One of the major issues that has led to the heightening of the debate on the Representation of the People's (Amendment) Bill (ROPAB) is that of identification of citizens.
And one of the means for identification that readily comes to mind is a passport.
However, the process for the acquisition of a passport or its renewal, as against replacing a missing or stolen passport, clearly leaves much to be desired and lends room for people to want to abuse it.
Currently, to acquire a first passport in Accra, for instance, after one had filled out a passport form obtainable from the post office, two relatives are to endorse it, with a high public officer (e.g. Lawyer, Doctor) witnessing.
After submitting the completed form at the Immigration Service office with an accompanying fee of a hundred thousand cedis (¢100,000.00), one had to wait for between a month and two to receive his/her passport, instead of the four weeks one is told at the Immigration office.
To renew an old, expired or invalid passport, one has to complete the same application form and together with the old, expired passport plus photocopies of it, submit to the Immigration office with a prescribed fee of ¢100,000. This also takes just about the same time as that for processing a new one.
Even though previously there was a provision for endorsement of old passport to correct or change personal details (e.g. date/place of birth, profession, height, etc.), which required proof of the change or correction (e.g. birth certificate for change of date/place of birth) at half the fee for obtaining a fresh passport, that is no longer done.
Today, when an error is detected on a passport, one has to start the whole passport acquisition process again to acquire a new one or make do with whatever errors if possible.
The most expensive and inconvenient of the passport acquisition processes is when one is replacing a missing or stolen passport.
First, one must report the loss at the Police Station for a Police extract to be issued, buy an application form at the post office, swear an affidavit at the High Court on loss of document and submit to the Immigration Service, with a fee of five hundred thousand cedis (¢500,000) and wait for a processing time same as that spent for acquiring a new passport.
In spite of what may be very good reasons behind the processes for replacing a missing passport, the process is undoubtedly tortuous enough not to encourage people to pursue it. What with the hectic procedures at police stations, the fee likely to be paid for the affidavit, plus the lump sum ¢500,000, which five times more than one would pay for a new passport or the replacement of an old one.
Why wouldn't one just drop an initial or a middle name and simply get a new passport at a cheaper cost and with less trouble? The loss would therefore not be reported at the police station, leaving the perpetrators, if it was a theft, to get away with their crime, often selling or altering these passports, especially ones that bear visas, and hence increasing passport and visa fraud in the country.
The passport office also is left with a lot of ghost names in their database, as new files are opened for the same persons, instead of old ones being updated.
The Chronicle is of the view that these are matters that require serious national attention and modifications to enhance the integrity of the Ghanaian passport for proper identification purposes.