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Passport fraud at Immigration Department

A syndicate comprising Immigration Department officials and outsiders at Immigration offices in Blantyre is making it possible for one to obtain a passport using a parallel system and without much hustle.

The office’s premises are often patronised by not only passport seekers but also people who just loiter around every working day.

Our investigation has established that some of these people who just hang around are the ones that facilitate passport acquisition using unofficial system but in collusion with Immigration officials.

Acting on a tip from the public, we made use of this Immigration 2 on January 11 and within seven hours, we walked out with an express passport for which we paid a total amount of K110 000. The government fee for an express passport is K68,500.

How it started

In mid 2016, we received a tip about a woman who plies her illegal passport production trade under the name Edna Mohammed. She is not an employee of the Immigration Department but is one of the chief conductors in the syndicate.

We started our investigation on Tuesday January 10 with a call to Mohammed asking for her help as this reporter needed a passport to travel to South Africa to pick up a new job.

She explained what was expected of us.

“For the whole process you need to have K110, 000. Make sure you come early in the morning because on Wednesday they work half a day as they go for sports. So we need to be there on time,” she advised on the phone.

On Wednesday we got to the Immigration offices at around 09:30. She assured us that despite having no identity card, the passport would still be processed.

She took this reporter to one of the stationery shops in one of the nearby buildings where we got passport application form which she completed.

A fake Malawi Electoral Commission voter ID was made at the stationery shop. The ID was used for the passport application process.

Nazombe requested for K10, 000 which she said was for the official stamp at the District Commissioner. But the forms showed that the applicant was from Thyolo.

Surprisingly, the receipt number REVCASH39658 from the DC’s registry office showed that the official stamp cost K5, 000, suggesting that the other K5,000 went into the pocket of the officer who had produced the stamp.

Mohammed took us to a Passport Officer inside the Immigration offices who signed on the form without any inquiries. Mohammed only told him that the client wanted an express passport.

“You see, he did not have to question because he does not doubt me. After we are done, I will share the money with him, I told him that you have the money,” she boasted as we left the desk.

Then we went for photo shoot but being parallel system, this applicant did not queue as other applicants did.

She gave the passport form to a female officer for immediate attention. The female officer, dressed in Immigration uniform, demanded K1000.

 

“Ndiye tigwiritseni kenakaketu, nanga bwanawo azingodya okha (Give me money too. Why should the boss benefit alone?),” she said.

We paid the K1000. Nazombe advised us after paying the official fee at NBS not to give the form to anyone else but to her. She took it later to the officer who had signed on the form earlier.

For her services, we paid K30 000 and she advised this reporter she would call when the passport is ready.

At 4pm, she called to report that the passport was ready.

As she gave us the passport, she boasted: “If you did not go through me, you could not get this passport within 21 days. All these people you see around here would have gotten passports if they had extra money as you have you done. The key is having more money and meeting the right people. Otherwise, the seekers you see here will keep coming and going for many days before they get passports.”

She asked this reporter to be referring to her passport seekers and she would pay K10,000 for every applicant referred to her.

Immigration speaks out

We took the findings of our investigation to National Public Relations Officer for the Immigration Department Joseph Chauwa who said the process through which we had obtained the passport was clearly irregular and he doubted the veracity of our findings.

He said passport application starts at the village headman level, then to the Traditional Authority who provides documentary evidence to confirm that the applicant indeed originates from their area.

“The applicant is then supposed to go to the District Commissioner of his/her place of origin with filled passport application forms for confirmation of the particulars of the village and TA as presented by the applicant and the TA.

“Passport photos are taken by officers within our offices to make sure only eligible persons access the process before registration and payment. The applicant goes through a thorough interview in person to make sure that the information the applicant presented in the application matches with what the applicant answers in person,” he said.

He said it is only uniformed officers who manage passport production. This is contrary to what is happening with Immigration 2.

“The passport issuance system is only managed by uniformed immigration officers. There are several stages the application passes through and at every stage there is a responsible officer who authorises for the next stage before the application is finally authorised for passport printing,” said Chauwa

Told about our investigation and its findings, Chauwa doubted them. He ruled out corruption at the Immigration arguing that the production process is open and free to anyone based on their eligibility.

The Catholic Commission for Justice and peace (CCJP) has described as disheartening the corruption exposed at the Immigration and called on authorities to bring to book those involved.

CCJP National Secretary Martin Chiphwanya said the corruption at the Immigration and in other government departments erodes public confidence in the institutions.

Chiphwanya said corruption thrives where collusion is deeply entrenched in the system. He said any system that fails to detect the existence of syndicates within its ranks lacks efficiency.

“An efficient system should have mechanisms that are able to detect any fraudulent transactions, corrupt tendencies and deal with them decisively. It is disheartening to hear that even some senior officers are part of this scam. This does not inspire any confidence at all,” said Chiphwanya.

He also said the leadership at Immigration department should institute thorough investigation into the matter and act on all those involved in the scam in accordance with our laws. He said failure to act on this serious allegation is a total breach of duty of care.

“The public too should be proactive by reporting such bad apples to law enforcement agencies for their action. It is not proper to just sit and watch when our country’s image continues to be battered by these corrupt officers. There is need to expose the rot and let the long arm of the law take its course,” he said.

We are arranging to hand over the passport, number MA 834062, to the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

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