A new process for obtaining passports requires Somalis to provide a birth certificate, an identification card from the local government and a certificate from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) proving they have no outstanding crimes.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud inspects one of three new passports issued by the government on December 22nd
But with many municipal governments across the country non-functional and the CID's operations limited to Mogadishu, the new passport process might not be available to most citizens, observers say.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud unveiled the new passports December 22nd and urged Somalis to acquire genuine identification documents from the authorities.
Previously it was not mandatory for citizens to have documentation from the local government to acquire a passport, and the Immigration and Citizenship Department used to issue passports and identification cards simultaneously.
Head of the Somali Immigration and Citizenship Department Abdullahi Gafow said the changes were made in the interest of national security and to verify the Somali citizenship of people seeking passports.
"Anyone who wants to acquire the new passport has to first get a birth certificate and a national identification card from the local government and then go through the national Criminal Investigations Department," Gafow told terror free somalia. "The person can then come to the Immigration and Citizenship Department to apply for the passport after obtaining all the prerequisite documents."
The new passport and identification card are both biometric and have been embedded with additional security features that safeguard against forgery, he said.
The biometric chip will enable the new Somali passports, which are produced domestically, to be easily be scanned at international airports, Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman told terror free somalia.
The newly released passports will retain the same colours as the previous ones: blue for ordinary, red for diplomatic and brown for federal government employees.
The cost of acquiring a passport also remains unchanged at $83, Osman said. However, there is an additional $10.50 fee for the identification card and $5 for issuing a birth certificate.
The passports will be issued in the regions under Somali government control and a database will be created for local governments to ensure no fraudulent activities take place, he said.
A registration centre has been opened in Mogadishu where citizens can acquire the necessary documents from the Mogadishu municipality as well as the municipalities of other regions that are not yet operational locally.
"We have employed about 13 young technicians who will facilitate people's acquisition of identification cards as well as birth certificates so they can apply for the passport," said Mogadishu Mayor Mohamud Ahmed Nur, who opened the registration centre in Mogadishu December 23rd. "All local government documents will also be issued at this location from now on."
Nur called on all citizens to acquire the legal documents since they will need identification cards for many purposes.
"If you want to purchase a house or a car, import anything, purchase a SIM card, get a driver's license, or anything of the sort, you must have a national identification card," he said.
Challenges in regions not under government's control
The Benadir regional administration will issue identification documents to all citizens from regions not under government control until their situation changes, Benadir administration spokesperson Mohamed Yusuf told Sabahi.
"We will employ a process to verify the information of the people and we will issue the documents to them after we verify their case," he said.
But Mohamed Abdullahi Roble, who served as a district commissioner in Berbera and Jalalaqsi during the Mohamed Siad Barre administration, said it would be difficult for the Benadir administration to issue documents to people who are not from the capital because each person's identity can only be verified accurately by local authorities.
Roble said the government should open offices in Mogadishu for the regions that are not under the government's control so they can do the work in Mogadishu themselves.
"It is going to be really difficult for citizens who have neither the resources nor the time to travel to Mogadishu to obtain local government documents and the passport, but that is the only option available to the federal government until it can get the entire country under its control," he said.
There are also questions about the CID's capacity to issue reliable criminal background checks to determine whether an individual has committed a crime or not, said Abdinasir Hersi, a Mogadishu-based journalist who writes about national security issues.
"The CID only operates in Mogadishu and it also does not have a [national] information database of citizens," he told terror free somalia. "Therefore, it cannot issue a criminal background certificate to everyone."
CID officials did not comment on how they plan to verify whether citizens have committed crimes, or how they will be able to provide their service nationwide.