For the purpose of identification and international travel, passport is a must have for each and every citizen of any country globally. Despite the relevance of this piece of document, it is sudden to come to the realization that Ghanaians have to employ unthinkable means to acquire passports in the country.
I always thought people just wanted to channel their emotions and frustrations to the government when they complain about the difficulties they go through to get their passports, until I personally had to join an over 100-person long queue of which I was the last person between the hours of 3:00am and 5:00amat the Passport Office in Accra near the Tema Station.
Before my journey to the passport office, I was advised by a colleague who had his passport four years ago. He narrated all the problems he had to endure including the dawn-time queuing to finally get the Ghanaian Passport. I did not really bother and told him this is 2015 and things must be different there by now. To my surprise, five years down the line, things are even worse with passport acquisition in Ghana.
Waiting in line for about four hours before the office was opened on Friday, September 4, 2015, people in the queue found some sought of refuge and satisfaction narrating their experiences in the past few days, weeks, and even months, all spent in vain just to submit their passport forms. Students, workers, senior citizens, mothers with babies from obscure villages and towns in the far regions fighting for early spots so that they can make a return journey in time back home where they belong.
To my amazement, many of these people did not know they had to come along with some specific documents to help process their applications. The question is, what is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration doing in terms of educating and communicating the requisites for passport acquisition to citizens, especially the ‘villagers’.
Not everyone can read and write but everyone can comprehend oral and or audio-visual information produced in their native tongue. It is obvious that communication is a big problem too in this sector.
A few travellers from the Eastern and Western Regions and Lome among others had to return and come queue in the cold some other time when they have the necessary documents that will enable the processing of their applications.
Their departure was somehow a dream come true for some of us who were at the bottom of the queue; little did we know that we were also among the bruised part of the fruit that had to be cut off.
Those departing to the far off regions, has the ministry considered the danger, the cost, and, security involved in their awkward travelling times?
The Government is always particular about reaching potential voters in every corner of the country. Voter’s registration goes deep into villages in all the regions but why can we not do same for passport registration?
The passport office in Accra must be relieved of the burden of the 9 other regions of Ghana. Can the government hearthe cry and feel the difficulties of the people living in this country or they appear minimal?
Bribery and corruption has gained roots residing in the walls of the passport office. Like spider webs, it has clothed the senses of new officers who entered with good moral values and integrity. Why should an applicant, a senior public official, or anyone who has the meanspay an official a certain sum of money to bypass fellow citizens who had waited in the blistering cold, some with babies clinging on their backs to get served first?
Decentralising the Passport Office will shorten the long chains of bribery and corruption dangling around the neck of public offices in this country, it will save citizens from the risk of travelling long distances in the name of passport form submission and relieve them of all the dangers and cost involved.
These issues atthe Passport Office is just one of many similar problems crippling the development of this country and it is time for us to wake up. We cannot win as a country if we tackle the bigger problems leaving the ones we consider minimal at bay.
The smaller problems grow to develop dark sinister wings day by day ready to take us by surprise as the country become acquainted with everyday so-called bigger problems.
We await the day where citizens will not wake up, travel far from their homes to converge, at the closed doors of the Passport Office at 3am in Accra with minimal knowledge of document attachments.
By Benjamin Paintsil