Legal challenges as government begins issuance of e-passports

A week after government started the issuance of the new East African Community  (EAC) e-passports, more questions are coming up as regards the legality of the passports.

For the second time in less than two months, the matter came up in Parliament with MPs demanding for an explanation from government on the acceptability of the electronic passport.

Kampala Central MP  Muhammad Nsereko brought up the matter again this week, raising questions on the fees being charged for the renewal of passports, which he said many Ugandans seem not to know of.

The new e-passport (ordinary)

Nsereko said applicants for the e-passport are being charged Shs 250,000 instead of Shs150,000 that was being paid previously for renewal.

He noted that Ugandans living in the diaspora were facing challenges with having their passports renewed.

“We have over 500,000 people stuck in Dubai who cannot get new passports. Some people in the Middle East tell us that it costs them up to shs15 million to replace a lost passport,” said Nsereko.

Nsereko also questioned the need for the National ID as a prerequisite for one to renew their passports.

“If someone working in Mexico as a Ugandan expatriate for five years has no access to acquisition of a National ID from the nearest High Commission, and the passport expires before his tenure is done, it will affect them greatly,” Nsereko said.

He was backed by Ngora Woman MP Jacquiline Amongin who raised questions on the acceptability of the passport in countries outside the EAC.

“Some of us are holders of the African Union passport but I was once inconvenienced in Dubai when they told me that the passport was not recognised in their international system. Now, how about the new East African passport that is still unclear to many Ugandans?” Amongin asked.

The issues raised by MPs are similar to the issues contained a court petition by Michael Aboneka and a civil society organisation – Centre for Constitutional Governance (CCG) challenging the issuance of e-passports and the recall of the old passports since it touches on the root of constitutionalism and good governance.

Speaker of  Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, has gave the Minister of Internal Affairs, Gen Jeje Odongo up to next Tuesday to address the House on the process of issuance of the new e-passports.

“This is a matter that touches the rights and freedom of movement of the people of Uganda, and therefore the Internal Affairs Minister should come and update us on this matter,” Kadaga said.

The Attorney General, William Byaruhanga, however, told the House that a meeting to harmonize the position on the new East African electronic passport including its legal implications, had been held with officials from the Internal Affairs Ministry who would in turn present it on the floor of Parliament.

The e-passport was adopted during the 17th Ordinary Summit of the East African Community Heads of State Summit in Arusha on March 2, 2016 when the Heads of States launched the East African Community e-passport.