Passport is the universally recognized document needed by all wishing 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 it adequately. The reason for this is well known.
Despite the rapid increase in population of Ghana from 6milion 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 that all those wanting to acquire the document from all corners of Ghana from north, south, east and west must have to travel to Accra. A visit to the Regional and National Passport Office in Accra located around 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 on line application and processing is a step in the right direction. However, since the final processing would have to be effected in Accra with many applicants unable to use the on line portal the problem is far from over as the passport office is forced to use manual side by side the electronic processing of the document.
As is expected the current government has begun moves to find solution to the problem of passport acquisition in Ghana. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and regional integration Ms. Shirley Ayorkor Botchway recently made an unannounced trip to the Passport Offices 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 have been waiting for months for their passports. She therefore made her intention to shake up the outfit and put right what is going wrong with it. She mentioned the following reform measures needed for solution to the problems.
Among the measures would be to activate the decentralization process in passport processing by establishing new regional passport offices. Again she indicated that a new measure is in the offing for Passports once issued would be made to expire in 10 instead of 5 years adding that there will be an increase in the number of passport booklets up from the current 500 daily. It is expected that these measures would lead to the reduction in the number of people who rush onto 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 who 100 are served a day, would come down. Much as the moves by the minister are commendable her Ministry has to be up and doing to take on many employees to work around the clock in Accra and the regions on her new measures. It will be advisable for Internet service be provided in all the passport office 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 the Minister of Foreign Affairs meant to improve on passport acquisition are important for many reasons topmost of which are; 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 would 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 a minimum of delay. Businessmen and journalists who travel frequently would through the new measures also find it easy to acquire passports.
Muslims and Christians who also go on pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem would 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 moths and years, especially with the help of monitoring teams. Ironically she discovered that 60,000 completed passports have 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 tit bits 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 the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the good moves, her ministry must intensify monitoring and evaluation mechanism needed 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.
By Alhaji Alhasan Abdulai