Passport Officers Demanding Bribes?

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Liberians applying for passports to enable them travel abroad have encountered mounting frustration at the Passport Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They have therefore called on the government to intervene, investigations conducted by the Daily Observer have indicated.

The official Liberian ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Biometric Passport is US$50, but many passport applicants told the Daily Observer, “We are made to pay as much as US$75 or even more.”

“What happens to the extra fees?” was the question that many of those interviewed confirmed were demanded by passport processing officers as their own share.

When reports reached the Daily Observer last week, an undercover reporter was dispatched to investigate and verify the information and our reporter sat in a meeting with at least three passport processing officers who, not knowing who they were deliberating with, went to explain the process and how much was needed to get a passport.

The information indicated that Liberians applying for passports have been requested to pay as much as US$75, when the official cost is US$50.

A passport officer told him in answer about the cost of a passport: “Yes, it costs US$50 for a passport.”

“Why US$50,” our reporter said.

Passport officer replied, “Ask your government.” Then our reporter informed him that they were four brothers who wanted to travel to the United States to their parents and they needed the passports very urgently.

The passport officer responded, “My man, we want money.” Our reporter then gave the officer L$450 as his ‘cold water’ to encourage him to help the process.

The passport officer now agreed to help his client, our reporter, go through the process to get the four passports. The officer then explained that the four passports will cost US$200 at US$50 each; and for his effort the client would give him, US$20 each for a total of US$80 to help with the process and he volunteered to get four birth certificates for the brothers.

The client (reporter) informed the officer that he was going to inform his mother and would need his (officer’s) contact information to send to her, which he readily surrendered.

Later, outside, our reporter got in contact with a man who was too frustrated about the delay and money he had reportedly paid to a ministry worker, who had promised that he would receive his passport in three days. A security officer told our reporter that the passport application form is free, “but we are selling this one to you for L$100.”

“I gave US$65 to a passport officer at the Ministry, who told me to come for my passport in three days. The passport officer contacted a security officer and instructed the officer that after three days, when I would come to the gate, he should allow me in,” said the applicant.

The man said he was excited about getting his passport in the three days as promised, but when he returned after the three days, he could not get the passport and there was no one he could go to for help.

When our reporter cleverly spoke to several of the passport applicants, they complained about the constant delay and the demand for money by passport officers from citizens, who want to obtain their passports. Many of them said they now had no alternative, but to appeal to the new Foreign Minister, Marjon Kamara, whom they did not know, to exert some authority to ensure that Liberian citizens, who want to obtain passports, not suffer as they are now doing.

However, when several of the passport officers were approached yesterday on the issue by an Observer senior staff, they denied ever encouraging those who want to obtain passports to spend as much as they have claimed.

“We are all Liberians and so some of our brothers and sisters when they come here they don’t have the patience to wait and therefore they suggest whether we can help,” an officer said.

He explained that it is possible that some Liberians who want passports may have offered some money on their own, but that does not mean that workers at the Division of Passports demand money.

“We love our job and we cannot work to hurt our people,” he stated.

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