Needless chaos and disgrace of Ghanaians at passport office

Passport Office Queue File photo: People waiting at the passport office in Accra to apply for their passports

Mon, 30 Apr 2018 Source: Nico C.M. van Staalduinen

Several weeks ago my son Selom came to Ghana and he decided to apply for his Ghanaian passport.

My wife went with him at 4.30 AM to be in cue to apply for his passport, just to find out that they were not even the first ones there. By 10:30 A.M they had another 23 people to go and our son wanted to leave but was stopped by my very patient wife, before it was his turn around 1:00 PM.

She described the situation, apart from the almost 5 hours waiting time before the offices open as disgraceful. Public officers shouting like they were trying to control animals: “make sure all your documents are correct”, don’t all fill in that you are traders” even making remarks when people needed to go to the wash room etc. The most ridiculous thing was that people wore “forced” to pray before their work started, people who didn’t participate were insulted despite the fact that we have freedom of religion in Ghana and an official separation of state and religion. Praying to get a passport might give some people the idea that it might help them, but I thought that every Ghanaian is entitled to passport.

Neither my wife nor my son did understand why everybody would fill in trader as profession but that became clear later on.

Apparently if you fill in student the officers are asking, bring your school certificate or declaration, if you fill in lawyer, architect or any other proper job you are asked to produce your employers statement and other questions, just to avoid these extra demands (which aren’t mentioned anywhere when applying) many people just fill in: Trader. Understandable at a small fee these demands are being waved or your profession is being changed to? Indeed Trader.

My son paid 100 Cedis at a bank to have a fast tracked passport within 2 weeks, but the day mentioned on the letter being the pickup date I came to collect the passport on his behalf the passport wasn’t ready.

That might not be a shock to most of us but the reason given to me was a shock: There are questions about the nationality of your son, so you need to go to the passport head office to answer these questions.

I am a white Ghanaian with a non-Ghanaian surname, my son is a half cast Ghanaian and “naturally” than there is doubt about his nationality because up until today, Ghanaian public servants are not used to white, Asian, or Arabic Ghanaians. Despite the fact that my son is having an obvious Ewe first name he was still a “suspect”.

In other countries they have a word for it called: Discrimination, but in Ghana that is always being denied, because many people think discrimination is “white discriminating against black” and not the other way around.

At the Passport Office I managed to get access to the Director of the Passport Office to explain the matter to the Director himself.

He called in one of his staff, and told him to get into the case and resolve the issue.

I followed the guy to his office, he typed my sons name in the computer and turned the screen in my direction asking: “can you verify if all these information is correct?”

Nowhere in the system was there any doubt of my son’s nationality. So who and why (obviously income creation for the public officer) was it stated as a reason that the passport was not ready because of doubt of nationality?

I checked the information and told the officer that all was perfect, the official walked out with a blank Ghanaian passport and returned a few minutes later with my son’s passport: Selom van Staalduinen.

I was, as you can understand, astonished.

So despite waiting time, insults of staff, blackmail and harassed by workers, police and immigration officers at the passport office on the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs grounds, it is technically possible to produce a Ghana Passport within minutes after all the information is typed into the system ?

Waiting in the line a few weeks earlier my wife was approached to produce a passport within 1 week at a fee of 1,000 Cedis, upon which my wife asked: “is that official?”.

My son was asked for 10 Cedis to change Student to Trader on his application form, being information which doesn’t even appear in your passport.

My questions to the passport office are:

Why can’t people book an appointment day and time on line to reduce time loss?

Why are public officers allowed to ask totally irrelevant questions to applicants?

Why do public officers have to insult and talk to applicants like they are their workers?

Why does the system give them a change to extortion and bribe taking?

What happens to the documents submitted, are they really ever investigated?

Why can’t we produce a Ghanaian passport within a few hours?

Many people traveling out of the country have regular jobs and have to take one or two full days off to acquire or renew a passport that is a totally needles loss of income.

At DVLA there are several (more expensive official options) to speed up the acquisition and/or renewal of a driver’s license, why don’t we do the same at the passport office?

Although I am against that, because I think every Ghanaian, rich or poor, is entitled to good service of and by any public servant.

After all the name Public Servant suggests serving the public, hence Public Servant.

If they were supposed to do what they are doing their job title would have been Public Extortionist or something similar.

Last comment on this: is 50 Ghc being about 11 Usd a realistic price for a passport?

Let’s have higher the price to 250 Ghc, download forms free of charge online, pay the passport price at the bank at the passport office premises, introduce a time reservation system online for applicants and deliver a passport within hours.

Is it difficult?

No its called progress!

Nico van Staalduinen

Columnist: Nico C.M. van Staalduinen
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