Wednesday, July 24, 2024
Interview“We have made changes but still have a lot to improve on”

“We have made changes but still have a lot to improve on”

Mujib Jemal, Director General of INVEA

The Immigration, Nationality and Vital Events Agency (INVEA) is one of the public offices that have gone through institutional and reform. There are two main aspects to the duties and responsibilities of the Agency – administering immigration affairs as well as registering vital Incidents.

Before the Agency attained its present status, the administration and supervision of Immigration and Citizen Affairs used to be under the supervision of the National Information and Intelligence Service (NIIS). On the other hand, Vital Events registration used to be under the office of the Attorney General.

Before the reform, the Agency had been associated with longstanding public grievances and bad reputation with regards to its service, which was mainly criticized for corrupt practices and deep-rooted mal-administration.

Following its restructure, the agency claims to have undertaken reform activities to improve its service while it strives to improve its reputation. However, the agency still struggles to curb some of its longstanding weaknesses and gaps that have rolled over from its former institutional arrangement. Accountable to the Ministry of Peace, the agency is led by Mujib Jemal, who was appointed as the first Director General after the Agency was re-established two years ago.

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Born in Addis Ababa around Tor Hayloch area, Mujib graduated from Addis Ababa University in Physics and became a teacher. Beside his teaching experience, he has been serving in NIIS since 1998. In his 20+ years’ service at the Intel institution, he held various positions beginning from a juniors post to the top leadership level. Since 2018, he has been leading INVEA as its Director General.

The Reporter’s Elias Tegegn sat down with Mujib early this week to discuss the agency’s reform activities, the improvements brought by the agency and the challenges it still faces. The discussion also includes the longstanding predicament in the agency’s service in relation with passport issuance and the recently adopted online registration service. Excerpts:

The Reporter: What are the key works done after the Agency was restructured?

Mujib Jemal: The agency has started reform activities and along with these reforms, we have been providing regular services such as passport and visa issuance, controlling movement of citizens through all borders, and issuance of residence permits for foreigners. Regarding Vital Events Registration, we have been providing support trainings for designated officers. We have also carried out activities such as preparing manuals and guidelines. We have carried out many reforms to improve the regular services given by the Agency.

The first one is that the Immigration office was under the National Intelligence and Information Service, while the Vital Events Registration Office was under the Office of the Attorney General. Thus, first, we had to separate the two offices from their usual arrangement based on the financial regulation issued by the Ministry of Finance.

Afterwards, we had to merge the two into the Immigration and Vital Incidence Registration Agency. The process of separating and merging the Agencies from their previous arrangements has gone through different steps. These include the issues of asset inventory and division, sharing employees, and settling financial accounts. We have conducted all these according to the plan.

Then what came next was planning and setting up the structure of the Agency. We brought the restructured plan to the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Ministry of Peace, to whom we are accountable to, and had it approved.

Hence, the Agency was established with 19 Directorates, one Director General and two Deputy Directors General.

Once the restructuring process was accomplished, the next step we went to was to build our manpower based on the new structure, to suit the relevant departments. In fact the allotment of manpower took around a year’s time. The reason it took a long time was because most of the employees coming from the immigration office did not have the required educational background the job requires. The reform has enabled us to identify the gaps we had in terms of human resources. We had only 46 percent of the manpower the job required, meaning, we had to find new recruits to feel the remaining 54 percent.

Another activity we have so far accomplished is identifying and taking measures against employees involved in corruption related crimes, and some are in Police custody to face justice. Over the past two and half years, disciplinary and criminal cases have been instituted against more than 50 employees.

The other important part of the reform was to improve the registration and issuance process of passport services. Previously, a person seeking to get a passport had to be present in the branch office physically, to get registered. Due to that, long queues that started at dawn were the order of the day and led to petty crimes. So, we had to solve these challenges; due to the emergence of COVID-19, we adopted online services to enable passport seekers register without long appointments for new or renewal of passports.

What is it like in regional states in terms of providing passports to the whole country?

To broaden the reach and lessen the plight of citizens, a lot of branch offices have been opened in various regional states to curb citizens’ plight that used to travel long distances from region to region to get a passport. For instance, some of the new branch offices opened include those in Gambella, Assosa, Hossa’ena, among others.

What else did you do to address this passport issue especially for citizens who reside abroad?

Like citizens at home, addressing the passport service issue for citizens residing abroad is part of the reform. Related to online service, we have been conducting a six-month long trial service for citizens residing abroad, after an agreement was signed with one company. It was intended to enable Ethiopians residing in Washington DC to easily get their passport and identification card renewed online.

Previously, in order for these people to renew their passports they had to go to the embassy and submit their documents. The embassy then had to send it home to the Agency to be checked and printed, and sent back; that took a lot of time. This process was the cause of many complaints and negative feedbacks. Now we have created an efficient system thanks to the new step and the collaboration with the foreign company.

What was the name of the company you contracted?

It is called Viditure. This newly adopted system enables citizens living abroad to apply online and his/her request reaches the main office directly. The agency then immediately sends the new passport or ID card directly to the person with fast courier service such as EMS. The new procedure cuts the length of time it takes to deliver passports to people living abroad from 75 days to 15-21 days.

Previously, the Agency received many complaints regarding the availability of passports. How has that been addressed by the reform?

There was a shortage of passports, especially over the last three years. Except for few people that proved their need for an emergency passport, the agency almost stopped issuing passports. This was mainly due to the problems we encountered with a French company which used to deliver the passport cards. I remember once in 2019, we had only 10,000 passports in our hands.

However, we resolved this problem after the renewal of the contract agreement we had with the company, making sure we provide uninterrupted passport service. As a result, since December 2019, all the cards we have ordered so far are being delivered without any interruption. Currently, we have sufficient amount of cards and more have been ordered.

Can you put it in terms of numbers? How many cards do you have at hand?

Currently, we have close to one million copies. And we are also expecting to receive more copies soon. We are currently discussing to import around 1.5 million more copies in the next round.

We have a huge number of requests from customers who have registered online to get a new passport. There is similar system for passport renewal in which the request is entertained online; it takes at least a month. To issue new passports for local people applying online, it takes up to three months now. This is due to the nature of the customers while the other problem is related to the role of middlemen who register and jam the system.

On the customers’ part, they repeatedly fail to make payment with in four days once they register online. Because of this failure to settle payments in line with registration, disruptions of proper service and accumulation of requests are occurring. Sometimes, problems occur when customers wait too long to get the passport without making the required payment.

Partly, there is still a problem related to human resources and technology related shortcomings from the agency’s side as well. It is important to mention there is a limitation on the number of customers we can accommodate. This, of course, needs to be addressed. The office has the capacity to handle from 2,ooo to 3,000 requests of passport daily. Due to surging requests, which currently have grown by more than two folds, coupled with the human resource and technology gaps, there is a backlog of appointments and the service could not be as effective as we want it to be.

The opening of more branch offices has helped us bring an efficient and effective service. However, we have a lot to improve on.

What changes and results have been achieved in Vital Events registration since you took over this service from the AG’s Office?

It was established in 2015/16 and came to be under our agency in 2018/19. Its mandate mainly lies on supervising and administering vital events. Usually, the registration activities are carried out by regional states. In fact, there are other institutions which undertake registration activities. For instance, the Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) carries out registration of refugee related matters. Similarly, the Ministry of Defense registers events such as deaths related to military personnel. Any events that occur in shipping lines are registered by the Shipping and Logistics Service Enterprise. But any event related to the Ethiopian Diaspora is our mandate to register.

While we undertake the registration activity on one side, we also have the duty and task of supporting these registering entities, enacting manuals and guidelines, supervise their registration activities as well as delivering trainings to these institutions. Hence, over the past few years, we have carried out our mandates effectively.

For instance, we have delivered continuous trainings to regional offices including for their respective leaderships and their officers. This year we have trained more than 10,000 health professionals who register vital events.

In terms of inputs, we have published and distributed certificates to all regional states to help them register births, deaths, marriages and divorce events.

We have also delivered ID cards/certificates to the Ministry of Health to register events and in collaboration with the World Bank, they have been distributed to all regions and their training expenses have been covered simultaneously. In addition, we have raised the awareness of political and religious leaders so that they give due attention to the issue of vital events registration.

With regard to the level of performance achieved so far, birth registration, which stood at 14 percent, has risen up to 20 percent. There are also similar improvements in death registration as well. Through all these processes, what was important was the collaboration between agencies and the improvement of support and strengthening of follow-ups.

In relation with the growing trend of urban migration, there are some reports and speculations concerning people who are not included under the Vital events system or framework. What is the agency doing to address this issue?

Although it is not our mandate to register people who migrated from other areas, we are registering vital events such as marriage, divorce, birth and death. However, the most critical challenges we usually encounter during the registration process of these people is that they don’t have a permanent address. Whenever they come to our office for registration, most of them do not possess Kebele IDs, forcing the agency not to register them. This has to be changed. Everyone has to be registered in the place where the event occurred. Hence, to do so, a legal provision has to be brought forward to ensure that does not happen.

As an authorized agency, you have been supervising and controlling the movement of people through all boarders of the country. But, particularly after the emergence of COVID-19 and recent conflicts, there have been reports that a number of people have got out of the country. What are you doing to address such instances and broaden border control?

We have recently opened Border Control Points (BCP), where we didn’t have them before. But that does not mean we have not been controlling and supervising the movement of people in these areas. Regional police forces, Federal police as well as the National Defense Forces have been jointly controlling all boarder areas. But following the re-establishment of the agency, it is our duty and responsibility to control and supervise the movement of people out of the country. It is our responsibility to inspect and determine who enters or exits from Ethiopia, or whether he/she holds a valid passport and visa. This enables us to control and prevent the activities of human trafficking. And the opening of these BCPs has enabled us expand our roles.

What other activities does the Agency plan to carryout going forward?

We are focusing on enhancing our efforts related to passport services, which we aspire to improve. Specifically, we are focusing on how to transform the services to a more efficient and effective service, address corruption and maladministration effectively, bring better institutional services that are capable of addressing public grievance and related issues. We are also working to adopt new systems, which would be more compatible to the one being used by the Ministries of foreign Affairs in Europe, US, and Asian countries. By adopting this system, we can properly address online visa requests.

In addition, we are also opening more immigration BCPs. But, in connection with opening and administering immigration BCP’s at entry points, we don’t yet have a border administration strategy. Hence, we are going to design this strategy and implement it accordingly. After the strategy is designed, we will open at least six more immigration BCPs. According to this plan, we will have new BCPs in Somali, Benishangul Gumuz as well as in Gambella regional state.

In the meantime, we are also hiring more human resources and are training them, while refining the existing human power we already have. Immigration and border controlling tasks require trusted employees or officers with integrity and loyalty to serve the nation, while refraining from corruption and misuse of responsibility. These requirements I mentioned are the only ways to renew and correct the existing public image that our institution has — which has been mainly associated with corruption and mal-administration for a long time.

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