Immigration Officers Warned to Desist From Receiving ‘Lesser-Passer’ Levies

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By: Kebba AF Touray

The Gambia’s Interior Minister, Siaka Sonko, has warned Immigration Officers to desist from receiving monies on ‘Laisser-Passer’, a movement permit issued for travellers to get in and out of countries in the sub-region unhindered.

According to the Minister, the practice is unlawful and anyone found wanting, will face the full force of the law.

Minister Sonko said this on Wednesday, June 21, while responding to a question posed to him by the Member for Upper Saloum, Hon. Alhagie Mbowe. Hon. Mbowe told the Minister that Gambians travelling to Senegal are often questioned and forced to pay D50 for ‘Laisser Passer’ at the borders, even if they have a photocopy of their Gambian national identity card, or an expired identity card. He added non-Gambians with valid ECOWAS ID Cards are usually asked to pay for this document. He quizzed the Minister on how much revenue the Immigration has generated for the past five years from such payments?

Interior Minister Sonko, in his reply, said: “No fund has been generated since ‘Laisser Passer’ is a legal instrument issued on gratis by the Gambia Immigration Department for people travelling without a valid travel document as provided for by Section7 (A) and (B) of the Immigration Act. Therefore, in view of national security, Immigration border officers at entry and exit points used ‘Laisser Passer’ as a means of controlling and monitoring the movement of people within these entries and exit points.” Hon. Mbowe further informed the Minister that it is contrary to what is actually happening, saying they (Immigration personnel) are charging a fee, adding that he has evidence from an electorate, who was charged to pay the levy. He asked what the Ministry of Interior is doing to ensure that they stop the illegal act immediately, saying that if there is a charge as stated in the Financial Regulation 2016, then passengers should be issued with a receipt. He then urged the Interior Minister to ensure that Immigration Officers across the country stop charging fees for this type of permit or ensure that if they have to charge, they issue receipts to whoever pays for the ‘Laisser Passer’.

Minister Sonko, in responding, said the alleged D50 charged by some Immigration Officers at border entry points is unlawful, and noted that the Ministry of the Interior will continue to monitor the situation to ascertain this allegation, and that if anybody is found wanting, the person will face the full force of the law.

The Member for Kiang West, Hon. Lamin Ceesay, asked the Minister whether he is ready to issue a press release to inform the Immigration authorities to immediately stop the practice, hence it is not correct. Minister Sonko reiterated that “it is an unlawful act and if it is happening, it should stop immediately.” He said they will address the Immigration Officers at the borders to stop the practice.

The Member for Wuli East, Hon. Suwaibou Touray, asked: “Is your Ministry ready to make a pronouncement on this ‘Laisser Passer’ issue, because we are aware that it is being issued and people are paying fees for this particular permit without receipt?”

Minister Sonko said he is willing to come up with a statement on this practice; otherwise they will be encouraging an illegal action to continue. When he was asked about the renewal of driver’s license, the Minister said Gambians and non-Gambians alike with driver’s license are required to renew their license on yearly basis across the country, which is time consuming for both the applicants and the Ministry, and that it is in contravention of the Transport Act. Minister Sonko further replied that all renewals will be on the anniversary of the issuing date, and that the Interior Ministry in collaboration with key stakeholders, have begun discussion on the issue of driver’s license so that it will serve the bearer for a grace period of between five to ten-years.