Our immigration, our national image
Much was dedicated to the aspect of rebranding our country’s image, during the current government’s first term in office. Such effort was as a result of the adverse effect that our civil war left with us particularly from the viewpoint of public relations. And to an extent, much was achieved by government in repositioning our country’s image outside of the perimeters of the Lungi International Airport. The country is now moving with prosperity agenda. Chapter nine of the said agenda talks about plans aimed at promoting a strategic foreign policy and international co-operation. It even identified, as a core challenge responding to the threat of transnational organized crime (drugs trafficking, terrorism and money laundering) within the capacity limit of our security forces. In this, the Internal Affairs Ministry is one of several ministries having crucial and important roles to play in the successful implementation of such an encouraging plan. (Photo: Lamin George Brima)
Within this ministry are a number of departments and agencies like; Immigration, Police, Prison, Fire Force and National Registration Secretariat. In the first five years of governance, the present administration scored a number of achievements in this sector. One of such had to do with the implementation of a modernization and structuring initiative of the National Registration Secretariat. This was aimed at enhancing national security by capturing biometric data used in the production of the National Identity cards. At the level of the immigration department, restructuring was also done to meet the challenges of modern management trends and global standards for the issuance of readable passports that guarantees maximum security of our passport. There also was an extension of the immigration services to the interior people. This was done by the setting up regional offices for better service delivery and access to facilities.
These are commendable achievements given what was achieved by government in the first five years in several other state institutions. What we witnessed was a clear manifestation of the political will to get things moving. Good successes with strong zest on the part of government, but with numerous challenges as well. For instance, if those at the lower cadre who take action on matters of national interest are behaving in an unwarranted manner, it becomes a serious challenge to the process of change and development. Let us take the immigration department as a case study. I had a lengthy discussion with Hon Sheka Tarawallie, the Deputy Internal Affairs Minister on the 11th of March on issues having to do with happenings in Beijing, from the viewpoint of our national passport. From the look of things, there should be the urgent need for political control over the immigration department, especially with the issuance of our passport. Our national passport should be carried by Sierra Leoneans, all things being equal. But alas! When we reflect on how some kaki boys in the NPRC era made mockery of our national pride and respectability in the issuance of our passport, it then would tell how they had managed the state of affairs at the time. For them, it was a way of making fortunes, at the expense of our image and uprightness. It was during their era that our passport started roaming the globe, falling in the wrong hands for the wrong reasons.
So, it is encouraging to learn, that plans are underway to ensure political control over the issuance of our passport. This is a commendable venture on the part of government. Latest plans are also there to move the Internal Affairs Ministry to the current Foreign Affairs building, when the later would have moved up Tower Hill. This will then see the Immigration Department also coming over to the same building, with Internal Affairs, thus ensuring better supervision and strong political control to be exerted by the ministry. Having political control over the issuance of our passport will go a long way in ensuring control over who gains access to it. This is more so when we still continue to see a trend in which non Sierra Leoneans roaming with our passport around the globe. When one is arrested in another country for committing a serious crime; it is Sierra Leone’s image that comes under the spotlight. So it is also even good when the Deputy Minister spoke of plans for the issuance of biometric passports. This is encouraging and I would also want to encourage the ministry to work hard in this direction for the good of Sierra Leone.
“Bo a small village in east Sierra Leone”:
The level at which non Sierra Leoneans are carrying our passport should be a concern to us all. Here is an example; a foreign (African) was arrested in China a week ago with some illegal substance. He was taken to a detention centre. He told law enforcement officers, that he was a Sierra Leonean with the name Lamin George Brima. He informed them of having a Sierra Leonean passport but at the time of his arrest, was not having it. The Embassy was informed by the Public Security Bureau of China. We requested for an interview with the detainee. During the interview on the 11th March, he was asked to among other things; show from which part of Sierra Leone he comes from; show his address in his hometown; to speak one of Sierra Leone’s local languages; to provide a telephone contact for any of his relatives in Sierra Leone; and to at least read out his passport number (since he said, he was not with it upon his arrest).
This is what he said in Krio (broken Krio!):
“I am a Sierra Leonean, from Bo. Bo is a small village in east of Sierra Leone. We do not have house addresses in Bo since it is a village. We don’t have village telephones there and I can’t recall the number of any of my relatives in the county. I last visited Bo village in February 2012. The only language we speak in Bo village is the one I speak now (broken Krio). I have a Sierra Leone passport but I was not with it when arrested and I can’t recall my passport number…”
Asked again whether he was indeed from ‘Bo village in east Sierra Leone, he became furious, thus shouting literally on roof tops but for the intervention of police officers under whose watch he was. Following our investigations, we came to know, he was not a Sierra Leonean but carrying a Sierra Leonean passport. Did I say he was arrested with illegal substance? Yes, indeed, according to police records. He is not the only one carrying our national passport here. Further investigations indicate a good number of Africans do carry our passport. This is alarming. When arrests are made, especially for those with serious crime, like possessing illegal substance, it is the image of our country that is at stake, because they will not state their countries of birth. How they get access to this valuable document is what should be investigated. Immigration should investigate this. Sierra Leone is for Sierra Leoneans and our passports should be controlled, or our image will be destroyed. The man from “Bo village in the east” cannot tell where our international airport is. Interesting!
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