DAMMAM: SAEED AL-ASMARI & SULTAN Al-SUGHAIR
Published — Saturday 4 January 2014
Last update 4 January 2014 12:38 pm
To reduce congestion on the King Fahd Causeway, the Passport Department said the Ministry of Interior is considering a joint border control system with Bahrain, which would entail a traveler stopping only once when entering or exiting both countries.
This comes in the wake of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (Nazaha) accusing the Passport Department and the Eastern Province traffic authority of not having sufficient personnel on the bridge to prevent bottlenecks. The Traffic Department has rejected the accusations and blamed the Passport Department for the delays.
Maj. Gen. Sulaiman Al-Yahya, director general of the Passport Department, said a ministerial team has been studying procedures between the UAE and Oman that eased commuting by road between those two countries.
Al-Yahya, who inspected the flow of traffic at the causeway on Thursday, said at a press conference later that day that Minister of Interior Prince Muhammad bin Naif instructed him to implement the plans, particularly during holidays and weekends.
Al-Yahya welcomed the Nazaha report. “I’m really happy because such reports tell us what’s wrong and motivates us to work harder.” He said the department plans to provide laptops for staff members at each cabin to speed up procedures.
He said the department would install cameras linked to its headquarters to monitor staff performance and verify complaints. The department also plans to increase staff numbers during peak times. “We’re doing it because we received complaints from travelers, of staff members taking frequent breaks to smoke and talk on their mobiles.”
Al-Yahya said 77,000 travelers crossed into Bahrain at the start of the new year, which saw staff processing 2,000 travelers in each shift. In response to a question, he said that the department plans to improve productivity by reducing working hours of all staff, including women, to six hours a shift, and a two-day break. During his visit to the causeway, he opened the passenger building for buses, which he said would further ease traffic flow.
The passport department’s plans follow a Nazaha report accusing the department and the traffic department of causing delays. Officials from the anti-graft body had interviewed commuters on the causeway. The Nazaha report said there were too few passport and traffic patrols on the bridge.
However, Gen. Abdulrahman Al-Shunaiber, chief of the Eastern Province traffic department, refuted the report and blamed the passport department. He said Nazaha officials had not communicated with him on the matter.
“We’re not dodging the responsibility, this is the reality,” he said.
Shortly afterwards, a spokesperson from the passports department, Lt. Ahmed Al-Luhaidan, also said his department had no knowledge of the Nazaha report. He claimed that passport officials had not met any Nazaha officials.
The Nazaha then released a second statement stating that there was no denying that there were traffic bottlenecks on the causeway throughout the year. In the statement, the Nazaha said that those who question the report should ask commuters on the bridge for their views.
The causeway management has refused to be drawn into the controversy. Badr Al-Otaishan, director of the causeway authority, said: “We at the King Fahad Causeway Authority have nothing to do with this, we’re doing our job properly.”
An official at the authority announced that 18 booths would be set up on the Saudi side of the causeway. He said that on regular days, more than 22,000 cars pass both ways on the bridge. In addition, more than 30 big vehicles travel from the Saudi side into Bahrain and more than 100 trucks move in the opposite direction. He said fewer big vehicles traveled from the Saudi side due to the narrow tracks. “The causeway was designed predominantly to accommodate small vehicles,” he said.