Legal battle over MRP procurement : Immigration and Emigration set to meet the demand | Sunday Observer

Legal battle over MRP procurement : Immigration and Emigration set to meet the demand

Nihal Ranasinghe
Nihal Ranasinghe

As Sri Lanka attempts to take steps to introduce a new e-passport, the delays in its execution due to a legal battle over an alleged non-transparent procurement process has resulted in the Department of Immigration and Emigration running out of the currently used machine-readable passports (MRP) which it had hoped to phase out by this year.

As a result, since June 1 the Department, making a special arrangement to address the shortage has been issuing new passports intended only for the Middle East, with a stamped endorsement allowing its users to apply for visas to any country in the world.

While the situation has left members of the public hoping to obtain a new passport worried, Controller General of Emigration and Immigration, Nihal Ranasinghe says, he is confident the Department can provide new passports to fulfil the current demand till the recently requested new stock of MRPs reaches the country’s shores.

Addressing rumours surrounding possible problems that users may have to face, using an altered passport with an endorsement, along with claims that issuance of all countries passports has completely halted, the Controller General says, these are actions of certain elements attempting to sabotage the Department’s operations. “However, there is no room for sabotage, we are functioning as usual despite the exhaustion of all countries passport stocks” he assured. According to him, there has been no reduction in applicants for new passports, with the Department continuing to issue 45,000 passports on an average, monthly.

On June 29, almost a month after they ran out of new passports it appeared to be business as usual at the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

The often crowded office was bustling with people, waiting to apply for or to collect their new passports. On the first floor, the collection counters of the Middle East specific passports were packed with people, whereas comparatively, the area issuing all countries passports was far less crowded.

However, many did not appear to be too concerned on receiving a passport meant only for the Middle East with a special endorsement to make up for the lack of passports intended for all other countries. “I need to travel to Thailand during the coming days” a member of the public, Isuru Kumara said, adding that he is unsure if he would face any issues on arrival at his destination. He says, he had seen social media posts that amended passport holders may face issues in obtaining visas or at the immigration of the country being visited. “But I do not know how far this is true,” he said.

Sharing her experience, Shyama Sahardeen who recently travelled to Malaysia using an endorsed passport with the all countries stamp said, she did not face any issues at the hands of the Malaysian officials.

“There was no issue but the story was different at the airlines counter in Sri Lanka,” she said. According to her, submitting her new passport along with her two previous passports the airlines counter in Colombo requested her to sign an indemnity claiming she was travelling at her own risk. “Though the same passport number was carried forward they did not seem to be aware of the new move and said it will not be their responsibility if I was stopped by Malaysian officials,” she said.

According to Ranasinghe, however, the public should not worry or have any concerns regarding travelling abroad using the passports currently being issued. “This is a Government of Sri Lanka policy decision which has been communicated to all necessary parties,” he said, “including all diplomatic missions as well as Immigration and Emigration officials abroad”.

“We are following proper procedures as was done in a similar instance in 2008” he assured.

Ranasinghe claims there have been no complaints regarding the amended passports up to date. “Not a single complaint has been received from local missions when issuing visas, nor from officials abroad,” he said.

Last week, in order to resolve the issue, Cabinet approval was granted to obtain one million MRPs from its current supplier in Indonesia to replenish the Department’s stock till the e-passport project finally kicks off.

However, it will be a wait of over two months till an applicant can receive an original all countries passport. “We have requested them to expedite the process,” Ranasinghe said, adding that the Department has sufficient stocks of passports belonging to other categories to fulfil the demand for all countries passports until the arrival of new stocks. “The needs of the public in their travel requirements will be met” the Controller General assured.