Cablegate: Drc Passports and Corruption: Yet Another


DE RUEHKI #1100/01 3511134
R 171134Z DEC 09





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: On November 9, 2009, the Government of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo (GDRC) announced that all
non-biometric passports would be cancelled effective December 31,
2009 (reftel). The announcement marked the culmination of a
two-year effort by the GDRC to regularize passport issuance and
reduce wide-spread corruption undermining confidence in Congolese
documents. At the same time, the twists and turns of the process
itself and the final product that resulted reveal the challenges the
government faces in trying to provide basic services to citizens.
The process also offers an example of how corruption and bad
government are inextricably linked. By January 1, 2010 Congolese
travelers will have a more secure travel document, but oversight of
the process has not improved, and the problems associated with
Congolese passports continue to exist with nearly every document the
GDRC issues. End Summary.

2. (U) On November 6, 2009 the GDRC announced that all
non-biometric passports would expire December 31, 2009. The new
passports incorporate standard security features: they are machine
readable and use a digitized photo. Biographic data is no longer
hand-written, a practice that rendered many passports illegible in
the past, and the passports have unique serial numbers. The
government insists that it has sufficient stock on hand to ensure an
adequate supply to passport offices throughout the Congo. The
government also has promised to speed passport issuance -- which can
take as long as six months -- and to standardize fees, thus reducing
incentives for corruption.

3. (SBU) But the two-year process of replacing the old passports
has not gone smoothly, largely as a result of the government's weak
administrative capabilities. In 2008, for example, the government
ran out of stock for tourist passports and issued all Congolese
travelers official passports, annotating the documents for tourists.
Some European countries refused to recognize the annotated
passports. In February 2009 the passport replacement program was
suspended when the GDRC learned that the new passports repeated
serial numbers and lacked a space for travelers to sign their names.
In August 2009 the government moved all passport issuances to
Kinshasa because embassies abroad were not remitting fees. In
addition, the government has not been able to standardize fees or
speed issuance: Congolese citizens are likely to pay two to four
times the official rate of $150 in bribes, and the wait time remains
at six months.

4. (SBU) Most important of all, no governmental oversight exists to
insure the identity of Congolese travelers. Applicants are required
to submit one of two forms of identification: a voter card, or a
certificate of nationality. (Note: Old passports are not accepted
as proof of identity. End note.) Voter cards are issued
irregularly and usually in conjunction with upcoming elections. A
photo is attached to the voter card, and fingerprints are taken, but
the information presented is accepted at face value, and passport
offices lack the capacity to compare fingerprints. The certificate
of nationality is issued after an interview at the Ministry of
Justice; it lacks a photo, and the biographic information it
contains is not verified.

5. (U) Cultural traditions explain these practices, at least in
part. Congolese law allows a citizen to obtain a birth certificate,
a marriage certificate, a divorce certificate, a national ID, and in
Qa marriage certificate, a divorce certificate, a national ID, and in
some cases, an adoption decree based on a statement made in front of
a judge. The statement is not verified by a government official.
Many Congolese citizens, particularly in rural areas, distrust the
state, and see no reason to spend money to obtain official
documents. As a result, nearly all documents are registered years
late. Naming conventions are not standardized: many applicants for
American visas have changed their names three or four times, each
name backed by a valid passport.

6. (SBU) But an even bigger reason is money. Government officials
receive abysmal payment for their services (if they are paid at all)
and work in primitive conditions. Long-time, mid-level officials
may earn as little as $200 per month. Municipal offices around
Kinshasa open late and sometimes close by noon, as bureaucrats hurry
to their second (or third) job. Offices lack computers, air
conditioning, desks, and even paper. MFA diplomats sometimes ask
embassies to send a driver, because the MFA cannot afford
transportation to deliver diplomatic notes. Municipal offices,
particularly in outlying areas of Kinshasa, resemble open air
markets, where documents are freely bartered and where it is
impossible to tell who the genuine officials are. In these kinds of
conditions, the temptation to take and solicit bribes is
overwhelming, even for the most honest bureaucrats.

7. (SBU) Comment: Neither corruption nor poor management alone are

to blame for the lack of governmental services in the Congo.
Instead, the two combine to derail efforts aimed at improving public
administration. As a case in point, in August the Ministry of
Education informed the consular section that 16 high-school diplomas
submitted with diversity visa applications were fake. The
applicants were refused visas. In October, the Ministry corrected
itself and said the diplomas were genuine. The consular section
does not know if clerks at the Ministry made a genuine error or
received bribes to change their decision, but we have learned, as
many Congolese citizens already knew, that the government lacks the
capacity -- and, sometimes, the will -- to verify the documents it
issues. End comment.


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