A visa processing, VFS Global, has been on the receiving end of criticisms after a PREMIUM TIMES report revealed how the company extort Nigerians who seek its services.
While angry Nigerians, civil society organisations and activists are still complaining weeks after the report was published, the company has refused to respond to the revelations. Some accuse the company of mistreating Nigerians, saying it often indiscriminately hiked its service charges as well as posed a lackadaisical attitude in discharging the services paid for. Others, however, blamed the country's regulators for not setting good standard of operation for the company.
VFS Global is an outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide. The company manages visa and passport issuance-related administrative tasks for its client governments.
Since most countries find it cumbersome to create visa processing desks in their embassies, VFS Global serves as the courier between intending travellers and the diplomatic missions of the countries they are traveling to. In Nigeria, VFS processes visas for citizens who want to travel to mostly European and African countries such as UK, Canada, Belgium, France, South Africa, among others.
What irked customers the most appears to be the "unbelievably high" service charges the company receives from applicants.
For instance, when PREMIUM TIMES commenced the investigations in November 2017, the South African Visa fee was put at N8,600 ($24). But VFS was collecting an additional N25,465 ($71) as service charge, almost three times the visa fee.
The company also collects N400 ($1.10) as SMS charge which applicants describe as 'high' complaining of not even receiving the SMS most times. Lanre Suraj, convener of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), said his organisati0n has been kicking against the SMS charge which it described as "fraudulent."
Applicants queuing up at VFS Abuja office.
Reacting to our report, he said, "I think this is actually a commendable effort on the part of PREMIUM TIMES for taking time to investigate all the circumstances surrounding the exploitative tendencies of VFS which takes undue advantage of the failure of our monitoring agencies and institutions. Quite a number of our agencies are terribly compromised that they don't bother to do any form of check.
"The SMS charge of VFS is crazy. Going by what the director of the company said earlier, it shows VFS makes about N80 million from Nigerians annually just from SMS alone. It is also rather unfortunate that they charge beyond any control mechanism. I think for anywhere in the world , the service charge should be the percentage of the actual service. It is not reasonable to charge even 100 percent not to talk of three times the actual service rendered.
"It is important we take it up to the appropriate agencies. We need to also take these complaints to the embassies and intimate them on the exploitation by VFS because they are acting on their behalf. We need to understand if the embassies are in conspiracy with VFS to exploit Nigerians. If not then they have to withdraw from VFS, I mean there are still embassies that are operating without them.
"The problem is that companies like VFS tread on the vulnerability of many Nigerians. So many people don't know that VFS is not responsible for the granting and refusal of their visa so they are scared of challenging them. Regulators should sufficiently educate citizens on this issue so they can know their rights."
For Martins Obono, a frequent traveler, the activities of VFS in Nigeria should be critically probed.
"Even when you call their customer care line to log in a complaint, they will still charge you in pounds."
Lanrey Sanusi said, "Worst about them is that your visa will get lost and no explanation. To make it worst for you, they will tell you to go to the embassy when you submitted it to them and when you get to the embassy they will tell you to go back to VFS. We have two international passports still missing for over a year now and still the same story. They lack customer service."
MB Adegun said, "I agree that VFS extorts. To apply for a Swedish visitors' visa, I paid N48,400. Only N21,900 goes to the Swedish embassy. The official service fee is N10,950. There is an additional courier fee (N10,950) indicated as optional on the website. But at the counter (point of application), it is not. You are mandated to pay it. Quite sad that they only accept cash. Their services and charges should be looked into."
Olugbenga Robeerts said, "Besides the gross extortion taking place, many of us feel dehumanised, especially by members of VFS staff who may not qualify as our own messengers in our respective offices. Most travellers are treated without dignity. VFS staff will always find excuse to reject many of your documents in order to allow patronage of their in-house cohorts.
"That VFS of a company is a sell-out. The way they defraud Nigerians is so alarming, especially the SMS charges. I don't ever pray to have anything to do with them again. Poor service, no customer care service line, you can't complain of a staff's ill-treatment to the superior staff and get justice.
"The bad thing is that if you don't know how to arrange your documents in accordance to the country you are applying for visa's requirements, you cannot rely on VFS staff to put you through," a traveller said.
VFS Keeps Mum
Before publishing the report, repeated efforts to get VFS Global to comment turned out a wild goose chase. An official of the company told our reporter on two occasions then, "There is nobody available to respond to your questions."
The telephone number listed on the company's official website failed to connect for months and multiple calls and SMS inquiries sent to it therefore remain undelivered. More than a week ago, this paper again sought the reaction of VFS to the myriad of complaints by angry Nigerians.
An official who was busy giving applicants directives at the gate of the company's Abuja main office firmly told our reporter, "We have received complaints and write ups about our SMS charge and that is why we don't talk or respond to journalists."
After a while, he reluctantly called another official who contacted the company's Lagos office. The official from Lagos communication desk who simply identified himself as Deepaki on phone requested that questions be sent via two email addresses he forwarded on that Friday in a text message. No response has come through more than a week after questions were forwarded to both email addresses. Meanwhile, another look at the information board at the VFS Abuja office still shows the company is not planning to review downwards its service charges anytime soon.
The Ireland Visa details read: Visa fee - N26,000 ($72) ; Service charge - 19,450 ($54); SMS - 400 ($1.10); Courier - N450 ($1.25); Stamp Duty - N50($0.14c).
According to information on the board, the Norway Visa fee surprisingly read 'zero' but VFS collects N10, 750 ($30) as service charge. In what appears a clever antic to keep evading responsibility for SMS not sent or delivered, the company even put a new louder disclaimer on the board.
Ireland Visa details."It is not the responsibility of VFS Global to ensure SMS service is received by the applicant," the notice read. "Our obligation is to send the SMS and we shall not be liable for any SMS not received."
Read the original article Premium Times Nigeria
The government, through Tanzania Roads Agency (Tanroads) has set aside a total of $4.4m to proceed with the construction of a road that links Tanzania to the neighbouring countries of Zambia and Malawi, the Parliament heard on Monday, June O4, 2018.
The Deputy Minister for Works, Transport and Communications, Mr Elias Kwandikwa told the House that the government understands the importance of the Mpemba-Ileje Road to Tanzania's economic fortunes, noting that currently, construction of the Mpemba-Isongole section was underway.
Mr Kwandikwa was responding to a question from Mr Frank Mwakajoka who wanted to know what the government was doing to build the Mpemba-Ileje Road, saying it was strategically positioned to link Tanzania to the neighboring countries.
According to Mr Kwandikwa, during the 2017/18 Financial Year, the government set aside $1.9m for the Mpemba-Ileje section and that in the 2018/19 Financial Year, some $4.4m will be spent on the project.
Credit: The Citizen
Kenya recently announced a ban on one of the most common materials used in the country’s packaging sector - plastic bags. This includes the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging.
This isn’t the first time the East African nation has tried to do this and the directive comes about 10 years after the first attempt. That one failed, primarily because of a lack of consistent follow up on the agreed implementation plan.
My research on the management of plastic waste in urban Kenya shows that this new ban is not realistic. The policy direction is not based on the local context or any extensive research regarding implications of the ban. It doesn’t consider the impact that it will have economically or give due consideration to other environmental alternatives.
Kenya’s plastic bag industry
Plastic materials offer a number of advantages over other conventional packaging materials. They are malleable, light, low cost and can be produced in a variety of shapes and sizes. Because of this, every year over 260 million tons of plastics are produced globally. Of this, nearly one trillion plastic bags are made and used. This makes them an important feature of the packaging sector.
Plastic bag manufacturing forms a sizeable portion of the plastic manufacturing sector. It has a long history dating back to the 1930s. Today there are over 30 plastic bag manufacturers with a combined capital investment worth over USD$77.3million (Ksh5.8 billion). They employ up to 9,000 people, both directly and indirectly. Some 100 million plastic shopping bags are given out every month by supermarkets. This is a massive contribution to the plastics sector and to the country’s economy.
Plastic bags also have an extremely important role in the average person’s daily life as they stand out for their excellent fitness for use, resource efficiency and low price. For Kenya, where 56% of the population live on less than a dollar per day, plastic bags support the “kidogo” economy - synonymous with the majority. This economy is based on the small amounts people buy - for example one cup of cooking oil, or a handful of washing powder or squeeze of toothpaste. To take these home they need the small plastic bags.
But because plastic bags are resistant to biodegradation, they cause long-term pollution to various natural environments from oceans to soil. Of the 4,000 tons of single use plastic bags produced each month, about 2,000 tons end up in Kenya’s municipal waste streams. Half of these are lightweight bags with a thickness of less than 15 microns.
Because of these issues, a variety of policy measures can be introduced to manage plastic waste. These include a ban on the production of certain plastics, levying taxes, mandatory recycling targets and adoption of anti-plastic bag campaigns.
Kenya has chosen the path of a ban on use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging. But my research shows that plastic waste recovery and recycling is a better strategy for sustainable plastic waste management. This is particularly true for developing economies because employment opportunities can be created within the recycling chain.
One option that won’t work is substituting plastic bags with biodegradable ones. First, the tear strength of biodegradable packaging bags is low compared to their petrochemical counter parts. They also have a high rate of water absorption. Most developing countries are also not equipped with the technological capacity to produce biodegradable material. Lastly, they are still not cost effective. The cost of most bio plastic polymers fall in the range of USD$2-5 per kg, compared to approximately USD$1.3 per kg for the usual petrochemical polymers. These factors make biodegradables a poor substitution.
Which is why the solution lies with plastic recovery and recycling.
Recovery and recycling
The reuse and recycling of plastic waste makes much more sense – particularly since Kenya doesn’t have a petrochemical industry needed to make plastic. Raw materials for the plastics and polythene industries are imported from overseas.
Plastic waste recycling is not a recent phenomenon in Kenya - it dates back to the 1960s. A 2001 survey showed that over 90% of Kenya’s plastic manufacturing industries have internal reprocessing capacity for their own waste and rejects.
Trading in plastic waste has been practised in Kenya since the 1980s. Waste pickers and small-scale traders started to sell unprocessed plastic waste directly to plastic producers for use as a raw material in the manufacture of new plastic products.
This plastic waste collection, by informal actors, presents a more realistic and sustainable solution to plastic waste management in Kenya. The waste becomes a source of raw material for the production of plastic materials, creating an interdependent relationship between solid waste management systems and plastic production.
Kenya needs to create an integrated plastic waste management system. It already has three well established categories of plastic waste recycling industries. These need to be properly linked to plastic waste collection and separation chains.
It would need the support and coordination from government, industry and civil society at all levels. Including:
Separating plastic waste from other waste streams and the further separation of various plastic materials for effective use of different polymer wastes in production.
The protection of waste pickers and those who add value including washing and sorting to plastic waste
The allocation of space for waste separation centres
Technological and financial support for waste processing
Education outreach programs
Plastic product marketing to popularise the diverse products
Introducing deposit and return systems in supermarkets
Improved transport logistics or plastic products and plastic waste so that such can reach their destinations in time.
Kenya would be better off pursuing waste management strategies. These include waste separation and the development of rules that require plastic industries to take back certain quantities of plastic waste from the solid waste management system to enhance recycling.