Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration Minister, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, has opened two online passport application centres in Koforidua in the Eastern Region and Tema in Community four in the Greater Accra Region.
The dual events on Wednesday according to the Minister, were in line with President Akufo-Addo’s agenda to extend passport service delivery, to the doorsteps of Ghanaians across the length and breadth of the country.
There is a programme in place to establish, these centres in all the 16 regions across the country, according to the Minister.
With the opening of the two centres, residents in Tema and its environs and those in the Eastern Region, who hitherto had to travel either to Accra or Ho, to acquire passports, will have the opportunity to apply online and get it processed at these new centres without the usual stress.
“With this commissioning, residents in the Eastern Region will be spared the inconvenience of traveling to the Greater Accra or Volta Regions to obtain passports”, she said while opening the Koforidua centre.
Madam Botchwey, said government was working to “face out” the manual system of acquiring passport which often involves human interferences and corrupt practices.
This will be achieved with initiatives such as increasing the centres for online passport application, extending passport centres to all regional capitals, retooling offices, extending the validity of passports, providing premium services, converting the manual passport application from PDF, setting up of a Client Service Unit.
Additionally, the Ministry is working to introduce 48-paged passport booklets to serve Ghanaians, who frequently travel and are bound to apply for new passports most times.
She said, “We expect this to come into effect during second half of 2019”.
From April this year, government extended the validity period of passports from the previous five to 10 years.
Again, the Ministry, intends to introduce a 48-hour service for those who need very urgent services to help eliminate the use of middlemen popularly known as Goro boys.
The Ministry is also working to secure office spaces from the Regional Coordinating Councils in the Upper East and West and Central Regions, as well as the newly created six regions for the establishment of Passports Application Centres (PACs) in their respective regional capitals.
It is envisaged, that these PACs, would be established by the first quarter of 2020.
She cautioned members of the general public, to desist from engaging in “fraudulent activities”such as “The use of forged documents in their applications” that has the potential to undermine the integrity of Ghanaian passports.
“These are punishable by law and persons found engaging insuch activities will be dealt with I accordance with the law”.
The Minister, told journalists that government was working to review upwards; cost of acquiring passport, explaining that the cost involved in acquiring passport, is one of the cheapest in the sub region.
Madam Botchwey, while addressing the media at the Ministry after the two opening events on Wednesday said “The production cost of one blanket passport booklet plus the cost of personalizing the passport for applications and the cost of other consumables, all put together, is heavily subsidized by Government, a trend that cannot be made to continue”.
She said, “A comparative analysis of the cost of passports in the ECOWAS region shows that Ghana charges the least for its passports, far below the regional average. In the coming days, the Ministry, will be considering all options available to ensure that passport production is financed in a way that is sustainable”.
The issue of uncollected printed passports was one issue the Minister said her outfit was working to address.
She said, her Ministry was working with some delivery companies on how to deliver uncollected passports to owners in their respective homes.
According to her, there are as much as about 20, 000 printed passports spanning the period 2010 to 2018, which are yet to be collected. Effort to get them collected has failed and so she said “The Ministry is also considering a home delivery service option to reduce the incidence of uncollected passports”.
In line with the new measures being embarked upon, the Head Office of the Passport Office, will be moved to a new location in the course of the year, as a new property has already been allocated for this purpose.
She announced the World Bank, has selected the Passport Office, as one of the key public service agencies to receive support to procure necessary logistics and equipment such as cameras, scanners, fingerprint scanners, signature pads, servers, furniture and computers to support the agenda to retool the Office to enhance service delivery to the general public.
On foreigners acquiring Ghanaian passports, she said that criminal practice, has been curtailed and in rare cases that such people are caught by “vigilant” officers, they are made to face the law and jailed.
“I think sometimes we make a meal out of this issue.Once upon a time I believe that, that was possible and that was rampant, today, I don’t believe it is so.
Once a while, you have people who are not supposed to be at the passport office to apply for passport coming in there and I have seen situations where they have been apprehended and they have been put before the court and have gone to jail.
Officers there are very vigilant and I know that they are working hard to ensure that they are working hard to ensure that the integrity of our passport is enhanced and maintained”.