Despite the important role the Department of Consular Services of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs plays in delivering a host of services to the Nepalese and foreign diplomatic missions and personnel, it is rarely featured in the media. In that context, GANESH PRASAD DHAKAL, Director General of the Department, spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues. Excerpts:
What is the role of the Department of Consular Services?
The Department was established at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2013 through a cabinet decision. Prior to this, it was a branch within the Protocol Division. With the increase in the number of Nepalese foreign missions and Nepalese working abroad, pressure grew from the service seekers. In response, the government decided to upgrade its status. The Department came to exist by realizing the need to provide effective, efficient and easy service to the service seekers.
What kinds of services does the Department offer?
The Department provides four kinds of services. The first is related to consular service and legal consultation. This includes facilitating the consular related issues of foreigners living in Nepal and Nepalese living abroad ,whether they are in foreign employment or other areas. We take care of them. We write to our missions. The department also facilitates work for the compensation of Nepalese who die or get injured in accidents in foreign countries -- looking into the rules and regulations of the particular country. On the basis of written complaints filed by the victims, the department directs the Nepalese missions to take the necessary steps to pave the way for securing the compensation. We also handle the cases related to legal consultation.
Any other functions?
One important function of the Department is attesting the government documents. Many people come here for getting the consular attest the government documents, certificates and other things. On average, we attest over 700 documents. Sometimes, the number crosses 1000. Our attesting of a document makes it valid and final for sending it to any country for official use. We attest marital status, university certificate, government letter, birth registration, marriage registration, and divorce, certification of relations and police reports. We attest the documents issued by Nepal government.
At a time when over 2.5 million Nepalese are working in foreign countries, how do you handle the pressure?
Mostly the pressure is on attesting the letter. However, we do also provide consular and legal services and these services are mostly for the victims. This is very difficult.
What services does it offer for the foreigners?
We provide consular services for foreigners who work in foreign missionsas well as those missions established here as per the agreement with the government of Nepal. We issue visa for foreigners who work in foreign missions, including international agencies. We issue diplomatic, official and gratis visa to diplomats and foreigners, technical staff and administrative staff working in the missions. We forward recommendations for visa for those Nepalese officials and people who are going to different countries to take part in seminars and symposiums under the decision of government of Nepal. In case a particular country has no mission here in Nepal, we forward letters to the related mission which is close to Nepal. We cannot issue the tourist visa and residential and non-residential visa. We issue three kinds of visa: diplomatic, official and gratis. We also issue SAARC visa. It is for the SAARC countries. This is necessary for people to participate in SAARC activities.
How do you provide your services?
The Department facilitates for diplomatic immunity and facilities in the areas related to waiving customs and duties under Vienna Convention on Consular Relation 1963, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, UN Convention on Privilege and Immunity Agreement on 1946 and other agreements on specialized UN Agencies and Impunity, Services and Benefits to the foreigners 2027. Within these acts, we issue recommendation for the benefits like custom facilities and immunity to diplomatic passes. We also issue identity cards to the diplomats and their families based on categories of passports or one for diplomatic and non-diplomatic passport holders. Other works include recommendations for duty free services and other amenities to diplomats under conventions and laws. The department also recommends for driving license to the diplomats and their employees. Within the four bases like international conventions, practices, law and reciprocities, the department makes recommendations for privileges for the diplomats. All the embassies, all the specialized UN organizations, regional organizations and international INGOs which are working in Nepal under agreement with Nepal Government fall in this category depending on the agreements.
How do you work when the Nepalese die or get injured abroad?
This Department is responsible to take the initiative for compensation for Nepalese workers who die or get injured in foreign countries. We do the facilitation work. Once the families of the victims approach us with their valid documents, the department initiates the process through the Nepalese missions abroad. The claim to compensation depends on the particular country. All deaths are not eligible for compensation. It depends on how workers and contractors signed the agreement. Those who die during work or in road traffic accidents get the compensation. Under these two circumstances, it is easy to register prima facia for the claim. In some cases, the workers are insured. One cannot get the compensation in case of a natural death. This Department and Nepalese diplomatic missions take the initiative as per the local law of the concerned countries and the related agreements. We work for the interest of the workers.
How long does it take to realize the claim for compensation?
It depends on the countries. For instance, it takes almost two months in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE. We cannot fix the date for compensation. Each and every victim get compensations if there is a valid and legal document required in making the claim in the foreign countries. It is easy to take back the dead body from Qatar and UAE, but it is a bit lengthy to bring back the body from Saudi Arabia. So far as the compensation is concerned, there is the need to contest in the court and the process depends on a case by case basis. Our experiences have shown that the timing for claiming compensation depends upon the situation from a few months to few years. Even during my tenure in Qatar, it took over four years in some cases and it took just a matter of months for others. It is a often a court battle seeking for justice. We want to provide all kinds of service to the victim families. They are our priority.
How is the trend of families seeking the services?
The number of victim families is increasing over time and we are working sympathetically and with priority on the issue of compensation. We do provide immediate service to the victim families whenever they come to seek our support. We help them to initiate the step.
How efficient is your organization?
So far as duration for the process is concerned, it depends on the case. For instance, it takes less than an hour for attesting work. Our office verifies the documents and attests them within a very short time. Our aim is to provide efficient services to those who seek our service. Our department has a team consisting of 20 permanent civil servants and 6 others on contract. We work on the basis of team spirit. We are able to provide efficient and effective services to the service seekers because of our staff's dedications towards their work. We never ask anybody to come tomorrow. The officials working in our department settle the things once they receive the complete documents through proper channel.
At a time when the size of Nepalese Diaspora has been increasing, does it affect the work load of the Department?
Our work load has increased by many folds. Not only Nepalese Diaspora and workers, even the number of students going to study in foreign universities has increased a lot. All the students need our attesting for their official documents. Similarly, Nepalese foreign citizenship holders, married Nepalese, also come to us to attest for their marriage certificate and so on. We attest their documents if they are issued by a competent authority.
What kinds of documents does the Department mainly attest?
We attest only the documents issued by the government bodies. These include the documents issued by Municipalities, Village Development Committees, Chief District Officers, Police Reports, and certificates of Universities authenticated by Ministry of Education, and translated in English.
What is the Department focusing on at the moment?
The earthquake of April 25 and subsequent aftershocks destroyed our buildings completely. Now we are providing services from the temporary sheds. It is very difficult for both service seekers and providers to work in this situation. Upon our request, Ministry of Urban Development has started to erect temporary shelters. There is a plan for the long term. We don’t even have rooms for the Director General and Deputy Director General to work except from a make-shift structure.
What is the long-term plan?
Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a long term plan to build new buildings by demolishing the old structures. It has already signed an agreement with Department of Housing to construct multi storied buildings.