Passport program problematic

Auditor General office staff at Tuesday’s Public Accounts Committee hearing, from left: Nicodemus Anuntak (Staff Auditor), Atmita Jonathan (Assistant Auditor-General) Auditor General Junior Patrick, David John (Staff Auditor), and Maludrik Maludrik (Audit Supervisor). Photo: Eve Burns.

The RMI government’s passport program was put under the microscope Tuesday this week with the opening of a week of Nitijela Public Accounts Committee hearings on various audit reports of RMI-related entities.

Among key issues that sparked comments and discussion was the finding by the Auditor General’s office that 573 passports were issued without proper supporting documentation.

This followed after Attorney General Richard Hickson provided the committee with an extended overview of the need for a new passport law that is now in draft form. Hickson explained the complexity of the current situation and the need to update RMI laws to improve the situation.

The hearing reviewed an Auditor General report for the 2015-2017 period that identified numerous problem areas in the passport program, including lack of security over blank passports at the Attorney General’s office. The AG said the passports are now safely locked in a room that only staff can access.

For years, people blamed government officials for selling RMI passports to non-indigenous Marshallese without understanding the fact that at one point, the government authorized a passport investment scheme. Decades later, RMI is questioning the status of 573 passports issued under the passport investment scheme.

The issue was brought up during the Public Accounts Committee hearing Tuesday, during which the Office of the Attorney General indicated the 573 passports were issued without court orders or proper documentation and have resurfaced from time-to-time when individual holders apply for renewals.

Among other points highlighted by the AG’s office:
• The AG Office is under-staffed, under-funded, and is using a slow and often problematic machine for its passport program.
• The cost to purchase a new machine and supplies may cost up to $500,000.

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