The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ms Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, yesterday paid an unannounced visit to the Passport Office in Accra, where she expressed concern about the rate at which foreigners, especially Nigerians, are acquiring Ghanaian passports.
She said from the account of the Director of Passports at the Accra office, Mr Habib Iddriss, not a day passed without a foreigner attempting to acquire a Ghanaian passport, but the verification process always gave them out.
Ms Botchway was of the view that the national identity card system, when fully operational, would go a long way to address the situation of foreigners attempting to obtain Ghanaian passports.
The purpose of the visit was for the minister to acquaint herself with the operations of the Passport Office and to obtain first-hand information on challenges confronting the operations of the office.
Apart from attempts by foreigners to acquire Ghanaian passports, the minister said she was also unhappy about the hassle some passport applicants had to go through in their efforts to secure passports.
To facilitate acquisition of passports, therefore, she disclosed that the ministry would soon set up new passport application centres in Tema in the Greater Accra Region, Koforidua in the Eastern Region, Cape Coast in the Central Region, Bolgatanga in the Upper East and Wa in the Western Region.
Ms Botchway also gave an indication that the validity of the Ghanaian passport would be extended from the current five to 10 years in line with international standards, especially when Ghana was about to introduce a new passport regime that would utilise the chip-embedded passport technology.
She explained that the extension of the validity of the Ghanaian passport was also intended to address the situation where people had to apply for passport renewals within a relatively short time.
During her interactions with potential passport applicants, Ms Botchway learnt at first hand that some applicants had to queue as early as 1 a.m. in order to be part of the first 100 people whose applications are processed for the day.
One applicant, Kofi Nyamekye, who spoke to the Daily Graphic, recounted how he had to queue as early as 1 a.m. to become the 36th person in the queue after he had paid GH¢50 to an agent.
He related that by the time the Passport Office opened for its daily operations, he had jumped from being the 36th person in the queue to being the 98th.
Asked how that could happen, he said people came late and paid more and were subsequently smuggled into the queue.
One other observation that came up during the minister’s visit was the fact that people paid for expedited service to obtain their passports in two weeks, but some had to grapple with the acquisition of their passports months after they had opted for the expedited service.
It also came to light that there were some applicants whose passports were ready, but, for some unexplained reasons, certain officials kept them only to tell the applicants that the passports were not ready.
One applicant had come to pick up his passport under expedited service but was told to come back in two weeks but Ms Botchway took his slip and submitted it to the collection office again and the official returned with the passport. Two others, including a lady, had their passports printed for them instantly after they had failed to secure them despite several attempts.
After the visit, Ms Botchway told the media that her experience from the visit was one of mixed feelings, saying the online process appeared very smooth and posed less challenges, but the manual system was fraught with problems which compelled some applicants to queue for long hours.
“But how can anybody, a Ghanaian, applying for a passport, queue from 3 a.m? It is not right. What I will say is to humbly ask Ghanaians – those who can – to please use the online system because when we went to the online office, things were moving smoothly,” she stated.