Time for the Passport Office to buck up
I write today with a frightening concern. Is it possible that, as a result of the standoff between the Passport Office and the Registrar General’s Department some Bahamians are likely to find themselves stateless or at the very least undocumented?
Let me state right at the outset: The Bahamian people have and should have the expectation that the registry and the Passport Office are the guardians of the material that attests to our Bahamian identity. If anything goes demonstrably awry with records that have been entrusted to you, the officers of these agencies are to be held accountable. Or, if you accepted faulty documentation to issue government documents, you must accept your share of the responsibility and hasten to chart a course to making this right, keeping the public well-informed that help is on the way. You have no right to bounce people back and forth with no solution in sight. So grave is your responsibility for safeguarding documents relating to national identity and citizenship that redundancy of security systems should have been and be the hallmark of every aspect of your two organizations and the quality of your customer service.
Was it overoptimistic of me to believe that, after a good many outcries from several concerned citizens about the malfunctions of the Passport Office and the registry, the powers that be would get the wheels turning rapidly to set things right?
I thought that I could rest my pen on that issue. I was wrong.
Comments from a former minister of foreign affairs and the current chief passport officer set the alarm bells going again.
In a statement to the media, former Minister of Immigration and Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell, as noted in one daily, “attributed the current challenging application process at the Passport Office (long talk for chaos) to poor management”. Mr Mitchell, dear sir, we can agree on this point — poor management has to count for several of the most egregious bugs in the madness that has been afoot. I would like to remind you, however, of a promise you made to us back in 2017, namely: “I look forward to greater customer satisfaction as a result of faster processing times.” You were also reported as claiming that the customer can apply online, and that the system is coordinated with other government agencies. Really? How come the local U.S. visa services system is better at documenting us, at supplying digital aids to application and appointments and giving us shelter from the elements when we go to them? I believe that when I put my hand on that electronic watchdog of theirs, they know what I had for breakfast that morning and who I last had a row with.
The present chief passport officer, Siobhan Dean, in replying to Mitchell’s complaint, seemed to blame the former administration (Mitchell et al) when she was reported as saying, “this is in part due to the inconsistencies in the information on the documents individuals are bringing in, as well as the lack of due diligence done with the e-passport system when it was initially launched.” Obviously, both Mitchell and Dean have some right on their side. Both should own up. We don’t need political tribalism and finger-pointing, however. We need resolution, solutions and immediate action.
At this point, I would have left the matter with a sigh and moved on, but days before I had heard that a man well past his three score and 10 was told his current documentation was insufficient for a passport renewal. He was advised that he would have to go back to his home island and get two people there to attest to his Bahamian birth. Now, I could have misunderstood the communication, but the chief passport officer sent that faint hope straight out the window with the following statements:
“When you’re getting a new electronic passport, they have to have all the documents fresh, because the record-keeping wasn’t what it was supposed to be the first time around. So that’s number one,” he said.
“Secondly, though, the problem in going back to your grandparents has to do with the law of The Bahamas and the constitution, because depending on whether you are born within a marriage or not within a marriage, your citizenship may be affected by that fact.
“And it is also affected by whether you were born before independence or after independence, so they have to trace as far back as your grandparents in order to be sure you were properly a Bahamian citizen after independence.
Dean’s comments sent this sad matter straight down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. So, Ms. Dean, what if there is no “hospital letter”? For instance, Ms. Pinny, the village midwife, delivered me at Port Howe, Cat Island. What if there are no grandparents left? The chances are slim that there will be anyone at least 10 years older to vouch for someone 80 years old, don’t you think? Furthermore, you would now know that it is only slightly more likely that the people you turn away will find any comfort in the registry, who have been sent back to you.
Accurate and secure record-keeping should be the backbone of departments, which touch on the matter of citizenship. This current feckless business strikes at the very heart of national identity, as well as one’s personal sense of belonging. You signed on to the stewardship of matters that should be held sacred in a country claiming democracy and development. And you expect us to pat you on the back and give you ready absolution? No way!
This situation calls for a detailed and well-crafted statement from the Bahamas government making clear how all of this will impact a person’s citizenship. Even more essential, what recourse have the people who, although attested Bahamian by long years of schooling, voter records, passports, jobs, property records, extensive family connections, etc? If this is not good enough, will you declare them stateless? And, if so, where will you send them? As I have said in many writings, migrant takers are few and far between nowadays.
It’s the people’s time — let’s show it every step of the way. I would like to remind public servants that you are servants to the members of the public who pay your salary. Where did you get the notion that we have to come, cap in hand, to beg you for your assistance? Your job title says it — you were hired to serve, and not to frustrate your employers —,us, the Bahamian people. What right have you to treat us with disdain and leave us to broil in the sun? The talk of transformation is everywhere among officialdom — it’s time to make it so where it really counts. Buck up!
— Patricia Glinton-Meicholas