Conditions at Guyana Passport Office are a public health hazard

July 13, 2009 | By | Filed Under Letters 

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Passport Office must be commended for the rate at which it processes and issues new passports. I flew in from Trinidad to renew my passport and am really appreciative and thankful for this aspect of its service.

Citizens of other countries sometimes have to wait months rather than a week for a new passport. The staff at the Guyana Passport Office must also be commended for their patience and persistence in their task.

However, the conditions under which applicants are hosted constitute a public health hazard that requires immediate correction. We cannot be serious about wanting, for example, to control swine flu, and yet have these conditions at the passport office where travelers and others congregate.

The new concrete building is designed with small metal window sets only on the northern and western side. There are three small domestic stand-up fans to circulate stale air among some 200 plus persons crammed within inches of each other. Five feet away the Police Force has its “band building”, which blasts dub, pop, and R&B music at top volume.

An applicant must endure the sun’s heat, stench of a room full of perspiring people, stale air, and maddening noise for four to five hours before being seen! Surely, three air condition units in this space will not bankrupt the State? I understand that the building is currently being upgraded, but these units are needed now. We cannot afford excuses.

The passport processing system also exacerbates the situation. Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the system is the musical chairs one is required to play to just reach a cashier to pay for an application. A person is issued a number at the door, but there is no system for calling the number so that one may make their way to the cashiers to pay for an application. Instead people are made to shuffle along chairs. As soon as one person moves up everyone must stand up, move along, and then sit. This is repeated about 30-40 times before an average applicant reaches the cashier.

I tried to stand aside and wait my turn, but a diligent young guard told me that I had to be in the system. This system is abjectly idiotic. We cannot seriously expect citizens to use chair aerobics to get through a queue? Is it really going to bankrupt the State to get a PA system to call out the numbers or to get a number display system?

Once an application is submitted one is issued a slip to return in a week’s time to pick up the new passport. It appears that everyone is told to come back at one o’clock if their pick up time is in the afternoon. The consequence is that there is a frightening queue outside long before one o’clock and the room gets crammed full with everyone waiting to hear their name called. I got into the building at 1:14pm and was issued my passport at 5:08 pm.

The waiting conditions during this time were horrific. At one point I wanted to throw up from the heat, stench, noise, and stale air but the washroom was “out of order”. I tried to stand just outside on the porch for a bit but a guard told me that they wanted to keep that space clear, that I could stand on the road instead! It seems to me that the congestion and long waiting time could be avoided if the pick up times were staggered between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m.

I understand that much has been done in the past years to improve the operations at the Passport Office and that the intention is to process a high volume of applications. However, it is not necessary to herd citizens like farm animals to achieve high rates of processing. I strongly urge those responsible to correct these unhealthy and inhumane conditions immediately.

Simone Mangal

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