LAHORE, Nov 5: The timely processing and issuance of passports at a number of regional and district offices across the country and at some foreign missions remained a distant dream on Monday as the Machine Readable Passport system as usual developed a fault and a good number of applicants failed to get their passports in-time, it is learnt.
A visit to the Garden Town Passport Office (also a Punjab Zone headquarter) on Monday revealed that the processing at counters halted after the main server developed some fault and was shut down temporarily.
Similarly, the passport counter at the Lahore High Court also couldn’t facilitate the applicants because of data processing problems.
Information gleaned from the Directorate of Immigration and Passport, Islamabad, showed that both the problems were occurring across the country because of poor handling of the MRP system and shortage of passport material. Passport applicants in Pakistan as well as abroad have been adversely suffering in the hands of Immigration and Passport department as ordinary passports are reaching the delivery counters with a delay of two to three months.
Similarly, applicants are also receiving urgent passports after a week’s delay.
The ordinary passport (Rs3,000) delivery time is 15 days while it is a week for urgent passport (Rs5,000).
A source at the Directorate General of I&P Islamabad told Dawn that the delay in issuance of passport was because of less issuance of passport books by Pakistan Security Printing Corporation which was not paid outstanding dues by the department.
He said millions of rupees had to be paid to the corporation.
The source said only 5,000 books were being delivered to the department a day against requirement of 15,000 books.
He said mismanagement and poor supervision at the directorate level resulted in poor service. The source said all types of passports were issued for the country and all foreign missions by the directorate, adding the department was also receiving complaints from some other countries.
The source further said another serious complaint at passport offices was unnecessary delay in processing due to fluctuation in main server linkage.
A Dubai-based newspaper recently highlighted the miseries of Pakistanis who were facing passport renewal problems at the Pakistani Consulate in Dubai as thousands of applications were pending because of shortage of staff there.
The source said the shortage of lamination paper was also a contributing factor.
Another source in the Punjab Zone told this reporter that correspondence with the directorate regarding both problems was repeatedly taken up in the past, but to no avail.
The assistant directors of Punjab Zone passport offices in a recent meeting held at the zonal office raised concerns about unnecessary delays in passport issuance, shortage of staff and technical problems in Machine Readable Passport system, he said.
The source said it had become a routine in each passport office that applicants quarrelled with the staff for delays and blamed them for disturbing their foreign journey schedules.
He said a good number of applicants returned empty-handed on the specified date they were asked to collect passports.
The source further said the shortage of staff was another factor for delay in processing and issuing passports.
He said the staff and resources from old passport offices were shifted to three newly-established passport offices - Hafizabad, Sialkot and Jala Peerwala - where the number of applicants was thin.
He said the three offices were set up by the PPP-led government to accommodate local politicians.
Farooq Aslam of Mughalpura, accompanied with the five family members on Oct 24, said he got passport issuance date of Dec 24, 2012.
He said the National Bank of Pakistan cashier received Rs30 per applicant in the name of challan processing fee despite the fact that he received the copies of the challan form from a person standing outside the bank after paying him Rs30.
DGI&P Director-General Syed Wajid Ali didn’t reply to the cell phone calls and a text message sent to his number.
However, Director Database Rao Imran declined to comment on the issue of passport processing problems, saying the reporter must see him at his office or contact the media director of the federal interior ministry.