Madam Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, has said that Ghanaians in the diaspora have not been left out in the extension of passport services.
She said six Ghana Diplomatic Missions abroad currently issue biometric passports to Ghanaians in their respective jurisdictions including countries of concurrent accreditation.
The Missions are London, Berlin, Washington DC, New York, Pretoria and Abuja. Madam Botchway said this at a press briefing on Wednesday in Accra, after the commissioning of two new biometric Passport Application Centres (PACs) in Koforidua, the Eastern Regional Capital and Tema in the Greater Accra Region.
She noted that in the medium term, the Ministry had earmarked Missions in the following Capitals for the extension of the biometric passport service: The Hague, Moscow, Paris, Oslo and Brussels in Europe; Beijing and Riyadh in Asia and the Middle East respectively; Addis Ababa, Rabat and Dakar in Africa; Brasilia in South America as well as Canberra in the Pacific.
“In the long term, all Ghana Missions abroad will be made to process biometric passports with regional printing hubs located in various regions,” she stated.
With regards to retooling of the Passport Office, Madam Botchway said being mindful of the need to improve the technical systems for efficient service delivery, the Ministry had for some time now been making steady and consistent efforts to replace some equipment and upgrade the systems at the Passport Office for uninterrupted passport processing.
She said: “This has been a work in progress and we are hopeful that very soon all existing centres will be adequately retooled”.
She said that the Passport Office had been selected by the World Bank as one of the key public service agencies to receive support to procure necessary logistics and equipment such as cameras, scanners, fingerprint scanners, signature pads, servers, furniture and computers to enhance service delivery.
“The Bank of Ghana and other collaborators such as the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC) have also assisted the Passport Office by providing some computers and other equipment for its operations.”
Madam Botchway said to forestall the phenomenon of shortage of passport materials, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance had come to an arrangement where the former had taken over the acquisition and procurement of all materials in relation to passport processing and delivery in the country; adding that “this should help in ensuring uninterrupted service delivery”.
On extending the validity of passports, Madam Botchway said: “As part of measures to reduce the frequency at which Ghanaians apply for passports, the validity of Ghana passports has been extended from five years to 10 years”. She said the Office commenced issuing the 10-year passports from 1st April, 2019.
The Minister said by this action, a Ghanaian who had not exhausted the pages of his/her passport, would only apply for renewal after 10 years instead of five years.
She said in addition to the 10-year extension of the validity of passports, plans were far advanced to introduce 48-paged passport booklets to satisfy the needs of frequent travellers. “We expect this to come into effect during the second half of 2019.”
She said to keep up with the pace of technological advancement; the Ministry had started discussions aimed at introducing chip embedded passports in due course. She noted that this was anticipated to enhance the security and integrity of Ghanaian passports.
She said being mindful that there were clients who would wish to access premium and very important personality (VIP) facilities which the existing PACs were unable to provide, in this regard, the Ministry entered into partnership with VFS Global, to provide premium/VIP services to applicants who so desire.
Madam Botchway said they have had positive feedback from clients of the Premium PAC. “This service is currently only available in Accra. It will soon be rolled out in Kumasi, Tamale and Takoradi, hopefully before the end of the year.”
She said the Ministry was equally conscious of the frustrations faced by Ghanaians in completing manual and online applications and getting credible information on the status of their applications.
To this end, the Ministry had set up a Client Service Unit in the Ministry with a call centre to assist applicants who required assistance with their passport applications and to ease their anxieties. The Unit is manned by trained staff and receives about 70 calls a day.
With regards to cost of passports, the Minister said: “You will agree with me that all these changes come with enormous financial outlays”. She said the production cost of one blank passport booklet plus the cost of personalising the passport for applicants and the cost of other consumables, all put together, was heavily subsidised by Government, a trend that cannot be made to continue.
She said comparative analysis of the cost of passports in the ECOWAS region shows that Ghana charges the least for its passports, far below the regional average.
“In the coming days, the Ministry will be considering all options available to ensure that passport production is financed in a way that is sustainable,” Madam Botchway said.