By: Stephen G. Fellajuah
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has categorically denied recent media reports that it clandestinely brought into the country 29,000 passports which were discovered at the Free Port of Monrovia. Cllr. Deweh Gray, Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the allegation yesterday, September 16, at a press briefing held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “First of all I want to say that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorically denied ordering passports clandestinely as has been said in the media in recent days”, she stated.
According to Cllr. Gray, in July 2019 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took a decision to request on an emergency basis passports directly from the producers of Liberian passport OSD, an Austrian based security printing company because the official contractor, Bob Press and OSD, the supplier had some financial issues, and to save the Government of Liberia of the embarrassment, it contacted the supplier directly to procure passports under an emergency arrangement.
She added that the discussion was held among the relevant authorities of the government to ensure that Liberian citizens acquire passports and are given free movement to travel across the world.
Under the emergency supply of passports, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered the supply of passports from July 2019 to January 2020 and terminated the operation at that point. “In July, 2020 we wrote the supplier and it was agreed that government could purchase directly from them the total quantity of 50, 000 passport booklets on a need basis and upon written instruction from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while discussion was still being held with BobPress the passport contractor on the way forward in moving the existing contract”, Cllr Gray narrated.
She continued that the Ministry during the emergency period with all parties involved placed an order to the supplier for a total of 49, 250 passport booklets of various categories over the period, 40,250 ordinary passports, 4,500 service passports, 3, 500 official passports, and 1,000 diplomatic passports. She furthered that the Ministry made requests based on needs through the supplier, the supplier acknowledged and sent invoices and delivery notices and time the passports will arrive in the country.
“All the passports we received under the emergency and all passports received in the Republic of Liberia from the time the government started the contract came through the Roberts International Airport (RIA). The last consignment of passports were 20,000 ordinary passport booklets that came into the country on January 24, 2020 which were cleared on January 25 and taken to where we store passports at the International Bank”, the Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs explained.
She noted that the Government paid the total of One Million Two Hundred Thirty One Thousand and Twenty Five United States Dollars for passports under that arrangement in which each booklet cost Twenty Five United States Dollars, adding “since we ordered the 20,000 passports, the Government of Liberia did not order any other passports”
Shocked by media reports, Cllr. Gray said she was surprised in September 2020 when the Ministry received information from the supplier that 29,000 passports were at the Freeport of Monrovia. “That shocked us because we did not order any passports, the supplier never informed us of passports at the Freeport ”, she wondered.
She explained that the Ministry communicated with the supplier rejecting the passports because the Ministry had renegotiated with BobPress giving them the serial number of where to start from, adding that the reason why those passports were in the Port was because, the Ministry resolved not to touch them because it will cost government Seven Hundred Twenty Five Thousand United States Dollars.” We cannot obligate the government when we do not order passports.”
“The passports were discovered on July 31st, and because of the security implications we got security involved and took them for safe keeping while we engaged the company on the way forward. Because the government decided we cannot use those 29,000 passports that were unauthorizedly sent to Liberia. The Government’s decision will end up destroying the passports because they cannot be used, Cllr. Gray emphasized.