Some members of the staff attached to the Department of Immigration and Emigration discriminate against Tamils when they apply for passports. Stern action would be taken against them, Controller of Immigration and Emigration P. B. Abeykoon said.
He said that all complaints made to the department would be duly investigated and a special procedure to handle passports alterations had been adopted in accordance with the Immigration and Emigration Act which stipulated that the contents furnished in a person`s original birth certificate should be included in the passport. Subsequent alterations requested by passport holders would not be entertained, he said.
When asked about the tampering with passports, Abeykoon explained that the department had installed highly sophisticated fake passport detecting machines at the Katunayaka airport and the computerized passports could not be tampered with due to very intricate technology applied. There had been several instances where some people had attempted to tamper with the contents of passports and since the introduction of computer-generated passports that malpractice stopped, he said.
The Immigration Chief also said that the Government had focused its attention on the necessity of introducing a one number system to a person`s identity card, passport and bank accounts to facilitate transactions. Abeykoon said that the department was in need of an effective link with the Registrar General`s Office and Registration of Persons Department so that the Immigration Department staff could be able to verify the facts furnished in the passport applications.
When asked about the corrupt practices adopted by some Immigration officers, Abeykoon said that the Bribery Commission had caught some immigration officers red-handed while taking bribes and they were in remand pending legal proceedings. Public co-operation was extremely essential to nab corrupt officers as the department was unable to do it all alone, he said adding that he himself had received complaints that some immigration officers were in the habit of taking bribes for allowing under-aged women to pass through immigration gates at the Airport on the false information mentioned in the passports. `We are unable to bring those officers to book or detect such incidents because the public support to nab corrupt officers has not been forthcoming,` he added.
Abeykoon stressed that he had also found a secret operation in selling fake Sri Lankan passports at a price of Rs.25,000. These passports, according to him, were being brought to Sri Lanka by some racketeers secretly operating from Thailand and added that not only Sri Lankan passports but also passports of USA,UK and India could be bought in Thailand at different prices.
He said that Thai officials had turned a blind eye to these illegal operations because that type of passports could be easily detected when the passport holder submits it to the immigration officers at the airport.
Regarding the functions of the newly located three Immigration and Emigration offices in Matara, Kandy and Anuradhapura, Abeykoon outlined that people in those areas had not been using the immigration branch offices and they had been rushing to the Colombo head office.
He also said that people of Matara, Kandy and Anuradhapura need not come to Colombo as the branch offices are fully equipped to process applications. Applications could be obtained through all Grama Niladharis, Divisional Secretariats, school principals and places of religious worship. A fee of Rs.7,500 is charged to issue a passport on the same day Rs 2,500 for normal processing which would take a little over one week to be issued.