passport, which somehow got lost in the Immigration office and she was asked to pay another Sh12,500 for a replacement. The cost of the passport she was eventually issued with is Sh6,050.

Even if a new machine is installed and the e-Citizen platform upgraded, it will take more effort to streamline the issuance of passports, which has become a cash cow for officials, whose only motivation is to illegally mint money.

This is a public service that is funded by taxpayers and it is grossly unfair for applicants to be held to ransom by people who are paid a salary to do the work. The directorate is allocated nearly Sh2.6 billion annually and there can be no justification for the deliberate inefficiency to abet the lucrative racket.

As he ensures that a state-of-the-art printing machine is acquired to speed up the processing of passports to clear the backlog, CS Kindiki should also crack down on endemic corruption.