Lawyers prepare to go to court over Zimbabwe’s new passport

HARARE – Human rights lawyers have warned the government they are prepared to go to court to challenge what they say is a “grossly unreasonable” decision to phase out Zimbabwe’s current passport booklet by December 2023.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has written to home affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe also raising questions over the government’s decision to award CBZ bank a monopoly of collecting passport application fees of US$20.

The lawyers gave the minister 48 hours to address their concerns.

“We have written a letter to home affairs minister Honourable Kazembe Kazembe telling him that his decision to make the current passport non-operational and non-functional by December 31, 2023, is grossly unreasonable as many citizens had obtained or renewed their current passports and had parted with hefty sums of money in paying the prescribed passport fees,” the lawyers said in a statement.

“We told him that it is grossly unreasonable and unfair to impose an obligation on current passport holders to apply for an e-passport by December 2023 even when their current passports still have many years running before their expiration date.

“We said this is a violation of the right to administrative conduct which is substantially fair and reasonable and hence is a breach of section 68 of the Constitution.”

The government on Tuesday published a statutory instrument stating that old passports would be phased out by 2023, obligating up to five million Zimbabweans who hold the old passports, including some in foreign countries, to apply for the new e-passports within the next two years.

The statutory instrument controversially proclaimed CBZ bank as the financial institution which would receive the US$20 application fee for the e-passports, which the government says has enhanced security features. The cost of an ordinary passport would go up from the current US$60 to US$120, and emergency e-passports will cost US$220.

CBZ is part-owned by corruption-accused businessman Kudakwashe Tagwirei, one of Zanu PF’s top donors who has benefited from massive state contracts.

“We also asked Kazembe to furnish us with the procedures and criterion used to designate CBZ Bank as the entity to be processing e-passports,” the rights lawyers said. “We stated that in terms of Section 35(3) of the Constitution, it is the state’s primary obligation to provide citizens with passports and other identity documents.

“The government announced that CBZ bank will be tasked with the processing of all passport applications at an additional cost of US$20. We requested this information in the interest of public accountability and transparency.”

The e-passports will be produced by Semlex, a Belgian company notorious for bribing officials in third world countries to secure contracts. The government awarded the passport contract to Semlex’s subsidiary, Garsu Pasaulis, without going to tender. The MDC Alliance has demanded an investigation into the contract award.

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