THE FOREIGN MINISTRY'S passport division will today reboot its computer server for online passport issuance. The server had to be shutdown for security reasons on January 13 after anti-government protesters took over the Government Complex.
The suspension of the server and the service at the Passport Office headquarters inside the Consular Department on Chaeng Wattana Road has resulted in an influx of people at the branch offices in Pinklao and Bang Na areas as well as to those in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Songkhla. Prior to the protests, 18 branch offices were able to issue passports and applicants only had to wait three days for a new passport. Now, however, applicants are having to wait 10 to 12 days. In addition, only a specific number of passports can be issued daily at branch offices. For instance, the Bang Na office can only issue 1,750 passports per day, Pinklao 1,300 and Chiang Mai 200. The shutdown has also badly affected the issuing of passports both in Thailand and overseas, as Thais have not been able to renew their passports through Thai embassies. Once the rebooting and testing of the server is completed on Sunday as scheduled, the office’s passport-issuing capacity should return to almost normal, about 7,000 passports a day, compared to 3,650 during the shutdown. Since the anti-government protesters set up camp on the road outside the Government Complex and put up a stage right in front of the department, the ministry was forced to close down the service. The ministry said that as soon as the server goes back into full operation, people can submit their passport applications at any branch of the Passport Office, with the exception of the Consular Department, the Labour Ministry as well as branches in Surat Thani and Phuket.
The move follows talks on Wednesday between the ministry’s senior officials and Luang Pu Putta Issara, a senior monk leading the Chaeng Wattana rally.
In response to a backlog of applications, the division will set up a temporary mobile office at Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre from Monday onward, where it will be able to issue up to 600 passports a day.
Meanwhile, at the Bang Na branch, hundreds of applicants were seen queuing up for hours to just get queue tickets – a problem that some used as a business opportunity, offering to queue up in exchange for money. But the ministry quashed this by insisting that everybody in the queue show their identity card before they can get a ticket.
In Chiang Mai, many people ended up having to camp outside the City Hall overnight so as to be among the first few to apply when the office opened in the morning. Some people said they had been waiting for four days.
Passport applicant Anchana Tangsathaporn said she saw people quarrelling over places in the queue on Monday and Tuesday, so she returned home. Upon returning on Wednesday, she learned that more than 200 people had been queuing for their turn since 2am.
“The remaining 180 of use decided to set up queue numbers among ourselves, with the first 20 reserved for monks. We met up again at 8pm to check names, continued checking names to avoid any absenteeism or jumping of queues. This was so everybody could apply the following morning,” she explained.
The queues yesterday and today were full and will probably remain this way until Monday.