Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Passport Office Run Like Chop Bar

Ghana's Passport Office at Ridge appears to be suffering from leadership paralysis as it is currently being run like a chop bar with rules and procedures flouted at will. The office is reeking with rudeness which permeates its entire structure from top to bottom, Public Agenda can report.

Visitors to the facility receive shabby treatment from staff whose work ethics and appreciation of customer care principles are suspect. Some passport applicants have complained about how undue delays coupled with the bustling activities of middlemen at the Passport Office frustrate their efforts at acquiring passports.

Recently, some applicants who could no longer bear the shabby treatment made distress calls through to our offices. The call was about allegations of suspected underhand dealings at the Passport Office located at Ridge. When we arrived there a few minutes later we saw tens of applicants impatiently waiting.

They included applicants from the Eastern, Volta and Central regions who had gone to collect their passports.

At the office a deputy director, purporting to be speaking for the Director of Passports, Ms. Bernice Efua Benneh, justified the unruly behavior of the staff and verbally assaulted us when we sought to discuss the challenges which were responsible for the frustrations applicants were going through.

"The country even has a challenge so we have a challenge," the deputy director, who had his name tag hidden in his long-sleeved striped shirt, retorted. He then queried "Who gave you the right to come to my office and question me? If you run a newspaper does it give you the right to come and ask questions?" He then ordered: "Get out of my office."

Some of the applicants shared their frustrations with us. "I'm fainting!" cried Korkor Amarteifio who had come from the Volta Region. She added, "We haven't eaten anything from seven in the morning." Korkor together with six other young persons from the Ho-based Institute for Music and Development had come to Accra to process their passports. The youngsters are representing Ghana in a competition that will come off in Tanzania. But alleged middlemen had ensured they were not attended to as at the time Public Agenda arrived there.

Anna Galley of Ashesi University arrived at the Passport Office at 8:00am but was only attended to after 4:30pm. It did not come easy; she had to complain incessantly to achieve that. "I could not go to the office because of this," she lamented, adding, "We sat here and nobody told us anything."

She claimed, "The people are not approachable" and cited one Abu as very rude, abrasive in dealing with visitors to the facility.

She suspected that some bribery and extortion was going on. "What they are doing here is not a good thing. They served people who came at 11am and 2pm before us." She was convinced that those served outside the queue were neither diplomats nor VIPs.

She recommended, "I think they should restructure the whole place and put cameras here so that the activities of the staff can be monitored."

One after the other, applicants shared their experiences, wondering what was wrong with the system. Frank Boakye of Legon had been frustrated over a week and was lost for words to appropriately describe his feelings.

Sherry Mawuli also had some harsh words for the staff: "They don't know what customer service is about. They are rude; they are not nice."

We raised all these concerns before the deputy director but he seemed to care little about them and demanded proof of any insolent behavior on the part of the staff. What he probably missed was that just like him; other staff refused to identify themselves and hid their name tags. However, one Agyekum, believed to be the Supervisor of the Photographic Section, could not escape identification by an applicant.

Ghana introduced a new passport regime in April in compliance with an International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) directive, which enjoined all nations to go biometric by 2010. The new regime was supposed to have inbuilt efficient processing and issuance mechanisms designed to eliminate frustrations caused by delays and middlemen.

Under the new system, applicants are to appear in person at the passport office or regional passport application centres to undergo a mandatory interview, and also have their personal data, including photographs and fingerprints captured. Mr. Daniel Atoklo of Dansoman says the frustrations begin right at the vetting stage where officers demand irrelevant documentary evidence. "The only thing is to prove that you are a Ghanaian citizen; any other thing is secondary."

Meanwhile, Public Agenda has gathered that some corrupt officers of the Passport office extort GHc250 from applicants and fast track the processing of their non-biometric passports. At GHc250 applicants are paying five times the cost of the regular biometric passport.

Correspondant: Steve Manteaw & Frederick Asiamah

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