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MoFA consular service privatization draws flak

MoFA consular service privatization draws flak

May 13, 2017 - 18:49

KABULinfo-icon (Pajhwok): The privatization of the consular service department by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has caused inordinate delays in verification of important documents, creating more chances of corruption.

Instead of curtailing fraud or accelerating the provision of consular services, the privatization has spelled more trouble for the general public, show findings of Pajhwok Afghan News.

Recently, MoFA handed over the consular service department to a private-sector company named GTR, which collects documents like tazkira, marriage certificates, degrees, etc. for verification by MoFA and hand them back to applicants.

MoFA says it has awarded the consular service contract to GRT due to security concerns and to facilitate citizens. On the other hand, applicants claim the process has become more complicated and their problems have multiplied.

GTR office is housed in an improper building in the Taimani neighbourhood of Kabul. The location is not safe and suitable for applicants. 

The Pajhwok reporter, who visited the office, said many applicants from different provinces were there to process their documents. They had to wait in severe heat for their turns to submit or receive documents.

In addition to the improper location of GTR office with no facility for visitors, the company’s staffers do not work from 11:0am to 2:0pm. Applicants have to wait for three hours.

Fatima, one of the visitors, grumbled: “In the past, our relatives would get their certificates stamped at the ministry in two days for 200 afghanis. But ever since it has been entrusted with the task, GTR has been charging each applicant 500 afghanis.”

She claimed extra money was charged to give applicants facilities and accelerate the attestation of the documents, but GTR employees, guards and other staff misbehaved with them.

All applicants are confused and have to go up and down stairs to get their documents stamped, according to Fatima, who said referees were told to come back after three days.

She alleged the documents remained unprocessed for days. “We came after five day and had to wait in sizzling heat to receive our documents. However, our problem remained unaddressed.”

Mumtaz, 70, another applicant, also resented the complicated and lengthy process of document verification. He submitted identity cards of his own and family members along with other documents on March 30 for verification.

Tazkiras of his relatives were supposed to be returned on April 3, but he was unable to get back the documents even on April 10.

“I live in the Khushal Khal area of Kabul. Apart from leaving work, I have to pay 100 to 150 afghanis in transport fare to reach this place to ask about my documents. But still I have not received my documents,” he regretted.

Anger among applicants

Syed Zahir, another applicant who visited the GTR office to get his brother’s tazkira verified, hit out at the culture of nepotism. He accused employees of the company of violating merit and teasing referees.

“In the past, we would bring our documents for verification to the MoFA, where the papers were stamped in a day or two. But now it takes five days (at least),” he remarked.

Zahir explained his documents not processed just because he had no relative or friend in GTR. People with the right connections were taken inside and their documents processed quickly, he protested.

 Extra financial burden

Currently the GTR collects 24 types of documents and returns them after verification. Previously, the company charged an applicant 100 to 2,000 afghanis but currently it collects 400 to 2,300 afghanis.

Ali Raza, one of the applicants, complained against the hike tazkira fee from 200 afghanis to 500 afs. He said most people of Afghanistaninfo-icon were poor and could not pay 500 afghanis.

Forcing visitors to pay bribes

Saleema Siddiqui, a civil societyinfo-icon activist, complained of problems and difficulties in the GTR process. “When I went there, the office gate was shut and only individuals with recommendations were let in. Applicants without references had to wait in queues.”

She said: “The document-collecting officer told me to come back on March 4. I visited GTR again on March 9, even then my documents were not processed.” She also resented GTR staff’s improper behaviour.

Some other applicants also highlighted problems in the verification process, saying dell-off of consular services to the private sector had in fact facilitated the ministry. The problems of applicants had increased, they added.

Parliament’s concern

A number of Wolesi Jirgainfo-icon members also slammed the submission of documents to the private company for verification as illegal and cumbersome.

Nahid Farid, a lawmaker from western Herat province, saw no reason for submitting documents to a private firm despite a high number of personnel at MoFA.

She called the payment of 300 afghanis more than the amount previously paid) for the verification of documents such as ID cards, certificates, diplomas and marriage certificates against the law.

She described the process ass intolerable, recalling people previously paid 100 to 200 afghanis for document verification.

Civil society organisations

Ayub Shahryar, advocacy manager at the Afghanistan Civil Society Forum (ACSF, confirmed problems in document verification by the private company/ “Before GTR took responsibility for this process, people expected it would provide better facilities. But, unfortunately, it didn’t happen.”

He said people paid a lot of money for the required services, but the firm’s performance left a lot to be desired.

The MoFA pretended it could not deal with thousands of documents on a daily basis and that was why it had handed over the process to a private company, he said.

On the other hand, GTR claimed it could handle the documents of only 700 people a day, Sahryar added.

Another civil society activist, Ali Parvez, believed the current verification process was more complex and problematic compared to the past.

The documents are submitted to GTR, which refers them to MoFA for confirmation and stamping. The papers are then sent back to the firm, a longer process, he argued.

“The confirmation process should be shortened and simplified. This is the responsibility of MoFA, which should not hand over the process to someone else, as doing so paves the ground for middlemen to step in,” he contended.

Parvez asked MoFA to avoid imposing extra and unnecessary costs on the people and retake responsibility for the confirmation of documents.

GTR refuses to discuss problems

The Pajhwok reporter was unable to obtain comments from the company despite multiple visits to the company office and phone calls to the officials concerned. He even faced harsh treatment from guards and personnel of the firm.

Security guards of the company barred the reporter from entering the building or interviewing visitors. He was threatened with dirc consequences.

However, MoFA said the ministry decided to only hand over the document collection and distribution process to the company in line with a cabinet decision and the private sector partnership law.

Acting foreign minister, Salahuddin Rabbani, said the objective behind privatizing the section was to ensure better discipline and removing security threats to the ministry.

He said the private company which was selected through a legal procedure, was responsible to only collect documents, process their primary stages and distribute them back to their owners after confirmed by the MoFA.

Rabbani confirmed problems in collection of documents by the private company and said, “The firm is still at an initial; stage; it may encounter problems in the beginning but would gradually get better.”

MoFA spokesman Shekib Mustaghni said: “Visitors would wait for days for their turn, so we handed over this process to a private company for a faster response to public requests and removal of a possible security threat to the ministry.”

Asked why the government did not increase the number of staff to speed up work, he said: “It’s OK to appoint more people for the collection, verification and distribution of documents in accordance with number of visitors.

“But there will be no need for the additional staffers once the workload or the number of referrers declines. And that’s why we don’t increase the number of workers,” the spokesman argued.

In response to a question, Mustaghni said the verification of translation of identity cards was the highly referring document to the consular part of the MofA.

According to the consular office, more than 220,000 of people in 2015 and over 198,000 in 2016 had approached to it for the verification of their documents. It linked a decrease in number of referrers in 2016 to border closure by European countries.

“A large number of our people started migrating to European countries in 2015, but the number of migrants sharply dropped due to border closures in 2016,” it went on to explain.

In response to a question about the contract period and benefits given to the firm, the office said it was a two-year agreement and the company received 300 afghanis for the verification of each document.

When asked how many fake documents had been detected and how many fraudsters detained so far, the office replied: “Most of the bogus papers are related to identity cards. Those submitting such documents are brought to justice after investigations.”

However, the office did not provide information about the exact number of the imposters arrested hitherto.

Pajhwok’s findings show those who take their documents for registration to the GTR are still faced with multiple problems. But the consular office said all public problems regarding document registration would be coordinated and resolved.

It insisted no violations had been reported about the company so far, acknowledging the private firm had been faced with some minor problems in launching its services.

The consular office said it reserved the right to evaluate its affairs, guide the private company and address people’s problems related in accordance with the relevant law and procedure.

It said the problems reported by the public had been shared with the company and some of them had already been resolved.

MoFA refused to comment when asked whether it was satisfied with the company’s performance or the contract would be scrapped if the firm failed to do its job according to relevant rules.



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