The passport is the universally recognised document needed by all and sundry who want to travel to and from nations, especially through sea and airports.
Since Ghana attained independence in 1957, the acquisition of this document has proved cumbersome with succeeding governments unable to deal with the problem adequately.
The reason for this is well known. Despite the rapid increase in the population of Ghana from six milion at independence to 26 million today, we have only one passport-processing office in Accra to serve all the teeming number of passport applicants daily with the aid of immigration officers in some regions.
No wonder all those wanting to acquire the document from all corners of Ghana from north, south, east and west must travel to Accra. A visit to the Regional and National Passport Office in Accra located around the Ridge area reveals long queues of people young and old, women, children and the handicapped waiting to acquire passports.
The intervention of succeeding governments especially the current government, to make passport acquisition easy through online application and processing is a step in the right direction. However, since the final processing will have to be effected in Accra, with many applicants unable to use the online portal, the problem is far from over as the passport office is forced to use both the manual and electronic processing.
As is expected, the current government has begun moves to find solutions to the problem of passport acquisition in Ghana. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Mrs Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, recently made an unannounced trip to the Passport Office in Accra to see things for herself. She was taken through the processes of acquiring passports but she seemed unhappy with what she saw, especially when she spoke to disgruntled passport applicants who had been waiting for months for their passports. She, therefore, made her intention to shake up the outfit and put right what was going wrong .
Mrs Botchway mentioned the following reform measures needed to solve the problems. Among the measures were the activation of the decentralisation process in passport processing by establishing new regional passport offices. Again she indicated that a new measure was in the offing for passports once issued, to expire in 10 years instead of five years adding that there would be an increase in the number of passport booklets up from the current 500 daily.
It is expected that these measures will lead to the reduction of the number of people who rush to the passport office in Accra and those to be set up in the regions for passports. Thousands of people who form queues from 3am, out of which 100 are served a day, will come down.
As much as the moves by the minister are commendable, her ministry has to be up and doing in recruiting many employees to work around the clock in Accra and other regions on her new measures. It will be advisable for Internet service to be provided in all the passport offices in Accra and the immigration offices to assist the teeming applicants to complete their passport application forms for processing. The so-called “goro boys” or “passport contractors” running around extorting money from prospective passport applicants with the connivance of some officials must be flushed out.
The issue of foreigners applying daily for Ghanaian passports illegally has become rampant these days. Those involved must be dealt with by getting them arrested and taken through police enquiry and prosecution. Those found conniving with the foreigners must be apprehended together with them. The measures being introduced by Mrs Botchwaymeant to improve on passport acquisition are important for many reasons, topmost of which is being that; the new move will expedite travel by government officials who are given opportunities to go on foreign assignments and to study.
Apart from young men and women venturing out to seek greener pastures legally, students will also be assisted to acquire passports early enough to travel out for further studies. Those seeking medical care abroad should be assisted to do so with minimum delay. Businessmen and journalists who travel frequently will through the new measures also find it easy to acquire passports.
Muslims and Christians who also go on pilgrimage to Mecca and Jerusalem will also find it easy to do so. Her brief visit to the office has proved that the bottlenecks in the passport acquisition can be dealt with. Her visit led to the issuance of some passports that remained stuck in the office for years to the delight of the lucky applicants and surprise to many people.
Most passport applicants who witnessed the magical intervention of the minister got to know that passports could be issued with dispatch within hours and a few days not months and years, especially with the help of monitoring teams.
She discovered that 60,000 completed passports had been abandoned in the passport office by some applicants. Don’t be surprised that those unclaimed passports might have been abandoned by Ghanaians who were fed up of waiting for months only to go for second passports in the same passport office. Since the government, through the hardworking minister, has begun moves to find solution to problems of passport acquisition, those with experience in passport acquisition must give her titbits of information on problems regarding its acquisition.
We need to throw our weight behind her and the workers of passport offices for them to do the right things. While commending Mrs Botchway for the good moves, her ministry must intensify its monitoring and evaluation to continue with corrective measures and reforms in passport acquisition. This is the only way the ministry can deal with the problems in passport acquisition in the country.
The writer is a member of the Public Interest and Accountability Committee [PIAC] and Executive Director eanfoworld for sustainable development / 0244370345/0208844792/0274853710