If you see the oppression of the poor and the violent taking away of justice and righteousness in the state or province, do not marvel at the matter. [Be sure that there are those who will attend to it] for a higher [official] than the high is observing, and higher ones are over them. — Ecclesiastes 5:8
The Malawi immigration department, the road authority, the Malawi Revenue Authority, ESCOM, and the MACRA continues to levy charges to the Malawi population, with little thought to the financial burden it makes on ordinary Malawians. These departments’ continued increases in their services and products are issued with alarming repetitive and often exhibitive soaring costs. The most recent financial onslaught is the proposed e-passport that is being rolled out as early as December 30, 2019.
The announcement for the proposed e-passport project said: “the Malawi Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services wishes to inform the general public and all stakeholders that it is upgrading the passport issuance system and will introduce the electronic passport (e-passport) from December 2019; which will eventually replace the current Machine Readable Passport.”
The e-passport is like the traditional booklet that will be embedded with an electronic microprocessor chip; it stores demographic biometric information. It can be used to authenticate the identification of someone. Ideally, the e-passport can remotely process and access information. It comes with enhanced security features.
The department informs Malawians in a press released on December 10, 2019, that although the new passport will run concurrently with the machine-readable one, this will be for a specified period. It, therefore, encourages Malawians to acquire the e-passport affirming that after a specified period, the old passport may not be used outside Malawi travel. The release furthermore states that Malawi embassies will be equipped with systems installed that will make it easier for members of the Malawi diaspora to register and pay for the e-passport.
The department states that the airports and borders will be installed with machines that will process emergency e-passports. All these will enable Malawi to align with international standards laid out by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
It is regrettable that this is the third time in the last 25 years that the Immigration Department has changed the passport features, calling for all passport holders to acquire the new passports; each time causing Malawians to folk out increasing fees. Currently, a Malawi passport costs MK80 000 ($108.53); doubtless, the e-passport will come with a higher purchasing tab.
Another concern for Malawians wishing to secure the e-passport will need for some reason the National ID. This is a non-starter for two reasons. Firstly, the requirement for the National ID will disqualify many Malawians, especially those that are in the diaspora, greatly disadvantaging them. According to one envoy, National ID machines are not yet available in embassies. Other countries use the driver’s license as a form of ID, a former passport or a birth certificate.
Secondly, if a Malawian purchased a passport last year, paying MK80 000, he or she will be required to pay another $108.53. The immigration department’s frequent passport changes, for whatever newer security reasons, are costly for the Malawian citizens.
Lastly, the department claims that the implementation of the e-passport project will “continue to maintain the integrity that is attached to a Malawi passport internationally as a trusted travel document.” This claim is received by many Malawians with much skepticism, laughter, and ridicule. On the heels and aftermath of the “tippexed” May 21 tripartite elections, they are asking how credible is the claim the department make? Can the machines be trusted that they will not be manipulated by issuing e-passports to foreign nationals?
Malawi government agencies should stop milking the cow; Malawian citizens have come of age; they know when they are being duped; they also receive anything suspect anything the Malawi government introduces that uses machines.
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