Acquiring passports still a nightmare

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When Tariro Choto turned 16 recently, she was excited by the prospect of having a national identification document.

She woke up before dawn hoping to be early at the Registrar General (RG)’s Office, but she soon found out that it was not as easy as she had thought.

That was after she had spent the whole day trying to acquire the elusive document.

In another incident, Rachel Gumbo took her paper national identification document to the Registrar General’s Office in Harare, hoping to get a passport, but was told to first get the new plastic ID at the RG’s Office in Zvimba before she could have her passport processed.

“I felt the whole process was unfair. A man who was in front of me successfully changed his ID and he was from Masvingo, where he had acquired his paper ID. I suspected there were underhand dealings,” fumed Gumbo.

The two scenarios are just a tip of the iceberg of what is happening at the RG’s Office branches. Citizens are struggling to get the necessary papers and corruption is rampant.

A visit to the National Employment Exchange where IDs are issued shows that touts and officials from the RG’s Office have formed an unholy alliance to rip off desperate national document seekers.

The touts openly demand US$10 for “quick service” from document seekers. One tout who identified himself as Jere said he had “links” inside.

“I know somebody inside, one just gives me his documents and I take them inside. The person would be called for a photo shoot and then he or she will give me my money which we share with the ‘boss’ inside. We make good money,” Jere said.

Crooks are also on the prowl. Unsuspecting members of the public are either duped or conned by thieves.

A security guard at nearby premises said he had witnessed many people losing their belongings to thieves and street children.

He added that sometimes the thieves “visit” those who have slept at the offices at night pretending to be document seekers before stealing from them.

Members of the public have complained about the way they are treated by the officials issuing these important documents.

Rowani Zaru, who was queuing for a passport at Makombe Building, said the title “civil servant” was now synonymous with bad public relations and harassment of members of the public. He said the officials were insensitive and sometimes they embarked on undeclared “go-slows”.

An official from the RG’s Office defended their action saying they get peanuts so they make the public pay.

“The government has failed to pay us handsomely so we work according to our salaries. There is an adage which says sometimes one needs not seek greener pastures but to make the pastures where one is greener,” he said.

Harare-based life coach and motivational speaker Kudzai Maungwe said the behaviour exhibited by most government workers in social services was a result of a demoralised workforce.

“In most countries government workers are a symbol of good relations with members of the public but in Zimbabwe they are the worst. The government has failed to import hands-on training to its workers hence they ill-treat people they are supposed to serve,” he said.

Maungwe added that corruption was rampant because civil service salaries were paltry.

“Sometimes they work according to their salary and if their wages remain low, lack of motivation and laziness begin to creep in. Underhand dealings quickly manifest into corruption and everyone knows that corruption has become the order of the day at these (public) institutions.”

Last year, Home Affairs co-minister Theresa Makone made a surprise visit at the passport offices at Makombe Building where hordes of passport seekers blew the whistle on corrupt officials in a development that did not go down well with Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede.

The visit unearthed a syndicate of office-bearing swindlers, including police, who extort money for emergency passports and for other services that conventionally fall under the jurisdiction of the RG’s Office.

Makone said she was shocked by the racket and wondered where the RG’s Office got some of the fees they charged. “We did not say anything about the issue of emergency passports,” Makone was quoted saying then. “We wanted to ease the trouble people were going through to access passports hence the reduction of fees for ordinary passports.”

She added that passports were supposed to be a right, not a privilege, so people did not have to struggle to access the travel documentions.

She said the fraudulent activities besetting the passport office had created confusion which denied the public access to travelling documents.

Makone, together with Deputy Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Tichaona Mudzingwa, promised to get to the bottom of the matter but to date, nothing has been done.