Member of Parliament (MP) for Mzimba West, Harry Mkandawire, Thursday exposed what might be one of the country’s biggest passport rackets in recent memory where a consignment of 249 travel documents might have ended in the hands of illegitimate applicants.
A box of 250 passports apparently got lost in December last year and one of the passports bearing the name Vincent Banda was found in possession of a Nigerian who got arrested in South Africa on his way to London.
According to the information that Mkandawire presented in Parliament yesterday with copies of the Vincent Banda’s travel document, the Department of Immigration on December 29 last year received from Techno Brain Printers a consignment of passports, of which 250 went missing.
Mkandawire asked Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Grace Chiumia, to tell the House whether she was aware of the racket and what the government was doing about it.
“The Chief Immigration Officer signed for these passports. The crime is starting from that juncture. He signed for the 250 passports; why can’t the government take him to task? There is something fishy here,” Mkandawire said.
Chiumia said her ministry will investigate the matter so as to get to its bottom. However, she distanced her ministry or the government from the racket.
“We will have to find out how he [the Nigerian] got the passport and who is behind this racket. Once we know who is behind this, they will face the law,” she said.
The response did not convince the opposition side which accused the government of knowing something regarding the scam.
Even Speaker of Parliament, Richard Msowoya, weighed in on the matter, describing it as something very serious.
Several MPs who spoke on the matter warned that the racket could be exposing the country to serious security threats since it is not known who had received the ‘missing’ 249 passports.
MP for Karonga Central, Frank Mwenifumbo, expressed deep concern over the racket, stating that already the country is being threatened by terrorists disguised as refugees.
“There are terrorists from groups like al Shabaab who are hiding in this country. They have been found with guns and we are not sure whether these cannot be given passports because it seems everyone can get a passport in Malawi,” Mwenifumbo said.
Lawmaker for Mangochi Monkey Bay, Ralph Jooma, like others who contributed to the debate on Mkandawire’s question, said it is extremely worrying that despite several concerns from different stakeholders, foreigners continue obtaining Malawian passports.
In her attempt to defend government on the matter, Chiumia repeatedly stated that she would make a ministerial statement in which the racket would be addressed.
She also attempted to gag MPs by threatening that she had more information about their underhand dealings which she was willing to expose. However, this did not stop the lawmakers from accusing her ministry of being party to the racket.
Meanwhile, Mkandawire has proposed that the parliamentary committees on Defence and Security and of Government Assurances— which he chairs—should investigate the matter because the government cannot be trusted with the task “since it seems to be party to the racket”.