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30.03.2006 Diaspora (Italy)

Feud over Ghanaian Passport Fees in Italy

By - Reggie Tagoe in Rome

Govt. Minister steps in to avert demo…

It's a story that has dragged on for over seven months. The issue in the stalemate is the increase in passport fees and other related documents at the Ghana Embassy in Rome. On one side is the Ghana Mission who consistently insist on the new fees defending their stand as a directive from the Ghana government. At the other end, Ghanaians in Italy led by the Council of Ghana Nationals Associations in Italy (COGNAI) who refuses to accept the increment.

The Embassy has since July 2005 increased the cost of renewal of Ghanaian passport from €115 to €200, new passport from €215 to €300, replacement of missing passport may cost €500 (including a penalty) and all other fees has shot up by 100%.

In the midst of the confrontation, highly dosed in rage, inflammatory remarks and threat, COGNAI and its Assembly of Ghanaians were on the verge of going on demonstration at the Ghana Embassy in Rome against the increase after what they say all attempts, through letters and a reminder, to have the authourities reduce the fees has failed. They also affirmed the new fees is an exception since none of the Ghana Missions in Europe charges those fees.

Italian police have gone to COGNAI's Headquarters in Vicenza, north of Italy, making enquiries about the demonstration and those involved which was understood by COGNAI as an act of intimidation from the Ghana government and the Embassy.

The Ambassador, His Excellency Dr. Dsane-Selby asserted some of the letters by COGNAI were insulting to the extent of calling for his removal from office but he chose not to react.

Earlier last year three of Ghana members of Parliament were in Italy for discussion on the right of Ghanaians abroad to vote in Parliamentary and Presidential elections and at that meeting the Ambassador rebuffed any attempt to have the passport issue discussed.

The count down to the demonstration was in earnest but Ghana's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Akwasi Osei Adjei has stepped in to diffuse the tension. The Minister was in Catania, Italy, for a special Immigration Conference on the creation of temporal detention camps in the Mediterranean Region for illegal immigrants from Africa and other countries and took the opportunity to summon a meeting at the Conference Hall of the Ghana Embassy in Rome between the two sides in the feud.

Present was the Ambassador, Dr. Dsane-Selby and officials of the Mission. COGNAI was represented by its President, Omari Somuah and Secretary, Gilbert Abasimi. Also in attendance were representatives of the various Ghanaian Associations in Italy. Hon. Akwasi Osei Adjei, accompanied by Elizabeth Adjei (no relation) – Director of Immigration Service in Ghana - diplomatically talked the participants into the effects of going on demonstration against the back drop of the passport fees increases arguing the €200 being demanded by government to renew passports, which would last for 10 years, is not asking for too much.

He said the demonstration would not auger well for the country's image abroad and it would be better to have constructive dialogue. He also pointed out that passport is not a right for a citizen but a privilege given by government and it is a government property. “We have looked at the circumstances and the penalty on missing passport is going to be waved” says the Deputy Minister. He however warned that issue of new passport as a replacement of a missing one would be at the discretion of the Embassy. He declared that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would soon send official letters to all Ghana Embassies in Europe, except the United Kingdom, to charge the same rates for all Ghanaian passport fees. He did not disclose what the new charges would be when confronted with the question but indications are it won't be less than what Ghanaians in Italy are currently paying.

The Deputy Minister further revealed within the next few years Ghana will change its passport to a digital one with new security features that is not visible to the naked eye.

An on-line passport system where applicants can download passport forms, fill it and send to the appropriate quarters is also according to the Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister among government plans on Ghana passport.

Elizabeth Adjei told the participants passport is a very important tool used for identification and crossing borders but it has also become a tool people are using to cause nefarious activities, citing the American 9/11 as a typical example. She said the Ghanaian passport is the most 'abused' passport in the world and the cheapest in the sub-region explaining that efforts to secure Ghana's territorial borders was the idea to have a digital passport. She revealed the phasing out of the current Ghanaian passport into digital would be completed by 2012 and urged Ghanaians to value their passport.

COGNAI President, Omari Somuah thanked the Minister for arranging the meeting and called on all his compatriots to call off the demonstration. He denied writing any insulting letter to the Ambassador and that he never stated Dr. Dsane-Selby be removed from office. The President stated that COGNAI was particularly interested in the increase of €85 on the passport fees and not the penalty.

The worse part of the passport saga, according to him, was none of COGNAI's letters and petitions was even acknowledged receipt nor responded to though reliable sources indicated the letters arrived at their respective destinations. He said the apparent

no-response pose leaves room for concern as to how Ghana government authorities value and threat the problems and difficulties faced by Ghanaians living in Italy.

The Hon. Minister has earlier briefed the participants about the achievements of the Ghana government and ongoing developments in Ghana. He mentioned ROPA Bill passed by Parliament which would allow Ghanaians abroad to vote in Parliamentary and Presidential elections, free basic elementary education, the national insurance health scheme and the construction of new roads as among efforts being made by the government to put Ghana on a solid foundation.