Immigration on the spot over malpractices

Kenyans queuing for passport services at Nyayo House

Kenyans queuing for passport services at Nyayo House in Nairobi. An investigation report by the Commission on Administrative Justice has revealed several malpractices and injustices in the issuance of passports at the Department of Immigration.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

An investigation report by the Commission on Administrative Justice has revealed several malpractices and injustices in the issuance of passports at the Department of Immigration.

The investigation found that Kenyans were being overcharged for passports with fewer pages than they applied for and that the perennial delays in processing are largely due to delayed approval of the procurement of blank booklets, unavailability of a particular series of passports on the e-Citizen platform and breakdown of printing machines.

Currently, the department is facing delays following the breakdown of a printing machine.

Through several visits to Immigration offices and questioning of officials, all nine complaints of overcharging for passport fees were found to be true, while the department’s claims that the complainants had changed their applications to a lower series of passports were false.

Receipts, invoices, e-Citizen application numbers, application forms, tracking numbers, copies of passports and recorded statements were reviewed as part of the investigation.

From the complaints raised on social media, the Commission was able to identify nine complainants, seven of whom alleged that they had applied and paid for the B series (50-page) passports but were instead issued with A series (34-page) passports.

Interestingly, one of the applicants was even advised by an Immigration officer to upgrade from an A to a B series passport by paying Sh1,550 more but was still issued with the 34-page passport.

Another complainant alleged that she paid twice for the renewal of her C series passport (66 pages) but was still issued with a 50-page passport.

“First, in November 2017, she paid Sh7,500 for the renewal of her passport which was eventually ‘lost’ in the hands of the Immigration officers and was asked to pay an additional Sh12,500 to replace the lost passport but was still issued with a 50-page passport without refunding the additional Sh1,500 as the B series passports cost Sh6,050.

“In this regard, not only did she lose Sh12,500 from the second application for a ‘lost’ passport, which was totally pointless, but she also lost Sh1,500 from her first application for a passport renewal as she was issued with a 50-page B series passport instead of a 66-page C series passport for which she had paid,” the report said. 

Excessive payments

Upon enquiry by the Ombudsman, Immigration, through various letters between November 2022 and January 2023, acknowledged that the seven applicants had paid an excess of Sh1,500 each and advised the aggrieved parties to apply for refunds.

“Some of the affected applicants stated that they wanted the 34-page A series but the 50-page B series was the only available option and the unavailability forced them to opt for the B series as they needed it for travel but did not get value for money,” reads the report.

The Ombudsman also found that payments made by an applicant on separate occasions, especially when upgrading, cannot be merged by the e-Citizen platform to produce a consolidated invoice.

Immigration’s claim that applicants had downgraded their passport series on e-Citizen was refuted by the acting Director, Government Digital Payment, who pointed out that the system does not allow an applicant to edit the page count on the passport application form once it has been submitted. The director added that the platform does not even allow an Immigration officer to edit the page count on a passport application before or after the application is submitted for biometric capture. 

“From the analysis, it can be concluded that the allegation that the complainants had their applications edited to a lower series is false,” the report said.

A common complaint among the complainants was that the department did not inform them about the unavailability of the series applied for, nor did it seek their consent to print passports for them with the available pages or wait until the series applied for was available.

Immigration’s deputy director, corporate affairs said the department was developing a short message system to communicate with applicants to keep them informed of each stage of their application.

In relation to refunds, the Ombudsman found that the department has no mechanism to automatically refund overpayments due to the issuance of a passport with fewer pages than requested.

The Ombudsman has recommended that the Interior Cabinet Secretary ensures an increase in the budget allocation to Immigration for the purchase of new high-capacity passport printing machines. The e-Citizen platform should also be upgraded to allow for automatic adjustment of payments to reflect changes made by both applicants and Immigration officers, including the introduction of automatic refunds for passport series downgrades and consolidation of payments for upgrades.