The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has objected to proposed changes to the Passport Act, which it says “appear to remove the possibility of bringing legal action against corrupt and unscrupulous passport officers who may have misconducted themselves over the past five years”.
The Passport (Amendment) Bill, 2014, to be tabled by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Ralph Gonsalves, will received its first reading in Parliament today.
Among other things, the act will be amended to declare “validly issued” any passport issued for a period of more than five years prior to the commencement of the amended law and the regulations made under the principal act.
It further says, “The fees laid out in the schedule to the Act, “which were levied, charged, and collected by the Passport Officer prior to the commencement of this Act and the regulations made under the principal Act are declared to have been validly levied, charged and collected”.
The Schedule says that in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, persons will pay EC$150 for an adult passport and EC$80 for a child’s, while the fees will be 75 and 40 pounds, respectively in the United Kingdom; US$150 and US$80, respectively, in the United States; and CD$145 and CD$75, for adult and child, respectively in Canada.
For replacement of passports, the fees in SVG is EC$300; 110 pound in the United Kingdom; US$225 in the United States; and CD$225 in Canada.
The fees for express service is $90 for one day; $60 for two to three days; and $40 for four to five days.
The amendments will also indemnify “all actions by the Passport Officer in relation to the issuing of a passport and the charging and collecting of fees which were validated by subsection (1) and (2) respectively”, saying these actions are “validated and declared to have been lawful and the Passport Officer are freed, acquitted, discharged and indemnified … from all proceeding in any kind in respect of or consequent on any such actions”.
But the opposition says the main purpose of the amendments is “to make good any wrongs which may have been done in the issuance of passports at home and abroad, the actions of those who were involved in the issuance of passports and the collection of monies for that service over the past five years.
“No reasons have been given by the Prime Minister for the legalisation of those passports that may have been invalidly issued, and the ratification of the actions which may have been unlawful, including the payment and receipt of monies,” the party further said.
The NDP further said it has serious concerns about the lack of transparency with respect to the issuance of the nation’s passports.
It spoke of unanswered questions asked by the NDP in Parliament concerning the granting of Vincentian citizenship to “questionable individuals”, the imposition of visa restrictions to enter Canada, and the fiasco surrounding the former Deputy Consul General in New York, Edson Augustus, who was recalled earlier this year for offering to help persons source U.S. Permanent Resident Cards (“Green Cards”)
“Given the present climate of perceived corruption and mistrust, the people deserve answers, and they deserve to know fully before the next sitting of Parliament what has prompted this decision by the ULP (Unity Labour Party) to amend the Passport Act in this way,” the NDP said.