ISLAMABAD: The amnesty period for government employees who secured passports illegally has been extended till Tuesday (July 23), an official told Dawn.
An exercise had revealed that around 84,000 government officials, including top bureaucrats, had obtained passports while hiding their official positions, apparently to freely fly out of Pakistan without the hassle of obtaining no objection certificates (NOCs) from their departments.
Obtaining a passport in private capacity by a government servant by concealing facts is a punishable offence under Section 6(1) of the Passport Act 1974.
Over 80,000 officials got passports while concealing their positions, apparently to fly out of Pakistan without the hassle of obtaining NOCs from their departments
Section 6 (1) of the Passports Act reads: “A person shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both, if he: (a) make or makes use of any statement which he knows or believes to be false in any document for obtaining passport; or (b) attests or verifies statement which he knows or has reason to believe to be false in any document used for obtaining a passport; or (c) wilfully conceals any fact which under the circumstances he ought to disclose for the purpose of obtaining a passport for himself or another person…...”
In March, a letter citing the cabinet decision issued with the signatures of director (Headquarters) immigration and passports Munir Ishaq Awan had been sent to the secretary establishment division giving details of the amnesty for circulation among all ministries and divisions. Copies of the letter for similar action had also been sent to all the four provincial chief secretaries, besides chief secretaries of Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK.
The three-month deadline actually started in April after meeting some procedural formalities and was to end on Saturday (July 20). Since a lot of government officials turned up to get new passports and the deadline was coming to a close over the weekend, it has been extended till July 23 (Tuesday).
On the expiry of the extended deadline, the passports of defaulting officials may be blocked and their cases referred to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to initiate legal action, a senior government official told Dawn.
Earlier this year, the cabinet had decided to give a one-time amnesty to such government officers and officials, offering a scheme involving a penalty of Rs5,000 in addition of the routine passport fee to get their data rectified.
The issue was taken up in a cabinet meeting held on Feb 21. During the meeting, the interior division said that the government should devise a policy to allow these officials to get their profession amended and corrected in their passports under modification category by paying additional charges of Rs5,000 each. This would be in addition to the prescribed passport fee to compensate additional human resource and time required on the part of immigration and passports department, he added.
Under a new policy, the interior division proposed to the cabinet that advertisement should be given in newspapers asking government officials to approach passports officers along with recommendations of their respective departments to get their data rectified within three months of its publications.
It further proposed that the government officials, who obtained passports before joining government service, may be advised to correct their data by producing NoCs from their parent departments.
In addition to the normal passport fee, an extra processing fee of Rs5,000 under modification category may be levied on defaulting officers who obtained passports in private capacity being government servants. On expiry of given time, the passports of defaulting officials may be cancelled or blocked and legal action may be initiated against them by the departments concerned and FIA under the relevant section of Passport Act 1974.
During the discussion, cabinet members stressed simplifying the procedural requirements to lessen undue burden on civil servants in taking NoCs for travelling abroad if they are on leave. It was also observed that such obstacles, which induce people to explore and adopt illegal avenues, should be removed from the existing system.
The cabinet approved the proposed policy submitted by the interior division and decided it would examine the need and rationale of the “profession” column in the passport in the light of best global practices.
An official of the passports department told Dawn that the last few days had witnessed a surge in passport applications across the country. He said on average 20-22 thousand applications were being processed daily but on Thursday alone, the number of applications had surged to around 38,000.
Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019