Liberia: Government Reduces Cost of Passport; Embarks on Institutional Reforms at Bureau of Passports; Makes Services Accessible

Speaking right after the signing ceremony on Tuesday at the C. Cecil Dennis Auditorium at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Minister said, the measure taken is in actualization of President George Weah’s promise to reduce the price of passport in line with the Government’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD).

Monrovia – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under the tutelage of newly commissioned Foreign Affairs Minister, D. Maxwell Saah Kemayah, has announced the reduction of the price of Liberian passport by 20 percent.

Minister Kemayah made the pronouncement at the signing of the amendment and extension of the passport contract with Buck Press, the Ghanaian-based firm that has been printing Liberian passports since the end of the civil war. The contract was set to be expired in 2021.

The reduction which takes effect on Monday, November 23, 2020, will see ordinary passport be sold for US$40 (from US$50), while expedited or express passport will be issued for US$80 (from US$100). Passport for diaspora Liberians will now be sold for US$160, a decrease from US$200. The cut, according to Minister Kemayah, will not affect the government’s revenue.

Speaking at the signing ceremony on Tuesday in the C. Cecil Dennis, Jr. Auditorium at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Minister said, the measure taken is in actualization of President George Weah’s promise to reduce the price of passport in line with the Government’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD).

He also said that the measure is part of his vision aimed at revitalizing and rebuilding the image of the Passport section, which has been rocked by a damaging scandal involving the Bureau’s former Director, Andrew D. Wonploe, Sr. before his (Kemayah) ascendancy to the helm of the ministry.

He said: “Integrity, you will agreed with me is so much key in what we are doing. The respect that a Liberian would get anywhere in the world using the Liberian passport. And so the allegations and counter allegations or alleged scandal as it relates to passport, we need to work towards mitigating it so that we change the narrative out there as it relates to passport… so anyone in the world can earn the required respect that should be accorded the passport itself and the holder of the passport.”

Damaging Passport Fraud Scandal

Mr. Wonploe was arrested in August 2019 by state investigators and forwarded to court for his alleged involvement in multiple illegal sales of Liberian passports to foreign nationals, but the case was dropped when government failed to prosecute him.

However, when Wonploe was denied entry into the United States of America by the State Department this year for his alleged involvement with passport fraud, he was re-indicted by the Government of Liberia.

The writ of arrest issued following the indictment listed 12 persons in connection with the passport fraud. The new indictment also revealed that from 2018-2019, Wonploe received 4,250 blank passports for signatures and legitimate issuance.

While in possession of the blank passports, Defendant Wonplo allegedly connived with Adedoyin Atiroko, Worjloh David Nippy, James Fallah, Johnson Anderson, Nmegatin Konneh and others to sell those passports, the indictment said.

It furthered that there were email exchanges between Defendant Wonploe and others for the alleged sale of passports.

Other defendants include, Faruk Kamara, Rannie Binda and William Reeves were also charged with the commission of “Economic Sabotage, Theft of Property, Forgery and Criminal Conspiracy.”

He denied the allegations but evaded arrest when he fled the country for fear of his life. While away, he accused several top officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs including former Foreign Minister Gbezohngar Findley of masterminding the fraudulent act. Mr. Findley has since denied the allegations.

Building on the AAI Vision

In an effort to revitalize the Bureau of Passport and Visa, Minister Kemayah announced the adoption of a reform agenda aimed at ensuring that services at the passport department are affordable, accessible and based on integrity- dubbed the AAI agenda.

The reduction of the passport price, he said, is part of the affordable component of the agenda, while several measures have been put in place to ensure that accessibility and integrity building components are met.

He announced that, as of Monday, November 23, 2020, the maximum time for issuance of ordinary passport after it has been paid for, will be seven days, while the expedited passport will be given within eight hours.

To boost transparency, he mentioned that the implementing partner, Buck Press, as part of its social corporate responsibility, will provide several CCTV cameras to be installed at the passport department to monitor the activities of staff.

He thanked Buck Press, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning and his principal deputies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their cooperation in ensuring that the amendment and extension of the contract was made possible.

Remarkable Negotiations’ skills

Also at the event, a senior staff of Buck Press, Francis Nyaning, on behalf of the Managing Director Mr. Eric Koffi Buckman, hailed the long standing partnership between the company and Liberia.

Mr. Nyaning thanked Minister Kemayah for his ‘remarkable’ negotiation skills that led to the extension of the contract which is expected to raise additional US$4.5 million in revenue for the government.

As part of its social corporate responsibility under the contract, he said Buck Press has extended the waiting area (palava hut) and constructed five passport applicants’ Interview booths to ease the processing of interviewing potential applicants.

In addition, he noted four new scanners, five office chairs, four ‘High-Speed Desktop computers, two fire extinguishers, three canon camera, a customer service phone and an extra vetting station, have all been provided to the Bureau of Passport.

Giving a brief history of the project, he explained that Buck Press came to Liberia immediately after the Liberian civil war when only few investors were willing and determined to come to Liberia.

“In fact, one of our partners, a European Company withdrew from the Consortium for reason that they can only invest in Liberia on condition that the Government of Liberia provides sovereign guarantee as a pre-condition for investing in Liberia,” he said.

“Despite these, Buck Press took a bold decision and unilaterally invested in a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) Project that cumulatively we are witnessing today for the launch of the new price of passport booklets.”

The ceremony was also attended by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, Deputy Finance and Development Planning Minister, Dr. Samora Wolokollie, who proxy for Minister Samuel Tweah and the Commissioner-General of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), Thomas Doe Nah. They all affixed their signatures to the agreement.