October 12, 2012
Authorities destroy eight boxes of Vincentian passports

Eight boxes of Vincentians passports were destroyed at the Government Printery in Campden Park recently, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves confirmed Wednesday.{{more}}

He told SEARCHLIGHT the passports were destroyed because the batch did not have the “Observations” page, before the first “Visa” page.

Gonsalves, however, said some of the passports from this batch had been issued.

He spoke to SEARCHLIGHT hours after a press conference by Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, who stated that the travel documents had been destroyed.

Eustace noted that he had tabled a question for Gonsalves in Parliament Thursday (yesterday), regarding the passports.

According to the Order Paper, Eustace was expected to ask Gonsalves how many passports were destroyed and why.

Eustace, speaking at the press conference, noted that Canada, when it imposed visa restrictions on Vincentians last month, spoke about the unreliability of the nation’s passport.

“… the question of whether Vincentians who have changed their names, have been issued by this government, passports which do not reflect the name change, raises more questions than answers, and this is an issue which the government must answer,” Eustace said.

“They must deal with this issue. Do not forget that the United Kingdom is watching these developments with deep interest, even as they have questioned the integrity of St Lucia’s passport,” he further stated.

Gonsalves explained to SEARCHLIGHT the reason for the destruction of the passports.

“… after you pass the name … there is usually a page marked “Observations”. On that page is where we will put in change of name and any observation, which the issuing authority would want to put.

“… a batch [of passports] came which we had ordered … without the marking ‘Observations’, so ‘Visa’ began on that page. We discovered it early.

“… Canadian Bank Note contacted International Civil Aviation Organisation — ICAO — and said that’s a small technical thing. And they said ‘OK continue with them in the time being, we’ll replace them as quickly as possible’.

Gonsalves said local passport officials entered any observations on the first visa page.

“And Canadian Bank Note in the meanwhile, sent a new batch for us with the observation page. They didn’t come as swiftly as they should have come, they came after a few months,” Gonsalves said.

Asked if any of these passports were issued, Gonsalves said:

“Yes. They were authorized to be issued. But the remainder, once the new batch had come with the observation, they said what we must do, immediately quarantine them and we will organize a destruction. So, they were immediately quarantined after the new batch arrived.

Gonsalves said the passports were destroyed at the Government Printery “because they have the facilities down there.

“I believe they were stored at the immigration office. They have a vault there so they would have been stored.”

He said he understands that Canadian Bank Note officials and the Chief Immigration Officer witnessed the destruction.

“But what it indicates is that we are sensitive about the slightest thing on our passport. Even when it is in order to be used, we want to have absolute uniformity …” he said, adding “You would not have noticed it (the missing ‘Observation’).

“I can show you the specimen of a correct one and the specimen of the one with the error. I have one of each to show to the House,” he said.

Gonsalves further said the Opposition “make it appear as if there is something that is wrong with our passports.

“… in another country, somebody hears about that, they would ask the Chief Immigration Officer, the Permanent Secretary, they would ask the minister concerned and that would be that.

“But here, they want to strengthen the thesis that we have unreliable passports, which is entirely unpatriotic. It is just dastardly.

“But it’s things like these that blow up in their faces; because, there is nothing which beats the truth,” Gonsalves said. (