After weeks of complaints by Saint Lucians about the non-issuance of passports, many of whom have had to wait in queues for hours in hopes of acquiring the needed document for travel, Home Affairs Minister Dr. Virginia Albert-Poyotte has responded.
The minister, via a speech in Parliament yesterday, promised that the issue would soon be rectified and said that there was a reasonable explanation for the inconvenience.
“It has to deal with the transition from regular passports to e-passports. We also have challenges with the conditions of service in terms of occupation safety and health issues. The air quality has not been up to standard and we had to close the place on a number of occasions,” she explained whilst apologizing for the inconvenience.
But the minister’s apology comes a little too late, as many Saint Lucians have had to go through inconveniences of a type unheard of in an effort to acquire a passport.
Stories of long queues, day after day, with no explanation, from personnel of the passport office, made rounds on social media, even reaching our Editorial Department via letter, as Saint Lucians vented, feeling abused by the system.
Why is it that the Home Affairs Ministry, headed by Minister Albert-Poyotte, did not release a statement prior, alerting Saint Lucians to the state of affairs at the passport office?
The view by several Saint Lucians is that such a statement would have served to prevent the frustration they had to go through in their attempts to obtain a passport.
“We are encouraging persons who need their passports for urgent matters for medical reasons or to travel to apply for their passports,” Albert-Poyotte said.
She added that persons who want their passports renewed (for other purposes), will have to wait a while as Saint Lucia is transitioning into the e-passport system.
“We will not want to renew your passports now (because) later you (will) have to move to an e-passport. We are asking you to be patient as we do that transition,” Albert-Poyotte said.
The e-passports, she intimated, will be launched next month if all goes as planned. Further, she said, it has many benefits and is a step in the right direction. Noting that it protects individuals extensively, the minister said that e-passports reduce the risks of identity fraud and tampering by adding a digital record of the information.
“For an e-passport to be considered genuine the microchip data must match the printed data. The biological information and documents specific data loaded into the microchip cannot be tampered with, edited, or modified once programmed. This raises the security barrier to a new level against counterfeiters and those seeking to alter the electronic document,” Albert-Poyotte said.
She added that it “will help improve border security measures to create greater safety for people. When we talk about crime we don’t look at the other areas that we need to secure in order to control criminal activity. If we can control our border, by having security measures that is one measure of combating crime in Saint Lucia.”
According to her, the e-passports will also improve the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP), as it would respond to the need to elevate the security procedures in issuing passports under the CIP. Further, she noted, the introduction of e-passports will embrace bilateral and multilateral agreements “such as the US Visa Waiver Programme and the comparable agreements with the European Union.”
“It should be noted that some of these programmes have expanded since the introduction of e-passports, owing in part to the secure nature of the document and risk assessment performed on a country-by-country basis,” Albert-Poyotte said.
“The security and integrity of Saint Lucian passports is critical to maintaining international acceptance and facilitating travel for Saint Lucian citizens. The passport office continually reviews its passport documents, processes and systems used to issue them. This involves ongoing dialogue not only with current suppliers, but with law enforcement agents and other international organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Authority in the implementation of practices recommended by this globally recognized institution,” the minister noted.
Further, she said, the passport office must be vigilant and proactive in its quest to fulfill its mandate of providing an effective and efficient passport service, especially as a means to support the CIP.
“The next steps will provide the immigration ministry with the timeframe to transition to full compliance as recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regarding e-passports. As technologies and requirements (evolve), we must improve the systems that drive them. The current system and process was designed and implemented over a decade ago to support enhancement and improvements overtime such as the operational seamless shift to e-passports,” the minister said, adding that “this foundation will ensure that Saint Lucia remains at the frontline of border security… the e-passport is the next logical generation of passports.”