Rangoon (Mizzima) – If you’re a Burmese citizen eager to obtain a passport, you need to be patient and willing to wait, unless you stoop to grease the wheels.
The Myanmar Passport Office on Pansodan Street in Rangoon is a busy place. As one applicant found recently, standing for ages in line, filling out forms, running up and down stairs, and paying various fees gets you only so far. The applicant, John Htay, a pseudonym, then faced the prospect of waiting for a month to have his passport issued.
The passport process in Burma is said to have been improved. The office used to be notorious for red tape and complicated procedures. But as John Htay found, the process was still laboured and paying a relatively large sum of money could speed things up.
‘I had come to this office in order to then seek a job in either Singapore or Malaysia and to avoid being an unemployed graduate’, he said.
‘If you want the passport urgently, you must pay a tout at the passport office 200,000-300,000 kyat (US$ 234-351) but you have to contact this tout daily’, he said.
John Htay decided to go it alone. Unfortunately, he had chosen a Monday, which is a particularly crowded day to commence the process.
The people standing in the queue rushed towards the office as soon as the gates were opened. Iron bar barriers are erected outside with two rows, one for entry and another for exit.
John Htay said he rushed to the entry gate, only to be stopped by a security guard, who told him to leave his bag outside. That cost him a small fee for looking after the bag, even before entering.
‘Full of anxiety, I entered the office with a lot of papers in my hand. Then I asked a police officer about the complicated procedures of this office. He explained to me in detail from A to Z and also suggested I look at the procedures pasted on the office wall’.
Passport application in any country is seldom a simple process, although some countries have tried to improve their systems or outsourced the process to commercial firms.
But in the Myanmar Passport Office, there are a number of hurdles to jump.
First, he had to get his photo taken, which cost him 3,500 kyat ($4). Then he lined up in another queue, to verify the details of his household registration and his ID card. He handed over 1,000 kyat, as people ahead of him in the queue did, because he had heard this would ease passage.
Then he walked upstairs to buy a set of passport application forms for 2,000 kyat. It was hard to find a space in the crowded room to fill them out. While he was standing in a queue of over 100 people to pay the passport application fee, he filled out a cash remittance form, following the example of a sample form pasted on the wall.
He paid the $22 passport fee and a $1.20 service fee. ‘I don’t know why they charge for this unpleasant and uneasy service of standing in a long queue, which made me dizzy’, he complained.
On the next day, he returned to pick up his passport photos. He photocopied his cash remittance receipt and then had to pay another small fee, which was said to be for the cost of passport ink, paper and maintenance of office equipment. He was then to go upstairs to buy another form, paying $2.34.
He said he felt exhausted and upset with all the forms to fill out that included spaces for the names of cousins, brothers and sisters, both maternal and paternal. Then he had to have the forms checked and verified. The woman behind the counter checked the forms thoroughly. John Htay said the clerk told him the process was much more user-friendly than it used to be, but then asked him if he wanted the process finished in one day. When he said yes, she said it would cost $35. He bargained the price down to $29. After some time, the process was finished and an appointment date was set to then submit another form.
At this point, it was made clear that if he wanted his passport issued within a few days, he would have to pay 150,000 kyat ($174) to a tout, otherwise it would take a month. He paid the extra fee.
Clearly, he said, the smartly dressed policemen with their mobile phones are busy, even in their lunchtime, with this lucrative business.
But as John Htay said, even once he had his new passport in hand, he still would have to pay for the tax clearance forms he needed to fill out to hand in at the airport on departure. This was one more expense in the greasing of the wheels.