The demand for passports in Bangladesh has been on the rise in recent years, but customers are becoming increasingly frustrated with poorly managed and almost unregulated passport offices, which remain plagued with numerous issues of indiscipline – thereby causing delays and harassment to those seeking assistance with passport-related issues.
This is not any new phenomenon in the country, as people for long are being forced to pay bribes for even legitimate citizen services like expediting passport renewal, other processes or even resolving problems therein. The public is calling for better organisation and regulation of passport offices to make the process smoother and less stressful for all.
You can also read: The sound of the silence: A different OVC of Shwapno paying homage to language martyrs
Despite ongoing efforts to improve the passport application process in the country, mistakes in both making and processing applications continue to pose hazards to the people of the country. According to a recent survey report, in Dhaka alone, 33.3% of passport applicants opt to use brokers or travel agencies to assist them in the process.
The report also highlights that applicants who use travel agencies or brokers are able to obtain their passports significantly faster than those who apply through the authorized passport office, with travel agencies delivering passports 69.9% faster and brokers delivering passports 81.5% faster than the regular time duration required.
This data underscores the need for continued improvements in the passport application process to ensure that all citizens can obtain passports in a timely and efficient manner. So, statistics prove a close relationship between the broker’s efforts to get a passport and getting it faster. But these brokers also cause severe harassment to the applicant, as, sometimes, they charge a high rate for “urgent” or “very urgent” payments, even though they deposit the normal rate to the office. Inducing applicants to use a fake address near Dhaka to get police verification faster is also a regular practice for them. There are so many brokers who even abscond after taking money for making passports at an earlier time.
A recent example of harassment!
Recently, while talking to a reporter, a woman of 66 years from Dinajpur municipality, Afroza Sarkar, expressed her dissatisfaction over a fault made by the passport office with her passport. Despite her living in Dinajpur municipality, records from the passport office show that another person with her exact identity is residing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Notwithstanding, Afroza Sarkar’s probability of going to Saudi Arabia to perform hajj this year remains uncertain as the passport office is not willing to issue her a passport for the visit because of having another issuance of passport with the same name and identity to another person.
Asfaq Hossain Sarkar, the son of Afroza Sarkar, has issued a General Diary (GD) at a police station, detailing a case of alleged identity theft at a passport office. According to the GD, when Sarkar went to renew his mother’s passport for her upcoming Hajj, he found that someone else had renewed a passport using his mother’s identity in August 2021. When he asked the officials, they denied knowledge of the case and instructed him to contact the Dhaka office, which he viewed as an unnecessary inconvenience.
Afroza Sarkar said, “If the problem that arose in Dinajpur has to be solved in Dhaka, then I don’t know what exact duties the officials of the Dinajpur office are performing. I’m not sure whether I will be able to perform the hajj or not. So, who is here to take all the responsibilities for putting these hazards on my shoulders?”
“All these are the outcomes of the official’s carelessness. As information about passports is only available to office personnel, it is their responsibility to investigate any problems that may arise with it. The responsible officials should investigate whether any other party is involved here or not. At the same time, it is essential for them to find out whether someone else’s passport has been taken away. Also, we demand that you renew my mother’s passport without harassing us,” Asfaq Hossain added further.
While talking to a reporter about this matter, Assistant Director of Dinajpur Regional Passport Office Azizul Haque said, “It is not a major issue. There is nothing they can do. They possessed several passports, and someone had renewed one of those. Earlier, there was the MRP passport, which, by submitting the old passport, could be renewed according to that information. But the present system is nothing like that. We have nothing to say here. They are contacting the Dhaka office as it should be discussed with the head office. If they talk to the officials of the main passport office in Dhaka, there will be a solution I think.”
Denying the allegation of possessing multiple passports, Asfaq Hossain Sarkar said, “My mother didn’t have multiple passports; she doesn’t have one in fact.” Only one passport was issued in 2017, with which my mother went to India for eye treatment. I have that passport too. The Prime Minister is working to make the country digital and smart; such fraud is not acceptable here. I want legal action to be taken against those involved.”
Behind passport application writers’ association
The malpractices of brokers are a crystal-clear fact to be noted here. Everyone knows about it, but they have no options other than to go to them if a person wants to make a passport at an early time. But who cares, as these malpractices even go against the security of the country? Nevertheless, these brokers are depriving the government of its lawful earnings in most cases.
So, what is the body that plays vocal role in safeguarding these clowns? People may have seen a signboard in front of a store named “Bangladesh Passport Application Writers’ Association.” This is the organisation established by some senior and influential brokers that work behind the scenes to safeguard the interests of these brokers, applying more clout to them as well. To ensure they benefited from this safeguarding organisation, brokers used to pay a monthly subscription fee of 500–1000 taka. Parts of this money later go to many places like police stations, DB, political leaders, etc., a research article reveals.
Police verification procedures turning pesky
The current government has instituted a requirement that individuals must obtain police clearance when applying for a passport. While this policy aims to ensure security and accountability, individuals who fear or distrust the police for various reasons find the verification process difficult. In response, brokers have emerged to allegedly handle the entire passport application process, including verifications. These brokers then contact personnel at the passport office, who with the help of messengers from the SB office in Malibagh put in efforts to expedite the process. These messengers, seemingly possessing some unknown ‘superpowers’, allegedly help ensure timely delivery of police reports and facilitate payment procedures – thereby enabling individuals to complete the verification process more easily.
Even so, sometimes the brokers themselves contact the SB office to get their work done on time. Research shows that about 60% of applicants issue bribes to the police during the verification process, while 38.5% and 55.3% of the applicants didn’t go through this bribery procedure when they made their deals done with the help of brokers and travel/recruiting agencies, respectively.
When asked, police officers say that verification is not the duty that has the most essentiality to them, instead, they say, there are numerous other duties to give priority to, for which the detective police and the Special Branch at times consider the verification a bothersome duty to perform.