Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Health Reporter
Registrar-General Mr Henry Machiri has implored members of the public to utilise registry offices dotted around the Matabeleland region to decongest the Bulawayo office, which has since the beginning of the festive season been overwhelmed with clients applying for e-passports.
Since the onset of the festive season, winding queues have become a common sight as hordes of people, among them diasporans, are applying for travel documents.
Some applicants are spending over 12 hours in queues waiting to get the service while others claim corrupt officials are cashing in on the situation by demanding bribes to speed up the process.
Others are also alleging that officials are now prioritising those applying for emergency passports which cost US$220 and deliberately ignoring those applying for ordinary passports which cost US$120. Mr Machiri dismissed this assertion.
He said the congestion is normal during the festive season and his office had availed enough resources to ensure that everyone gets served on time.
“We are aware we have increased clientele during this time and we have since increased resources so that they are served. We are on top of the situation and it’s not correct to say our passport officials are prioritising those who want emergency passports,” said Mr Machiri.
“Our position is that everyone should be able to get a passport on the day they present themselves at the office as long as it is during working hours.”
Mr Machiri warned corrupt officials saying applicants should be brave enough to report anyone who demands extra money.
“We do not condone corruption as we have quite a number of people who have been discharged from duty because of that. Members of the public should report anyone asking for anything more than the required amounts,” he said.
“If it was two years ago we would say we have shortages and those in need of emergency passports would get served first, but now we have enough resources.”
Mr Machiri urged applicants to make use of other stations such as Hwange, Lupane and Beitbridge.
“Since we have decentralised our services, we are saying people should not congest the Bulawayo offices. We have people claiming that passports take longer to come out, but I assure you that our turnover time is the same in all stations.”
Mr Machiri said the efficient service being offered by the Civil Registry Department when applying for a passport is attracting more passport applicants, a development that has also resulted in long queues.
When a Chronicle news crew visited the Bulawayo passport office last evening, it was greeted by visibly angry applicants. Some of them said they had been trying to apply for passports for the past 48 hours without success.
They appealed for Government to intervene, saying they were at the mercy of corrupt officials who were taking advantage of the high demand by fleecing applicants.
Ms Sukoluhle Matshabela, who is based in South Africa, said she joined the queue on Tuesday but was yet to be served.
“We left South Africa knowing well that things had improved greatly. While we were anticipating great service, we got disappointed. Firstly, I struggled to raise US$120, but officials here are deliberately serving those with US$220 before us when policy says we should all be served,” she said.
“I haven’t taken a bath or moved an inch from this queue because I desperately need my passport. I am on medication and cannot afford to keep buying food or even travel to other registry offices.”
Mr Ndabambi Nyathi said some residents did not bother queuing as they were paying middlemen US$10 to secure numbers to access the registry office.
Ms Pedzisai Sunungurai said: “We live in Bulawayo, but cannot even go home to bathe and refresh because there is a lot going on in these queues. We appeal to relevant authorities to intervene because we are helpless.”
She said some are spending more than 24 hours waiting to collect the documents.
The e-passport bio-enrolment centre in Bulawayo was officially opened by Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe at the Bulawayo Provincial Civil Registry offices as the Second Republic moves to decentralise access to travel documents in line with the devolution thrust.
The e-passport scheme was launched by President Mnangagwa in December last year after Government entered into a partnership with a Lithuanian company, Garsu Pasaulis, on a build, operate and transfer (BOT) basis to produce the new passports that meet modern international standards and allow Zimbabweans to travel without additional complications.
The partnership will also see Garsu Pasaulis refurbish provincial and district registry offices and provide material to produce national identity cards
Prior to the opening of the facility in Bulawayo, e-passports were obtained in Harare only.
The implementation of the e-passport project resonates with the National Development Strategy One (NDS1) objective of modernising the economy through the use of ICTs and digital technology, as the country rallies towards the attainment of Vision 2030.
An ordinary e-passport, which costs US$120, takes seven working days to be processed while the emergency one costs US$220 and is out within 48 hours.
Article Source: The Chronicle