KAMPALA: Government has announced it has run short of ordinary passports and said applicants must bear the wait until the problem is rectified.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs said it has reserved the few remaining passports for patients travelling abroad for treatment, officials going for government business and students with foreign scholarships.
The ministry attributes the shortage of passports to the impending plan to switch from ‘machine readable passports to electronic passports’. “… we have experienced an unprecedented increase in the demand for ordinary passports, which has doubled in the past one year,” the ministry’s June 13 statement reads in part.
There are three types of passports; ordinary, diplomatic and official.
Ordinary passports are issued to ordinary citizens, while the Diplomatic are for diplomats and the Official passports are issued to government officials.
The Diplomatic and Official passports have not been affected by the shortage.
When the Daily Monitor contacted the spokesperson of the Directorate of Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Jacob Siminyu, said the directorate was addressing the matter and speculated that the shortage will be resolved soon.
“Our suppliers have assured us that within a month they shall have replenished the stock,” Mr Siminyu told Daily Monitor yesterday.
He said the stock of passports the directorate currently has is “enough to cater for all the emergency cases for at least one month”.
When Daily Monitor visited offices of the Directorate of Immigration and Citizenship in Kampala yesterday afternoon, immigration officers were carrying on with their duties – issuing passport application forms and receiving duly filled forms.
However, there were unusually few people waiting to be attended to. Whereas in the past long-winding queues were a common sight at the directorate, this time the few applicants present were seated. Many seats were empty.
One of the applicants, Mr Yosero Waiswa, who said he had gone to hand in his application form, said he had just learnt of the shortage.
“I was not aware until one of the immigration officers told me there is a shortage of ordinary passports. I am supposed to travel to North Korea on June 22 to represent Uganda in a Taekwondo tournament. I hope my passport will be ready. I was told it would take two weeks to process,” Mr Waiswa said.
When asked whether she would consider offering a bribe to the immigration officials to include her in the special cases category who qualify for the available few passports, a woman who refused to be named said there was no need to.
She said if she wants the passport urgently, she can officially pay Shs300, 000 to get the passport expressly – within a day or two.
This is not the first time though that the stock of ordinary passports is running low at the ministry. It happened in early 2016.
The Commissioner for Citizenship and Passport Control, Mr Nicholas Ongodia, at that time during a press conference in Kampala said the shortage of ordinary passports was largely due to the increase in the number of people sourced by companies which export labourers to the Middle East – who were applying for passports.
According to Mr Siminyu, the directorate issues on average 150, 000 passports annually – majority of which are the ordinary type.
For many others though, possession of a passport is a constitutional right; it is required in case one has to travel to foreign countries.
So many Ugandans who can afford the Shs150, 000 passport application fee apply for it.
This fiscal year alone, the government had, as of March 15, issued 63,349 passports to Ugandans.
Next fiscal year, which begin on July 1, the ministry plans to issue at least 50,000 passports and these ones will be electronic (e-passports).
Last year, the six East African Community countries resolved to phase out traditional passports by December 2018 and to roll out e-passports from April this year.
However, Kenya and Uganda faced logistical constraints, forcing them to postpone the rollout of the e-passports.
Kenya will start issuing them in September whereas in the case of Uganda no date has been mentioned.
Citizens with traditional but valid passports will surrender the old ones to get the e-passports.
“The process of procuring a provider for the e-passport is, however, still on-going,” says the ministry’s statement issued on Tuesday.
The statement observes that the e-passport system is “highly technical and needs high-tech infrastructure”.
It adds that an additional Shs28 billion is required for initial activities such as remodelling the tents; acquiring the e-passports, personalisation equipment and software.
Among other advantages of an e–passport is that it is reportedly harder to forge.
It has a microchip – like the one on bank Automated Teller Machine cards.
The chip stores the passport owner’s facial features, fingerprints and even one’s iris details.
Where an immigration officer would have spent about three minutes capturing the details of each traveller, the officer could get those details within a minute – by just ‘swiping the passport over a card reader to capture the details on the passport owner.
The e-passport can save the holder’s the inconvenience of filling entry and exit forms at East African countries borders.