Liberia has become the latest upgraded member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) based on the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) Agreement with the official launch of the of Liberian Bio-metric e-Passport, the official Liberian travel document printed and issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who later became the very first recipient of the upgraded travel document, performed the official launch along with the opening of an Expedited Application Service Center at the Bureau of Passports and Visas, Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday, August 4, an Executive Mansion release said.
The Bureau of Passports and Visas, according to the release, will officially begin the issuance of the new e-Passport booklets to applicants beginning Monday, today.
Before the official launch, President Sirleaf told the elated audience that upon receiving the international standardized e-Passport, she had come a long way in her official journey.
“I remember the days when I was denied a passport by my country; but because I was working in the United States and had a resident permit at that time, I was issued a refugee travel document, which I used for international travels,” she reminisced.
President Sirleaf indicated that what it meant in those days was, whenever she arrived at a foreign airport, she would have to be taken from the main line and ushered to a ‘secondary line.’ “This meant that you were taken to a back room to be questioned about background before you are cleared to move on,” she added.
She thanked Liberians for working along with her to achieve such a milestone – enhancing the documents that they use to travel.
As the Liberian leader thanked the personnel of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, particularly those in the Bureau of Passports and Visas, she disclosed some reports she has been hearing, adding, “Let me say that we are still getting reports about passports that have not been officially issued, false passports. I don’t know where they are issued, how they are issued and who issues them.”
She cautioned those involved to “stop, not because of the loss of revenue, as important as that is, but because it gets into the hands of wrong people – criminals – thereby undermining the credibility and reputation of the country,” adding, “So, whatever measures need to be taken should be done now.”
President Sirleaf did not mince her words when she singled out the Bureau of Passports and Visas that she constantly gets bad reports about their performance; noting, “I am saying this so all of you can hear it since I am not going to have the opportunity like this to tell you all from here today.”
The President praised former passport director Mary T. Broh, who had come in a few years back to help straighten things out at the bureau when things were really bad, including the report of bribe taking before one could obtain a passport.
“I hear it is slipping back again. Let me put you on warning; you are here to serve the people with honesty, integrity and efficiency,” she cautioned.
However, President Sirleaf also added that she would ask Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara to sit with the bureau’s staff and hear from them too about their challenges.
“Maybe we need to do more for you, too. We need to hear some of your issues so we can address those issues in all fairness to you,” she said to a round of applause from the bureau’s personnel.
The President further stated to the bureau’s head, Ms. Marian F. Sandi, that she looks up to her as “somebody, who is a strong, patriotic and somebody who is proud of her service so that when people go out there they can say we went to the Passport Bureau and they give us our passport in record time, properly done and we didn’t have to pay a penny.”
President Sirleaf admonished them that by doing this they would be making everyone proud and that their country would be proud of them, too.
Earlier, Minister Kamara informed President Sirleaf that the launch of the e-Passport was another piece of the ministry’s deliverables.
Friday’s launch, she said, was one of the three main priorities for the ministry, which also includes improving service delivery to their clients. “This has taken us a long way as it involves the establishment of passport centers in various places,” she said.
The Foreign Minister further stated that there is now a mobile center in the United States, and disclosed that plans are underway that by the end of this year to also have passport centers in South Africa and Ethiopia. She added that a passport center is to shortly open in Beijing, People’s Republic of China.
“We are moving forward and we want to thank you for the opportunity of serving in your administration,” she informed the President, expressing the hope to contribute to revenue generation, “because we want to go out to our compatriots. We now have a mobile pack that Buck Press has made available so we won’t just be processing from the Washington, D.C. office in the United States, we will also go out into major concentration areas of Liberians and provide the service to them.”
Kamara noted that a very important aspect of this interaction is that this is going to bring the government through the Foreign Ministry much closer to its Diaspora citizens. “Once you have this kind of service to offer them, it opens the doors to talk about other things with them,” the Minister emphasized.
As of the new e-Passport and the opening of the Expedited Service Center, the Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs, Cllr. Deweh E. Gray, informed President Sirleaf that the whole negotiating exercise with Buck Press Limited had been inter-agency collaboration including the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Finance and Development Planning, National Security Agency, and the Liberia Revenue Authority.
On the Expedited Application Service Center now established, she disclosed that applicants who are urgently in need of a passport can now come in and process their applications and pay an expedited service charge of US$50 in addition to the passport fee and be guaranteed same day delivery. Applicants for the new e-Passport can also apply online at www.mofa.gov.lr.
It usually takes at least three to five working days for applicants to get their passports using the regular service.
The new e-Passport booklet comes with advanced technology, which will no longer have a 2D bar-code, but rather a RFID microprocessor chip implanted into the book without the ability of detecting it physically with the eyes or touch of the hand. The e-Passport will hold all ten fingerprints in addition to the facial image of the holder on the RFID microprocessor chip.
Unlike the previous Liberian Bio-metric Passport, the RFID microprocessor chip implanted into the book makes it difficult to be altered or duplicated as the chip cannot be decrypted.
In the event where an attempt is made to duplicate or alter it, the e-Passport renders it void, as the passport will read two different information – the one stored on the passport page will read differently from the one stored on the chip.
In addition to all the modern electronic security, the physical security features of the new Liberian e-Passport have been upgraded. The improved security and aesthetic design has indigenous Liberian heritage symbols, from Liberian wildlife (pigmy hippopotamus, zebra antelopes) to Kissi coins and symbolic buildings, representations of both terrestrial landmarks and modern Liberia.
Since the introduction of the bio-metric passport, Liberian and foreign security operatives have easily detected all forgery attempts in the Liberian passport. The Government of Liberia is determined to maintain its status at the forefront of passport security and insisted on the substantial passport upgrade with Buck Press Ltd. This upgrade to e-Passports heralds Liberia on par with the U.S.A. and all European countries. In fact, the PKI infrastructure of e-Passports means that Liberia is an upgraded member of the ICAO PKI Agreement which updates all member countries, and certifies that genuine e-Passports are issued to their citizens.