Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Jane Among, 36, a resident of Kireka, a Kampala suburb landed an invitation to a conference in the United States of America. She decided to process an ordinary passport which costs Shillings 250,000. Among, however says that she was told that the passport booklets were running out and had to pay additional money to immigration officials to get a passport.
“I paid Shillings 600,000 on top of the 250,000 that I had paid because I was desperate. I needed to travel urgently and was told booklets were running out. I had no option. I would rather pay the money than miss the conference I was going to attend,” she said.
Among is not alone. John Menya, also a resident of Kampala wanted to travel for a business trip which needed a passport, and decided to process one. Menya explains that he had to fork out more money to secure the passport.
Businesswoman Elizabeth Sande, 67, who recently spent 3 hours at the passport office describes the situation as embarrassing. According to Sande, immigration officers no longer have shame since they are the ones who help people beat the system.
Another applicant who is yet to receive their passport explained that the immigration officers work with different people including the security officers deployed at the offices, travel agents, and labor export firms to skirt the system.
“Once you pay the money, you are directed to a police officer who helps arrange for you the interview with a collaborating officer. Ideally, when you arrive at the passport office, you are given a number and have to wait for your turn but once you pay, you don’t have to follow the system,” said the source.
Several other people interviewed by URN say they either paid extra money or received help from immigration officers to secure their passports. Such connections ensured that they escaped the ugly experience of standing in long queues that have become the norm at the passport office. Immigration officials interviewed by our reporter about the bribery scam around the passport offices vehemently denied the allegations.
In a recent press conference, Simon Mundeyi, the spokesperson of the internal affairs ministry, said that their system is incorruptible. He explained that while many members of the public have tried to bypass the system, the use of barcodes and system-generated appointments makes it impossible for anyone including immigration officers to bypass it.
However, a source at the immigration directorate who preferred to remain anonymous confirmed the accounts of Menya and Sande. “It’s true all these things are happening and even the bosses know because recently there was a big reshuffle. People were moved to different offices but this has not changed anything because some officers are still getting money without feeling any shame,” the source said.
According to the officer, many people are paying money because they are being told that passport booklets are running out. “There’s a ring of people inside here who go out there and target people telling them such stories. So desperate people get the money and give it to them. They get the person’s name and fast-track their application process using the money they paid. The money is given to different people in different offices to make sure the passport, which should take ten days comes out in three or five days,” the source said.
Mundeyi however refutes such claims, saying that the country has enough passport booklets. He however attributes the slow process to the scaling-down of their services caused by technical glitches in their printing machines.
“We have been hearing claims on social media indicating we are running out of passports but that is not true. We have so many passport booklets. There will be no time when passports will run out from the ministry because we plan for the demand and stock for our people,” he said.
Whether money is exchanging hands due to the shortage of passport booklets or technical glitches, many unsuspecting Ugandans are being fleeced by persons believed to be immigration officers. Records from the immigration department show that over 460,000 Ugandans are yet to renew their passports while millions have never applied for a passport.
According to the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control, ordinary passports cost Shillings 250,000 while an express passport costs Shillings 400,000. It should take around 10 days for one to be able to access the ordinary passport after applying and paying the mandatory fees while the express passport takes three days maximum.