Fungai Lupande-Mashonaland Central Bureau
Passport seekers will soon be able to apply for the travel document in the comfort of their homes and schedule appointments with the Registrar-General’s Office online, following efforts being made to consolidate data that enables one to do so.
When the system eventually takes off, no one will be required to physically visit the RG’s Office for a passport as collection will be done at the applicant’s nearest Post Office.
This comes as Treasury has released funds for the procurement of a specialised passport printing machinery and consumables for both passports and national identity cards, in a move that is expected to considerably reduce the backlog.
Printing passport booklets is not a problem as the machine at Fidelity Printers can print enough per day, but there is need for a modern machine to personalise the passport through embedding personal data and pictures.
The passport backlog had already started coming down, with figures showing a decline from 400 000 to 250 000 in the last few months.
The integrated Information Communication Technology (ICT) solution being established for the Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage will computerise and consolidate data from police, civil registration and immigration as a long-term solution to documentation challenges.
Speaking at a special Zanu PF Provincial Coordination Committee meeting on Saturday, Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe, who is also the Zanu PF Mashonaland Central provincial chairperson, said the system will enable people to apply for passports and make appointment with the Registrar General’s Office online.
Further, the system will consolidate and interlink data to get rid of corruption and to assist in the arrest of criminals at immigration points, people who overstay and those who jump red robots.
Mobile national identification card registration has been set up, said Minister Kazembe, who made an undercover visit to the RG’s Office last week to unmask corruption that people have complained about over the years.
Interestingly, a tout coaxed Minister Kazembe for a US$30 bribe to jump the queue.
Said Minister Kazembe: “The new dispensation inherited the passport challenges, but the country was already facing economic challenges due to sanctions.
“There are three stages involved in passport production and the first stage is the creation of the booklet. We have a machine in the country which can manufacture 8 000 books per day.
“Fidelity Printers has another machine which can produce 8 400 booklets per day. We don’t have challenges at this stage and we have the capacity to print three million booklets.”
The second stage, said Minister Kazembe, involves personalisation of the passport where personal data and pictures are embedded on the passport. This process requires a specialised printer which can print 2 000 passports per day.”
Minister Kazembe said passport covers and consumables were imported and a passport had about eight security features, which are done by the specialised printer.
He said sanctions affected the country for a long time and there was a backlog from 2016/2017, caused by lack of foreign currency to import the consumables.
Zimbabwe had not been able to import consumables because of sanctions, and used other means to access them.
The third stage in passports production is validation of the passport and quality control.
“The first solution done by Government is to buy additional machinery to increase capacity to match demand,” said Minister Kazembe. “This was approved by Cabinet and Treasury has released funds for the procurement of the machinery.”
Shifts have been introduced at the RG’s Office to ensure the backlog was reduced, he said.
Minister Kazembe said the consumables were not bought over the counter, but were approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a United Nations organ, since a passport had to be internationally acceptable.
He warned citizens not to expect dramatic changes overnight, but promised that considerable changes were “coming”.
“Corruption had adversely affected service delivery and some people were enjoying the congestion and chaos,” said Minister Kazembe. “My visit to Market Square (RG’s offices) was to get a first-hand experience of the challenges faced by ordinary people in acquiring for birth certificates.
“At the death certificate counter, I saw only one employee serving people, while the other two were said to be on tea break, while people in a queue to be served.
“At the passport department, they were serving only 50 people to create congestion so that people get stranded and are sold tickets to jump the queue.”
At Market Square, Minister Kazembe said he saw a police officer with several forms and looked like he was “doing some underhand dealings”.
The officer was later arrested.
Minister Kazembe said after his visit, he received feedback that things had changed and people were being served diligently.
“The President has adopted a zero tolerance to corruption stance and it is a collective responsibility,” he said.