Acquisition of Ghana passport: Passport Premium Application Centre could do better

BY: Vicky Wireko

We never seem to succeed in taking rigours out of our lives, especially with officialdom. Those rigours that set us back cast good intentions and plans in darkness and delayed outputs.

Some bureaucracies are expensive and deeply stressful for those at the receiving end, while those at the other end of officialdom bask in created glories with a lot of muscle flexing and dragging of feet. That was my first impression with passport processing at the Accra Digital Centre.

An encounter with the much-talked-about electronic application of passport and the Passport Premium Application Centre, in charge of the processing of applications, has left me with mixed feelings.

The journey to renew my near expiring biometric passport was in June. It was exciting testing the relatively new system in town – the online application which dealt away with the human interference, delays and sometimes belaboured corruption.

Progressive, flawless and fast-track acquisition of driving licence was on my mind.

Online application

Completing the application online was good. I looked forward to a new passport with no stress and in record time and welcomed the next step which was an appointment to proceed to the Accra Digital Centre for the completion of the application.

Unfortunately, that appointment, after weeks of submitting the online application, was only the start of a couple or so more needless visits.

I was disappointed and my high expectation was dampened.

In completing the application online, I had opted for and paid GH¢150 for expedited service as against GH¢100 for standard service.

I wanted a fast-track kind of service and I believed that was what the extra GH¢50 was going to do for me.

Passport Premium

Application Centre Going to the Digital Centre, therefore, I was of the hope that things were going to be faster with that payment. I was soon to encounter a series of shock therapies.

Was that expedited service?

The very first appointment visit to the Passport Premium Application Centre was belaboured with bureaucracies. I was given another appointment after my online application was “vetted” in another offi ce and cross-checked with my Ghana Card. Yet another appointment date was given.

So even in the appointment system, one goes and waits to be in a long queue. I could not understand why there were so many people outside, waiting to get in and also inside waiting to be served.

The next appointment after some weeks was for payment for biometric features and picture to be done and verified. I wondered why this could not be factored in the very fi rst visit to save applicants all the to and fro.

Yet another payment was required. Really? Anyway, payment was done in an orderly manner using first-come, first-served system as one waits for one’s number to be called. The mandatory “service” fee is GH¢150.

One is then given the option to pay additional GH¢100 if one wants what they call “VIP” service. That is a service to get away faster than normal in the vetting and processing of biometrics.

Still hopeful of expedited service, I paid GH¢250 to get my biometrics verified using the VIP service. I was again hopeful with a super expedited service after all; I had paid a total of GH¢400 to renew my biometric passport using the Digital Centre.

But no, my printed passport was not going to be ready after the biometric verification.

I would have to wait a bit longer. I was told before paying the GH¢250 that if I paid an extra GH¢40, my passport would be delivered at my doorstep, otherwise, I would get a message to pick it up. I opted for the latter.

Throughout the processes, an applicant gets SMS to alert one of the next steps. That is commendable and a sure notification that the system recognises one’s transaction with the centre.

Threatened service delivery

But goodness, the expensive venture for an expedited passport renewal which yields nothing but to and fro with heightened stress is just too much.

The steps are simply too many. The elimination of human interface in an online process and effective service delivery is seriously threatened. Apart from that, this kind of “come and go” process gives room for people, from the security at the entrance to the staff at the various desks, to see themselves as tin-gods and flex unnecessary muscles.

In many ways, a system like that breeds corruption and inefficiencies such as people paying backdoor to jump queues. It also promotes abuse where people are using “whom you know” tactics and pushing in.

The expensive passport acquisition through the Passport Premium Application Centre with its belaboured steps is counterproductive.

Beautiful as online applications are, the system needs to be re-looked at.

The needless blocks need to be dealt away with to reduce stress, crowding, to and fro appointments and the corruption that seems to be festering in the system.

We cannot create such a progressive all-important online passport acquisition for citizens and leave gaping holes for people to bring the system down.

Online passport processing is a progressive idea but for goodness sake, the inbuilt rigours at the Passport Premium Application Centre, irrespective of the expensive charges, are counter-productive. It calls for some auditing.