Malawi has run out of blank passport books, forcing the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services to suspend the issuance of the travel document and collection of application fees .
Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services director general Charles Kalumo in an interview yesterday said the suspension of services at its four processing centres in Blantyre, Mangochi, Lilongwe and Mzuzu has been worsened by lack of foreign exchange.
“Currently, we are only issuing passports to those who have got emergencies such as medical evacuation, government trips and students flying out for studies,” he said.
The shortage of passport books became more pronounced last year after the Malawi Government terminated its contract with service provider Techno Brain allegedly because it was costly.
But Kalumo said the problem is temporary because the department expects to receive 240 000 passport booklets by April 4 this year.
He said the impending consignment will serve the country for about two and half to three years.
However, he declined to give details of the supplier and how much government has lost in non-tax revenue following the suspension of services, only saying: “In the interim, we will continue to source more passport booklets to avoid a similar [stock-out] situation in future.”
Sources at the Immigration Department confided yesterday that it is now three weeks since senior officials made a verbal communication on the suspension of passport applications.
The sources claimed that the Malawi Government was struggling to get passport booklets because it was yet to honour obligations with Techno Brain worth about $11 million (about K11 billion) following the termination of the contract. They said government only paid $2 million (about K2 billion).
The Tonse Alliance administration terminated the contract in October 2021 citing anomalies. The contract was signed during the administration of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2019.
Minutes of three e-passport negotiation high level meetings between Techo Brain Global and Malawi Government, held on June 10, July 21 and October 12 2022 at Ministry of Finance conference room in Lilongwe, show that the company demanded $28.5 million (about K29.1 billion) as settlement and contract termination fees. Out of the amount, $22.5 million (about K23 billion) is the settlement amount and $6 million (about K6.1 billion) as contract termination fees.
The July 21 meeting agreed that $2.5million (about K2.5 billion) be deducted from the settlement sum as it was already paid on March 8 2022 under the first interim agreement.
At the time of terminating the $60 million (about K61.8 billion) passport deal, Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda said the decision was based on a contractual clause of convenience and public interest which allowed him to discontinue the contract at no cost.
But in January 2022, Techno Brain issued a statement asking for continuation or resumption of the terminated contract, arguing that the proposal was a win-win situation for Malawi as the firm had laid an important foundation for the passport system in Malawi, including training of staff.
The deal also involved the introduction of an electronic passport under the build, operate and transfer model by providing 800 000 electronic passports under procurement reference number IM/01/272/07.
Commenting on the matter yesterday, Consumers Association of Malawi executive director John Kapito said it is frustrating that government is not coming clear on issues surrounding passport issuance and contract.
He said a passport is a right for every Malawian and it is not something that people should treat as luxury.
Said Kapito: “If indeed they are having problems with issuing passports, then they should inform everybody properly and the reasons why. This will help people to plan better.
“If that is not being done then it becomes total negligence and lack of accountability which I think sounds more weird. Right now there is total silence, darkness and nobody knows what is happening, that creates a bit of frustration and anger.”
A visit to Immigration offices in Blantyre found dozens of people waiting to apply or renew passports.
Yusuf M’bwana of Mpalume Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chimwala in Mangochi and Kasim George of Nyanyala Village in Phalula Area, T/A Nsamala in Balaka said they stay in South Africa but came to Malawi last month to renew their passports.
They both expressed fear that they may use money they saved for passport renewal and transport to return to South Africa for accommodation.