YK Poudel 

The crowd at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) passport division has been witnessing a huge crowd with the division resuming the issuance of ordinary passports since November 3 and the replacement of a temporary travel document with an ordinary passport since December 1.

Around 1,000 passports have still not been collected from the division.

The issuance of 200 passports a day with 50 in-person appointments has reportedly created panic and confusion among service seekers.

Addressing to the issue, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Tandi Dorji, said that only 10,000 passport booklets have arrived in the country instead of 60,000 booklets in the first consignment in October. The next consignment would reach in the following week.

“The total demand for passports was 50,000 and as the division mentioned earlier 60, 000 passports will reach the country on a consignment basis,” he said.

The division receives applications for at least 200 passports daily, which accounts to around 5,000 passports in a month.

Lyonpo said that there are approximately 1,869 verified passports that are ready for printing and around 1,659 applications that need verification.

“To the applicants hoping to get their passports, in the next 10 days from now, the division will be able to print and provide to all the applicants,” Lyonpo said.

The division intends to clear the backlog in 10 days after the next consignment reaches the next week.

“The global supply chain issue and the huge rush in the country for passports caused this shortage. The division is in the process of transiting into an e-passport system through the Digital Drukyul programme. After the biometrics procedure is completed and digital identity is created, the country will be transiting to an e-passport system which will solve the problem is passport booklet confusion,” Lyonpo said.

The G2C site constantly down

One of the biggest problems facing service seekers is the Government to Citizen (G2C) facility, which is almost constantly down.

Lyonpo said that the Department of Protocol and Consular Affairs is working with G2C, the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT), and the system is being checked constantly. “The passport system is a part of the G2C system. When the system is down, automatically information from other RGoB agencies cannot be pulled by the passport system and the processing time takes longer.”

The Chief Programme Officer with G2C, Tashi Dorji, said that the department is constantly working with the passport division to ensure that the server is up and running. “The disruption in the system is usually caused by slow internet and other factors. However, the system has been fixed and is being updated constantly.”

The passport data

The MFA explains that the sudden shortage of passports was unforeseen.

As per the passport division statistics, in 2018, the issuance was highest with 13,266 passports. In 2019, it was 12,826. With the global pandemic in 2020, the number dropped to 3,597 passports and 7,586 passports in 2021.


Improvement in service delivery

As a measure to render rapid service, the division has deployed two printers and two laminators and additional staff working overtime, to print around 500 passports in a day.

Fifty in-person applications are accepted a day based on appointments in order to facilitate urgent travel measures for the applicants.

On November 30, MFA notified on its website that daily 100 applications will be accepted for the replacement of travel documents with ordinary passports through an application system.

According to the notification, citizens interested to avail of a passport must hand over the travel document to the passport division.  “The replacement would mean completely a new passport number. The passports are pre-printed and do not have the same passport number as the applicant’s demand.”

The division facilitated an exchange of 513 travel documents so far with ordinary passports without any charges being made.

Another official from the MFA said: “The international norm is that the passport holders must apply for a new passport six months before the date of expiry. The passport is not accepted by the immigration and other offices once the expiry date nears.”

The division has issued over 26,501 ordinary passports and 3,500 travel documents since January this year.