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Office renovation almost complete
Two months after the Port-of-Spain passport office was first shut down by staff because of health and safety issues, renovation work at the Frederick Street building is almost complete and operations are expected to return to normal. So said Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal after he toured the building on Frederick Street with National Security Minister Gary Griffith, Urban Development Corporation chairman Jearlean John and deputy chief immigration officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews.
Moonilal said: “This is not something unusual for us. We have a programme of all ministries and divisions across the country where, depending on the complaints we receive, we will visit departments to undertake upgrade and enhancement works. “But because of the problems we were having over the last few weeks I thought it necessary to come take a look at the work myself.” The Port-of-Spain passport office was closed on May 14 because of health and safety issues. Asked why the Government had taken so long to act, Griffith said: “We are fully aware that from day one there has been a lot of dialogue between the Government and the PSA. Obviously we could not operate on a knee-jerk action.”
Moonilal said most of the work was done over the weekend and included minor repairs. He added: “A lot of work has taken place on the weekend in particular. This included ceiling fixtures, roofing problems, to simple things like bulb-changing. So a lot has been done. “We hope this would lead to a full eight-hour work day for the office and that the public doesn’t feel further distress.” Moonilal said works were expected to be completed within a week.
Overtime to catch up
Staff at the Port-of-Spain passport office will be asked to work overtime to deal with the backlog of passports, says deputy chief immigration officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews. Commenting on the backlog of applications, she said: “I can’t give you a figure with regard to the backlog but certainly we will have to ask officers to come out and work overtime and put other measures in place to bring the work back up to where it should be... we are hoping at least within two months, because of the number of passport applications that we have, not only for T&T, but for those persons who are living abroad.
“We are trying to take care of the immediate needs and then we can go to those other persons who are applying for passports for the first time as we get things back on stream.”
The office opened yesterday for normal working hours — 7am to 3 pm — but only dealt with issuing passports and renewals. Gandhi-Andrews added: “We tried to take care of the immediate needs, given the situation, and we have been, of course, issuing passports, which was the most immediate need, and those persons who require renewals because that’s a shorter process.
“A first-time application is a longer process that requires more interaction with the officer.”