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24.03.2017 Feature Article

Ten Years Passport Proposal: Is it Long Overdue?

Foreign Affairs minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey
LISTEN MAR 24, 2017
Foreign Affairs minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey

Passport acquisition in Ghana is as difficult as skinning an ant to find its innards. It takes ages, saps energy and it sucks money. The presence of the so-called middle men even creates yet, another complexity in that procurement exercise, leaving the prospective applicant in a pool of suspense and doubt. It used to be crazy about ten years ago.

And have the ghosts in the Passports Office been exorcised yet? I don’t think so it must still have something left to scare the hell out of applicants desperately seeking passports.

For some applicants it takes a year or more to obtain that traveling document. Others spend fortune to acquire it. At the end of the day you ask yourself whether it’s worth that hustle and bustle. The current fee for a new Ghanaian biometric passport booklet is "GHC100.00" for express service delivery and "GHC50.00" for regular service delivery.

Over the years, the process has been saddled with fraud. It’s believed middle men often collect as high as GHC1, 000 from applicants before they could provide the passports.

Passport validity is the duration of time a passport can be used to travel to another country or be used as another form of identification within or outside the issuing country before its expiry date.

Ghana is among 92 countries across the world that issues five years validity passport. Out of 185 countries 15 of them issues 5-10years validity passports .And 96 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom and two tiny Island nations Fiji and Tonga. In Africa, Algeria, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Tunisia, South Africa, Lesotho, Malawi and Sudan issue 10 years validity passports to applicants as well.

Canada Japan and Russia are among wealthy nations that also issue five years passports. Egypt is the only African country that issues 5-10 years passports to applicants. And Mexico is the only country among the 185 countries listed that issues all three passports—5years, 5-10years and 10 years. There are some countries that issue 5 years and 10years: They include South Korea, Spain, Latvia, Germany and Russia.

Interestingly, there isn’t a single West African country that issues 10 years passports. The reason I don’t know. Except to hazard a guess, and it’s to be nothing but money. The irony is, if South Pacific nation of Fiji with a population less than 1 million people (881,065 as at 2013) is issuing 10 years passport to applicants why can’t nations with large populations such Nigeria (over 150million population) and Ghana cannot do same. It’s understood and perhaps one of the arguments making rounds is that the less time period they give the more money they make—milking both the fatling and the scrawny cows.

Thus they don’t seem to care about the hustle applicants have to go through for a 5-year passport. I read somewhere that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is broke. Yes the ministry that is the sole issuer of Ghanaian passports is cash-strapped. So where did the money go?

How do you make enough money when you sub contract your core function to an illegal group or a syndicate other than the authorised agency to work as middle men? It creates an avenue for fraud and leakage. That in part explains why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is financially bleeding.

So is this proposal long overdue?
No doubt about that considering countries like Tonga that’s issuing ten years passports to its travelers. Ghanaians and Nigerians are well-known for their extensive travels. They are everywhere in the world and I believe if hell was a country they’d have sojourned there. Across the world nations whose peoples travel extensively and frequently tend to give them a longer period booklets —10 years. Unfortunately in our part of the world that logic isn’t applicable.

But they say it’s better late than never, which is why I like to commend the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs now proposing the issuance of 10 years passport validity. The Committee is further pushing strongly for regional offices to be opened in order to reduce the pressure on the Accra office.

Member of Parliament for North Tong Constituency Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa who is also the ranking member of the committee told an Accra-based radio station Joy FM that Parliament was proposing a ten year period during which a passport in Ghana can be deemed to be valid. According to him the Director of Passport, Alexander Ntrakwa who appeared before the committee has accepted the proposals and has promised to work towards achieving them.

He said after the ten year period the passport would be deemed to have expired and must be renewed.

The proposal is one of many others, Mr. Ablakwa pointed out adding, Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs had suggested to the Director of Passports Alexander Ntrakwa that the five year expiry period for Ghana's passports is too short a time, especially given the challenges that applicants go through before getting a new passport or to renew an old one.

The MP said they told Mr. Ntrakwa that the committee wasn’t happy about the current passport process nether was it impressed with the reason the Director of Passport gave as to why passports must be valid for only five years.

“I suspect the office wants to increase its internally generated funds and the only ingenious way it could do so was to make the passports renewable in a period of five years.”

Ghanaian passports are issued exclusively by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration to Ghanaians granted citizenship in accordance with the Ghanaian nationality law. There are three types of passports- regular, service and diplomatic.

A passport issued will be valid for a period of five years and must be renewed after the period of expiration.

In 2016 alone as many as 222,000 passports were issued to Ghanaians across the country but under very tough conditions, Mr. Ablakwa revealed. The committee has also proposed to the directorate to relocate its office because the conditions under which Ghanaians are treated before they are provided with passports are disturbing.