24 June, 2024


“VFS” The Whole Lot!

By Ravi Perera

Ravi Perera

Yes, real tragedy is never resolved. It goes on hopelessly for ever. Conventional tragedy is too easy. The hero dies and we feel a purging of emotions. A real tragedy takes place in a corner, in an untidy spot …”  ~ No Longer at Ease – Chinua Achebe

In the common usage, VFS has come to represent the concept of outsourcing, when the State or a private sector organisation decides that one of its functions is better performed by an outside agency, and more economically. As far as we are aware, VFS, the organisation in issue is in the business of providing Visa support services, acting on behalf of certain States, which will make the final decision on who goes in or out of that country. The function of the VFS is purely administrative, collecting documents from Visa applicants which are then sent to the respective embassies for decision.

For the wealthy Western countries, employing the services of the VFS makes sense. The tourist inflow from Sri Lanka, in relation to their tourists’ numbers, is negligible. A tourist from this part of the world, in manner and outlook, is not the usual tourist they see, almost an anomaly. Considering our average income, the number of those who can afford visiting wealthy countries is very limited. A majority of those exiting the Katunayake airport are looking for employment, or, visiting family members in foreign countries. The reality is, Sri Lankans are desperate to leave their country, seeking a better life overseas. There are also a large number of Visa applicants falling into the family reunion category, families hoping to join the bread winner working in a Developed country or visiting a family member who has done well there.

What is a routine matter for a citizen in a Developed country, is the very opposite for a Sri Lankan; obtaining a visitor Visa has become a long, harrowing and deeply humiliating exercise for him. There is no Visa on arrival, or dancing girls to receive him!

Perhaps going by experience, the recipient countries treat applicants from this country as wholly unworthy of any credibility, a long and complicated obstacle course awaits the intending traveller. Except the person’s gender, which is presumably self-evident, everything else; birth certificate, marriage certificate, bank accounts, personal assets, relationships, are looked askance. For the Sri Lankans this humbling is not unusual, their own culture has already broken them in preparation. Everything they do in their own country needs so-called authentication; ‘Grama Sevaka ‘certificates, legal attestations, character certificates, police reports and rubber stamps.

A society which cannot trust itself even in the smallest matter! One might say, never has so much malpractice and sleaze thrived under so much scrutiny and verification!

Seventy years of self-rule has not only bankrupted the country; it has lowered the people – a diminished people representing their abjectness as humility, a weakness as a virtue! Impoverished by years of bad governance and inane policies, even basic human dignity has become a rarity; falsifying, lying or even cheating are considered fair means, as long as they can escape their condition.

Their leaders have shown the way!

Not so long ago, a big talking wheeler-dealer, notorious in the finance sector, sent several large cheques to politicians across the board. They all took the money! Invite these leaders to dinner at a grand hotel, they will come, often accompanied by their spouse! The oleaginous character of the host, the obvious conflicting interests, his devious designs, are secondary to the thrill of being wined and dined by Mr. Dirty Money!

Why Western embassies would avoid direct contact with Visa applicants is understandable. Apart from the endless numbers, it cannot be a pleasant experience to decipher the genuine from the doubtful of the importuning throng; a task made doubly difficult by the obvious ethnic and cultural barriers. European consular officers when sent to far away countries, cost considerable amounts of money for their governments; salaries, accommodation, hard-ship allowance for the officer and family paid in their hard currency. Besides, there is no profitable tourist influx from here, the employment of consular officers must be measured against the possible benefits to that country.

Thus, these Western countries have turned to the VFS.

On the other hand, as to why a country like Sri Lanka should use the services of the VSF at the entry point at Katunayake defies logic. This is not a situation of processing or collecting documents but the mere stamping of the entry Visa, if satisfied about the credentials of the visitor. Ninety-nine out of hundred are genuine travellers. To find that one or two doubtful arrivals, our immigration/customs are enacting a comedy, which in today’s global realities would be a tourist attraction in itself – how things were hundred years ago!

We are not blind to the obvious ineptness of our public service; avoiding responsibility, inclined to be overly suspicious, hectoring, invariably inefficient, often supercilious, sometimes downright rude. In nearly every encounter, personality deficiencies of the officer manning the desk is the primary weakness. Taking the record of the past seventy years, it seems we are incapable culturally, of producing a modern public service. Doing the job they are paid to do, being of service, customer satisfaction, winning the respect of the served, are concepts alien to their essence, thus interpreting the idea of public sector, only perversely.

There is little one can do about it, each country has to manage with the human resources it can produce.

However, this nonsense of the VFS taking over the immigration counters at our airport gives rise to a whimsical fantasy; if such a basic function cannot be satisfactorily performed by our public sector, what about the more complex processes; law making, adjudicating, development, investments, education, health, policing, diplomacy?

It is thrilling to envisage the possibility of outsourcing the presidency, ministerships, high public officers…

To realize how badly we have performed in these areas, you have to only compare our statistics with those of other newly independent Asian countries.

Why not VFS (out-source) the whole lot of these services?

After all, for the average citizen ultimately, it is the quality of the service he receives that matters, not who provides it.

At least such out-sourcing will show-up the utter hypocrisy of our so called public life; leaders who claim to be Sri Lankans, but whose every action only harms the country, reduces its people and undermines its future. (by leaders we mean both the elected leaders as well as those who hold leadership positions in the public sector. In the final analysis, even the so called private sector leaders are very much a part of the malaise, however, in this article we will concentrate on the political and public sector leadership)

We have a leadership who loudly declare their patriotism while holding citizenships in other countries, are dual-citizens or Green Card holders. Some leaders are more strategic, obtaining foreign citizenships for their family members, thus ensuring an easy passage for the vociferous patriots if they are found-out here.

Needless to say, their wealth, made by means foul in this country, is hidden away in foreign lands and tax havens. Many leaders (families) own expensive properties in Western countries, which they routinely condemn on public platform.

For all their health issues and their children’s education it is to these Western countries they run. The Sri Lankan health services and the education system are only for their voters. The voters have been diligently conditioned to repeat ad nauseam, “we have very good health and education systems”, a statement more wishful than factual, made without an educated comparison or in ignorance of the realities of the fast evolving world. A fond belief which begs the question why anyone who can afford something different, avoids our systems. A popular belief that somehow works to the advantage of the political elite, who claim ownership of these things.

Our leaders are cynical, but endorse whole heartedly the adage about those holding the spoon serving themselves first. In Sri Lanka, they lead a lavish life-style, having decided what befits their leadership status: bungalows, vehicles, servants, police protection, all provided by our tax money. Following the urging of the spoon axiom, they ensure that their children receive a good education in the West and undoubtedly these children are using various ruses to remain in those countries after their studies. Not only have our leaders squeezed this country dry, they are also exploiting the Western countries opening the door to them; having made zero contribution to those countries, are now enjoying their largess in every possible way.

After all, outsourcing can have its merits!

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Latest comments

  • 10

    Great article! The VFS was a scam in Sri Lanka. Massive upfront commission for the cabinet minister in charge, and a cut of the fees charged for every visa application. Just go back to the previous system. The Immigration Dept wasn’t flawless, but they did a good job.

  • 0

    This is not as good a piece Ravi Perera is capable of. That may be because of the topic.
    However, ‘It is thrilling to envisage the possibility of outsourcing the presidency, ministerships, high public officers…’, is a gem, VFS demands!

  • 4

    “On the other hand, as to why a country like Sri Lanka should use the services of the VSF at the entry point at Katunayake defies logic. This is not a situation of processing or collecting documents but the mere stamping of the entry Visa,”
    This is the root of the matter. Many countries use VFS to process visas, but I have not heard of any using VFS at airports and other points of entry. Surely, as the author says, our immigration officers can’t be THAT inefficient? Also, it complicates matters when VFS imposes its fee even on purportedly free visas. These regulations must have been slipped past an ignorant cabinet by the conniving Minister.

  • 4

    When you land in Katunayake and see their immigration guys you know you are in a developing country !

    They look so unimpressive and you don’t know what torture they will subject you to ! Even with a normal Sri Lankan passport holder they act like they are investigating the guy !

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