If there were any application process which Ghanaians dreaded most then it was the acquisition of Ghanaian passport. Passport application in Ghana has been fraught with lots of challenges. Applicants for years have complained about the difficulty in acquiring passport. Applicants of biometric passport were not only waking up as early as 3:00am to the application centres to join the unending and never moving long queues but also had to make sure they were part of the first 100 people to be served for the day; that would be selected that day for picture capturing and biometric verification. The frustrations were severe in big cities like Accra, Kumasi and Takoradi.
The frustrations in securing passport led to the booming economy of “goro boys” who acted as middlemen facilitating for people who could not afford to the wait. The passport application fee was pegged at GH₵ 50 for regular process and GH₵100 for express application. However, applicants paid between GH₵200 to GH₵500 these middlemen.
The New Patriotic Party promised to make passport acquisition stress free and convenient for all Ghanaians. In this regard, the government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration has introduced number of innovations in achieving this objective.
As part of the reforms, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration awarded VFS Global the contract to open new Passport Application Centres (PAC) across the country to improve the overall passport application and submission processes. VFS has now launched the first Passport Application Centre in Ghana’s capital city of Accra with three more centres expected to follow, in Kumasi, Tamale, and Sekondi-Takoradi in the coming year.
In announcing this contract, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Madam Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, said: “as part of government’s endeavour to ease the congestion of applicants who submit passport forms and to establish a more stringent yet established system in place, I would like to announce the opening of the new Passport Application Centres in Ghana through our association with the world’s largest outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions-VFS Global. “Going forward, we expect a total of 200,000 applicants to be serviced through these four centres every year, that will offer passport application enrolment services in Ghana in a more transparent and efficient manner.”
The new Passport Application Centres offer citizens number of benefits, including better accessibility, longer working hours, improved turnaround times, comfortable centres with automated crowd management systems for an enhanced customer experience. Additionally, applicants can also avail a host of personalised services like Premium Lounge facility access for dedicated services, form filling assistance by professional and well-trained staff, SMS service facility to track the status of the application to name a few.
Furthermore, to enhance service delivery to the Ghanaian public, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration in March, 2020 stopped the use of manual passport application platform. An earlier release from the Ministry has directed passport applicants to use the online passport application platform, passport.mfa.gov.gh to submit their applications. It also noted that the online passport application is now available at all Passport Application Centres. Initially, an applicant had to buy the application form from accredited agencies. This was also stopped when the application was moved online and made the forms downloadable. Applicants only pay when the submit the forms online.
In March, 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration also announced the validity of the booklets of ordinary Ghana passport has been extended from five to 10 years. The directive which took effect March 31, 2019, did not change the processing fees. Many Ghanaians have complained about the validity of the passport as short. In response to these complaints, the ministry extended the validity of the Ghanaian pastors to 10 years.
These new initiatives introduced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration have brought a lot of reliefs to Ghanaians. Now, one does not need to wake up at dawn to join long queues or pay middlemen to acquire a passport. Applicants sit in the comfort of their homes to apply for passports, book appointment date and only go to the centres when they are to provide their biometric details.
The government’s digitisation agenda is on course and delivering. In the case of passport application, we have read a lot of success stories of people receiving their passports in less than two weeks after applying for the passports something which could take months and sometimes, a years. With the new system, applicants are able to track the progress of their application and also have the option of receiving their printed passports in the comfort of their homes which comes at an extra cost.
With these success stories, one would only ask for more. With the creation of new regions, it is expected that these centres are established there and further, every district also provided with a passport application centre.