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KARACHI, April 17: While a crisis at the passport office is likely to persist for some more weeks, over 50,000 residents who had applied for passports some two months ago have not yet received their travel documents thanks to the lethargy of the passports and immigration department, faulty printing machines and a shortage of specific lamination paper being used to cover the machine-readable passport, it has emerged.

Officials at the passport office disclosed that although the department was facing this situation for a third time in less than three years, it had failed to persuade the authorities to take effective measures to avert its recurrence.

It is learnt that despite all problems, officials at the passport offices were busy in ensuring an early and timely delivery of passports to only those who are ready to grease their palms.

Authorities conceded that the crisis deepened during the last couple of months when the printing of machine-readable passports stopped in Islamabad. However, they sounded confident that it would be over within next 15 days and people would start getting passports by the end of this month.

“We have conducted a series of meetings with authorities in Islamabad,” said Zulfiqar Talpur, the deputy director of Passports and Immigration. “The faults in the printing machines have been removed while some new machines will be imported from Germany.

However, at present, nearly 50,000 applications from Karachi are pending.”

Of the 50,000 applications, the due dates of 35,000 applications had already passed and the applicants did not get their passports due to
the prevailing crisis, he said, adding that the passport would start arriving from Islamabad within the next two weeks.

Due to the crisis, the officials said, nearly 300,000 passports could not be delivered to the applicants across the country for about two months.

Though the authorities declared faults in printing machines and a shortage of lamination papers as main reasons behind the crisis, they could not explain the mechanism which allowed some applicants to get their passports against the payment of a bribe.

There were a number of complaints about the behaviour of the passport office officials that they did not bother to inform any applicant about reasons behind the delay and were only interested in taking an ‘extra amount’.

“I was due to leave the country in the first week of April to join my job in Qatar,” said Asif Siddiqi, a youngster who had not yet received the passport despite the fact it was due in the second week of March, 2011. “But believe me or not, I spend almost an hour at the passport office regularly to know the exact situation and the status of my application. Only on April 5 they told me the reason asking me to come by the end of the month.”

Similarly, Saeed Alam, a resident of Federal B Area, needed to pay Rs6,000 ‘extra’ to a department clerk to get his passport on time. He was told by the clerk that ‘the system-in-charge’ at the passport office handled ‘special cases’ and half of the extra amount would be paid to him.

“My father passed away in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We don’t have any relative there and some colleagues of my late father told me to visit Saudi Arabia to complete certain legal requirements and take along the body to Pakistan. After hectic efforts, I managed to get my passport after paying an additional Rs6,000 to a passport office official.”
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