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Bribery continues for police verification of passports

  • Published at 12:36 am May 18th, 2019
Passport-Mahmud Hossain Opu-Dhaka Tribune
Despite strict regulations and a brief respite, bribery has persisted in obtaining the necessary government document Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

The ACC, on Monday in its latest annual report also presented the recommendation to the President, Abdul Hamid, for abolishing attestation of documents and police verification.

Paying for the police verification required to have a passport issued continues unabated while the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in its latest recommendation has asked the authorities to abolish police verification and the attesting of documents necessary for passports.

The ACC, on Monday in its latest annual report also presented the recommendation to the President, Abdul Hamid, for abolishing attestation of documents and police verification.

According to the report, there is scope for police to demand and take bribes in the very process of gathering information on a passport applicant. The report also recommended extending passport validity to 10 years.

“Policemen asked with the job of verification should be given a deadline, or the method can be abolished,” article 8.3 of the report suggested.

It has been a longstanding problem, with experts and anti-graft watchdogs continuing to decry it, asking authorities to abolish police verification for passports in order to stop extortion and harassment.

Experience of passport holders

Sajid Shafiqul Azam, a job-holder and resident of Rampura, had his passport issued in April of last year. Originally from Chittagong, he had to undergo police verification twice: once in Dhaka and again in his home town.

He did not have to give a bribe for police verification in the capital, but someone of the special branch asked him to pay Tk2,500 to the Chittagong Metropolitan Police.

“I was threatened there would be dire consequences if I did not pay up,” Shafiq recalled.

“Finally, I got rid of the harassment by contacting a local journalist who told them not to harass me,” he added.

Unlike him, Fazlur Rahman, a job holder and entrepreneur, managed police verification for his passport without paying an outright bribe, but he did give Tk500 as ‘fuel costs.’

When asked why he paid them money, Fazlur, a Moghbazar resident, said: “Paying money for passport police verification is common practice.”

TIB efforts

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director, Dr Iftekharuzzaman, said they repeatedly identified the problem and sought its remedy, but in vain.

“Our study found police verification is a major contributor to corruption in the passport sector. We have repeatedly been asking for a hard line to this end, but received little attention from the authorities concerned,” he said.

Lauding the ACC’s recommendations, he said: “An individual faces immense suffering in case of police verification and attesting necessary documents. It is high time they were stopped.

“I believe many in the government also agree with us,” he maintained.

The TIB official hoped that digitalization of passports will largely squeeze anomalies in obtaining passports and cut short the time needed to get a passport,” he concluded.

A 2017 TIB report said more than three-quarters of all new passport applicants between September 2016 and May 2017 faced police harassment or were forced to pay bribes to get police clearance.

In another report in 2016, the TIB dubbed the Department of Immigration and Passport (DIP) the most corrupt service sector in the country.

78% people pay bribe

About 78% of people are forced to pay bribes for the department's services, followed by 75% of people having to pay bribes to law enforcement agencies, the report added.

At a public hearing on August 30, 2016, the then Director General (DG) of the DIP, Maj Gen Md Masud Rezwan, attributed most of the sufferings to the harassment during the police verification process.

The Dhaka Tribune on Tuesday repeatedly tried to contact the current DG of the department, Maj Gen Md Shohail Hossain Khan, and his deputy, Selina Banu, but could not reach them.

His cell number was found to be inactive, with Selina’s phone being switched off.

Contacted, Md Shahiduzzaman, secretary of the Security Services Division which serves under the DIP, said he was not ready to comment on the matter over the phone.