Interior Minister questioned by House over passport shortage
The Minister of Internal Affairs Gen Jeje Odongo, has been grilled by members of Parliament for allegedly watching helplessly as the country ran out of ordinary passports.
The minister was today appearing before parliament to explain the situation and measures being undertaken to solve the impasse, which he blamed on a rapid rise in demand by people, especially the youths seeking employment outside the country.
“The ministry is experiencing an unprecedented increase in demand for the Ordinary passports especially from those seeking employment abroad,” he said.
This sharp rise in the demand, according to the minister shot from 450 to 750 as daily passport applications, almost double the daily average demand.
As a mitigation, the minister said, the ministry chose to “put in place criteria to regulate the current stock levels to ensure that stocks last up to the delivery of the next consignment”
The measures highlighted in Gen Odongo’s statement included a cap on the issuance of ordinary passports to only proven medical cases, certified applicants proceeding on government business, students on scholarships and any other case of emergency in nature.
It is this submission that attracted bitter reactions from members with some referring to him as incompetent.
The Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Winnie Kiiza said that restricting the passports to special cases would breed corruption in the country and demanded the minsiter withdraws his statement.
“This statement is misleading and a mere call for people to find any possible means of acquiring a passort even through corruptive means,” she said.
Mr Mathias Mpuuga (DP-Masaka Municipality) blamed the minister for watching the situation run out of hand.
“I have just listened to a General making confession to incompetence and mismanagement,” he said while stressing that, “emergencies should never have been expected in these kinds of matters.”
Mr Godfrey Atkins Katusabe (FDC-Bukonzo West) the shadow minister for Foreign Affairs said that the minister expressed no concern of the people, for whom it is a constitutional mandate to possess passports.
“The greatest challenge of leadership is the lack of ability to detect and solve a problem before it becomes a crisis, you should have seen this,” he said.
Mitooma Woman MP Jovah Kamateeka who doubles as the Chairperson for the Committee of Human Rights and his Bulamogi County Counterpart, Kenneth Lubogo accused the minister of risking the country’s economy.
Whereas Mr Lubogo who chairs the Committee on Trade, Industry and Tourism expressed concerns by traders, Ms Kamateeka’s concerns were for ordinary citizens whose passports expire quickly due to regular movements across borders.
It was clear to Gen Jeje Odongo that the House had no kind words for him, with the exception of Adjuri County MP Hanson Obua. Mr Obua asked fellow lawmakers to spare the minister like, saying that he at least confessed the truth in his docket.
“We many differ in opinion,” Obua said, “trust me Gen Odongo has told us the truth and unlike many others who come and lie to us here, he has spoken the truth.”
The Speaker advised the minister to ensure adequate information distribution to the public to avoid uncertainties. She also asked him to ensure a phased implementation of the e-passport once the time comes.
Gen Odongo cautioned the public against paying for express passports but promised that the situation would be contained.
He also said he is not incompetent since other travel documents such as the East African passport, COMESA, the National Identity cards and temporary travel documents were being issued.
The shortage does not affect diplomatic passports.
Uganda is undertaking measures to switch to the e-passport in line with the regional requirement whose deadline has since been lifted to December 2017, from April 3, 2017.
Gen Odongo said that the process of procuring a provider for the e-passport involves many stakeholders and is still on-going.