LAHORE - Repeated efforts made by the government to remove the agent mafia operating outside the passport offices in the metropolis have yielded no results and these people can still be seen there in large numbers to help applicants get things done that are not possible through lawful means.

Officials working in these offices are hand in glove with the agents for ‘mutual interest’.

Sources in the passport offices said agents and security guards trap the applicants and refer them to the clerical staff to get done whatever they want done.

These agents charge Rs5,000 from the applicant who does not possess original Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) and wants to get passport issued against photo copy of his CNIC.

If some applicant wants to get his passport issued on the basis of CNIC issued from a city other than Lahore, he would have to pay Rs6,000 apart from the prescribed passport fee.

Insiders say that an applicant who visits office after office hours and wants to have his passport documents processed would have to pay Rs1,500 extra apart from his passport fee.

The agent will keep Rs500 in his pocket and give other Rs1,000 to the officials of Passport office. An officer of Passport office seeking anonymity said that passport offices in the city have become hub of agents/or application writers.

A junior officer at the Garden Town office, seeking anonymity, said that even agents operating outside the Abbot Road passport office contact people in this office to get the illegal jobs done. He said that agents help the applicants in getting their passports prepared and for this work they charge Rs6,000 to Rs10,000; another Rs1,000 for the issuance of an out-of-turn token; and Rs1,000 to Rs 2,000 for delivery of a passport.

He said whenever an applicant visits this office to receive his/her passport on the due date they are told by the counter clerk to wait for some more days. Once out of the office, an agent manages the same for the “dejected clients”. For this the agent receives his 'fee’. Then he pays part of the fee to the clerk concerned.

A source told this scribe: For the out-of-turn token, the agents use two types of tactics: 1) they make their own members stand in the queue early in the morning and whenever an applicant contacts them they charge them and replace their member(s) with the applicant(s); and, 2) they also get the token issued through the window clerk after payment of his share. There are many other areas wherein the agent mafia gets heavy amounts for issuing dual passport to an applicant (passport on fake CNIC), he further revealed.

Another applicant, Akram (single name), said people usually stand in long queues, but agents facilitate only those who pay. My son was not given the passport on due date, but after he paid Rs1,000 to an agent, he managed it the same day.

There should be a transparent way of delivery and passports should be displayed outside the offices on a daily basis so that the agents could not extort money, another applicant suggested. When this scribe contacted an agent sitting outside the Abbot Road passport office, pretending to be a client from Jhang wanting a passport prepared in Lahore, he said: It is possible but it will cost you Rs6,000 besides the real charges. For the queue-free passport, you have to pay Rs1,000 more.

An officer of Garden Town office, when contacted, said the government should devise a policy to make accountable both the applicant and passport official or agent involved in any type of bribery. We have asked applicants repeatedly by making announcements and displaying banners inscribed with slogans not to pay any extra amount to anyone whether he is agent or passport official.

But applicants do not believe in normal processing and they contact agents for illegal work done. We have approached DIG Operations and SHOs of police to take action against the agent mafia. They raid and arrest them due to non-pursuance of cases. But they get bail from courts and again establish their office outside passport offices.

The officer claimed that they have sent a proposal to Islamabad office recommending that salaries of the staff should be doubled so that they could perform their duties without indulging in unlawful activities.

Double shift should be introduced to minimize the pressure of applicants; employees should be given incentive to work and Security guards should be paid salaries.

Similarly, facilities the applicants may need in respective of their documentation should be provided in the hall so that they don’t have to approach the mafia outside.