Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Why your e-passport keeps getting delayed

Editorial: Those prized passports
Business Mirror

CALL it the price of modernization. Whatever it is, the unintended effect of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) ambitious passport-modernization program has wreaked havoc on the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, who were looking forward to getting that precious machine-readable passport after years of being discriminated against in airports around the world because the old green passports were hand-scripted and so prone to tampering by criminal syndicates.

When the DFA announced a few months ago it was moving its consular office to the new facility on Bradco Avenue in Parañaque, many people were confident it meant the end of those many years of humiliation. For those who got their new, machine-readable passports, traveling indeed became a breeze. And then the system got short-circuited along the way. Thousands of would-be passport holders were horrified to learn that, while the new system appeared as world-class as the final product (the passport), some smart guys had found a way to tinker with it, apparently to make money. Passport applicants started to wonder why, the processing time had gotten longer and, worse, why the appointments for personal appearance (for the biometrics part) got pushed back farther and farther. The DFA, hounded by mounting complaints, started taking a look at its data and found something odd. According to a special report by this paper’s DFA reporter in last Sunday’s edition: “A few months after the implementation of the online schedule for passport application, Assistant Secretary Jaime Ledda said the ‘nonappearance’ among those who have set appointments online jumped to 40 percent.

“From the 2,300 applicants who set online appointments in March, the number jumped to 3,500 to 4,600 applicants between April and May this year.”

However, applicants who personally appear at the consular office remain at an average of 2,500 to 2,700 every day. The gaps apparently are explained by the use by online fixers of ghost names to reserve slots, which they can then peddle.

“Initial investigation showed the existence of ‘online fixers’ who bloat the appointment system.”

For instance, these fixers make appointments for around 50 slots under fictitious names and cancel these appointments “en masse” so they can encode the names of the legitimate applicants who paid for their service.

DFA officials are amazed at the talent of these people, and sought help from the National Police and the NBI. Said Ledda: “These fixers must be using a different IT system, that’s why they are able to block appointments and make way for the schedule of their clients.”

We hope they move fast, because whoever are the geniuses who have hijacked the DFA appointments system should be stopped right away for messing up a system so crucial to millions of Filipinos. Especially when one considers that in this country—one of the world’s top labor exporters—getting a passport is almost routine for anyone of working age.

As for those complaining about the prices of those prized passports, we’re inclined to believe the DFA claim that our e-passports are actually among the cheapest in the world and in the region. The passports are fine. Please just fix the system so people get them in a reasonably short time, and our less sophisticated countrymen don’t get abused by scammers.

No comments:

Post a Comment