Only 19 percent of those who applied under the general category received their passports in time
Arman Ali (not his real name), 25, was found standing in a corner of the balcony of Pabna regional passport office with a gloomy face.
Asked what was bothering him, Arman said he had applied for a passport under the "emergency" category – he needed to go to India for some important purpose – and also paid the fixed charge. He had been expecting to get his passport delivered within seven days of application as stated in the rules.
"It has been 10 days since I filed the application, but I am yet to get my passport. The official concerned said they will need a few days more to issue it," he said.
"My departure date is getting nearer. I will have to complete other procedures but I cannot do anything as I am yet to receive my passport. A man just told me that I will have to pay the official some additional money…I want to get my passport quickly," Arman noted with grievance.
Arman is among hundreds others who have been going through hassles in getting various passport-related services at the regional passport offices across the country.
The government has fixed Tk3,450 for a machine readable passport to be delivered in 21 days under the "general" category and Tk6,900 for a passport to be delivered in seven days under the "emergency" category.
However, a number of applicants at the Pabna Passport Office told The Business Standard that the office was charging them Tk6,000 for a general category passport and Tk10,000 for the emergency one.
Our Pabna correspondent reports: If additional money is not given as bribe, the delivery of passport is usually delayed, as happened in the case of Arman.
In this way, the government's sincere intention to ensure hassle-free passport services by establishing 19 regional passport offices across the country has failed to bring about the expected result.
A report prepared by the Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) of the planning ministry has also revealed the rather unwelcome scenario of service in the regional passport offices.
The report said even though 19 office buildings had been constructed with an aim to bring dynamism in passport-related services, citizens were not getting their passports from these offices in expected time.
According to the study, 20 percent of the applicants at these offices applied for emergency passports but only 4 percent of them got their passports within the desired time.
Only 19 percent of those who applied under the general category received their passports in time.
The IMED report showed that 77 percent applicants did not get their passports in time.
As per rules, an overseas job seeker applying for a passport is not required to visit the passport office more than twice. However, 25 percent of such applicants had to go to the passport office three times. Also, 11 percent of these applicants did not get their passports even after visiting the offices more than thrice, the report revealed.
The IMED said police verification of the overseas job seekers by the Special Branch of Police and passport delivery by the passport office in Dhaka required extra time.
The report also brought to light some irregularities in the construction of the regional passport offices – between 2012 and 2017, which caused these buildings to become dilapidated within a couple of years of inauguration.
The condition of the buildings had been deteriorating both inside and outside due to faulty construction, not being listed with the Public Works Department, and a shortage of fund and manpower for their maintenance, the IMED report said.
The regional passport office project was originally scheduled to complete by 2014, but the deadline was extended till June 2017 owing to various complexities.
Md Abu Sadeq, a consultant of the Development Link Foundation (DevLink), told The Business Standard that there had been irregularities in the construction work of a number of these passport office buildings. He held the contractors and individuals directly involved in the project responsible for this.
He said a lack of awareness about possible contingencies ultimately resulted in the extra time and money for implementing the project.
Abul Mansur Md Faizullah, IMED secretary, however, said one of the primary aims of the regional passport office project – saving overseas job seekers, at least to some extent, from harassment – seems to have been achieved to a considerable extent.
He hoped the home ministry would take action in light of the report.
A source said the project cost increased to Tk131 crore from the initial estimate of Tk104 crore.
Under the project, three-storey buildings (with foundations for four storeys) were built in Pabna, Feni, Chandpur, Tangail, Bogura, Patuakhali, Kishoreganj, Manikganj, Moulvibazar, Brahmanbaria, Narsingdi, Munshiganj, Kushtia, Dinajpur, Cox's Bazar, and Rangamati districts.
In Chattogram, four-storey buildings were constructed on six-storey foundation; and in Dhaka, two six-storey buildings on ten-storey foundation were built at Jatrabari and Uttara.
The IMED report said external defects, internal alteration due to usage, falling plasters, discoloured walls and ceilings inside the buildings were found.
Fire extinguishers in most of the buildings expired long ago and the solar power systems are non-functional.
Increase of cost in land acquisition, new rate schedule, violating the original building plan, extra expenditure in land development, change of structure of boundary walls, construction of approach roads, cost for power connection and increase of staff salaries prompted revision of the project twice, the IMED report said.
Delay in work by the contractors, rain and natural disasters, contractor's inability in Moulvibazar, and delay in acquisition of allotted land in Tangail, Chandpur and Feni caused delay in the implementation of the project.
Extra time was required to implement the project in Rangamati as the tender had to be floated for a fifth time because no one had participated in the previous four. In Pabna, the delay was due to a lack of information about the depth of a pond on the allotted land.
IMED sources also said after completion of the construction work, maintenance and management work of these buildings is being delayed since the buildings have not been listed with the Public Works Department.