• September 2, 2022

Visa now Pegged at $25, as Immigration Extorts Le500K

Visa now Pegged at $25, as Immigration Extorts Le500K
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Although Government through the Ministry of Internal Affairs on Wednesday 31 August 2022 issued a press release that pegged visa fees at Twenty-Five United States dollars (US$25), Immigration continues to extort Five Hundred Thousand old Leones (Le500K) from inbound and outbound passengers passing through the airport.

Early this week some of the passengers who passed through the Freetown International Airport, at Lungi were each asked by Immigration Officers to pay the sum of Five Hundred Thousand Leones (Le500,000), which they all did.

One of the suspecting passengers who shared his experience in the hands of the extortionist Immigration Officers with FORUM via a voice note sent to the paper’s WhatsApp platform, said they were left at the mercy of those immigration officers, as all their efforts to reach out to the relevant authorities such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Immigration Department in Freetown proved futile. Hence they had to resort to channelling their distress and complaints via the media.

Upon listening to the allegation in the voice note, this medium contacted the Immigration Department for its side of the issue and to confirm the legitimacy of the collection of the Le500,000 (old Leones) from passengers, a lady who picked up the call replied: “Let me talk to the Permanent Secretary first and get back to you.”

The lady didn’t reply anymore and never returned to set the records straight after her meeting with the PS. She also later turned off her phone but on Sunday told Forum’s reporter not to publish the story.

No sooner the story was published than the PC at the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a backdated catch-up press release dated 26 August 2022 in defence of the Immigration Officers’ extortion conduct at the Freetown International Airport, and simultaneously announcing payment of $25 as security fees at the airport. In trying to cover up the messy acts of the Immigration Department, the press release informed that the inbound and outbound passengers should effective 1 September 2022 pay $25 as security fees at the Freetown International Airport.

Moreover the lady contacted at the Immigration Department had wanted FORUM to withhold the story, as she said: “Don’t publish yet. Let me talk to the PS and get back to you. However up to press time the lady receptionist could not revert from her said meeting with the PS at the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The much pondering concerns being raised by all are that why is it only now the Ministry of International Affairs is making the payment of the $25 public whilst Immigration Officers attached at the Freetown International Airport have been illegally extorting Le500,000 from outbound and inbound passengers. Is it due to the alarm raised by FORUM’s publication? Or was the ministry waiting all this while for the syndicate to be exposed before the necessary action(s) be taken.

As the issue affects every aspect of life, passengers both inbound and outbound remain uncomfortable about the so-called changes being made on airport security fees as they replied with mixed feelings. Sulaiman Patteh Sow, an importer via cargo freight, said: “We are shocked at the announcement even though we are still paying Le500, 000 at the airport whenever we are about to board flight. This is unacceptable and government should ensure the business community is much protected in a way that their contributions to the national economy is not challenged by bad tax policies like what we continue to experience in the last four to five years on.”

Another importer, Alimamy Fuad Conteh, grumbles: “Some of us with no government links are left with no option but to comply and do our businesses as part of our livelihood. We have been paying the Le500, 000 since time immemorial and we won’t get tired of complying with their policies as long as our businesses are alive for now. I certainly know this won’t last forever.”

Also a trader in fabrics, Massah Munda, said: “That is it; there is not much we can do as business people. All we can do now is to pay the Le500, 000 and board our flight as required by the law in place. That is why you have things at skyrocketing costs, which is not surprising at all, as everyone passing through the Freetown International Airport and other border points of Immigration and other collectors must experience massive extortion from passengers, which is not good for the image of our country.”

It is widely observed that extortion at the Freetown International Airport, the Queen Elizabeth II Quay and other crossing points in the country, coupled with unfavourable tax policies imposed by government, form the many contributing factors to the high cost of essential commodities currently affecting the lives of every citizen.

Apparently the extortion of Le500, 000 at the Freetown International Airport in Lungi is being referred to by the Ministry of Internal Affairs as security fees.

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