BY SYDNEY KAWADZA
ZIMBABWEANs, who paid passport fees in United States dollars before the introduction of the e-passport in December last year, are being grossly short-changed with the Central Registry Office reimbursing application fees in local currency.
The Independent has also established that the government was forced to abandon printing old passports after its printing press broke down sometime last year.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa in December last year launched Zimbabwe’s e-passport, ostensibly, aimed at enhancing security, while preventing identity theft and forgery at a function that coincided with the commissioning of a new passport enrolment centre in Harare.
However, sources this week told the Independent that the introduction of the e-passport was rushed after the printing press broke down around October last year.
During the same period, the government had also announced that the Central Registry’s Office had a backlog of 184 000 before introducing the e-passport while committing to clearing the backlog by the end of 2021. A production mismatch was reported in 2020 as the first production stage — booklet printing — could only yield 8 000 passports a day. The second stage — the personalisation stage — had a capacity of 3 500 a day with the final production phase, which is quality control, having a daily capacity of 2 000. According to investigations by the Independent this week, officials from the RG’s Office in Harare are directing applicants, who had not received their passports, to either get a reimbursement in the local Zimbabwean dollar or convert the money paid last year and apply for an e-passport.
Sources also revealed that applicants from provincial passport offices across Zimbabwe were also being directed to visit the New Central Registry office in Harare.
“If you go to the passport office anywhere in Zimbabwe, whether you made the application in any of the provincial capitals, you will be directed to the RG’s Office in Harare,” a source at the RG’s Office said.
“Unfortunately, when you go to Makombe (New Central Registry Building) you are given an option to get a reference letter to use when you apply for an e-passport or to provide a bank account so that you get a reimbursement in the local currency at the official bank rate.”
A recent visit to the passport office by the Independent also established that those, who would have been reimbursed, would be allowed to use their bank card to swipe at a rate of US$1 to ZW$400.
The government, in July last year, gazetted Statutory Instrument 201 of 2021, pegging passport fees in US dollars while applicants had an option to pay the gazetted passport fees in local currency at the prevailing auction rate.
According to the SI published by Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage minister Kazembe Kazembe then, an ordinary passport will now cost US$60, while a three-day passport costs US$200.
Contacted for comment, Kazembe yesterday requested questions in writing but did not respond to the queries.
He also promised to call back but had not done so at the time of going to print.
Kazembe’s permanent secretary Aaron Nhepera and Registrar General Henry Machiri were not answering their phones yesterday.
Meanwhile, applicants who wanted an emergency 24-hour passport had to fork out US$318 but the RG’s Office was struggling to clear the backlog of passport applications due to a shortage of consumables.
The 24-hour emergency passport was also scrapped during the Covid-19 lockdown period and reserved for applicants seeking urgent medical attention.
“This means all applicants who paid for the three-day passport before they were stopped will not get the old passports which government claims would be valid until they expire,” the source said.
“Even those who paid US$60 for the ordinary passport will be advised to leave their account numbers so that they get their money back but in Zimbabwean dollars at the official bank rate.”
The normal processing of the new e-passport is US$100, while the urgent processing of an emergency passport costs US$200.
Applicants, however, pay a further US$20 in administrative fees.