HomeLocal NewsDispelling the passport office myth

Dispelling the passport office myth

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It’s three o’clock in the morning, but it is already a hive of activity outside the perimeter fence of Registrar- General (RG) Tobaiwa Mudede’s offices where business of all sorts is brisk — mostly vendors selling passport and birth certificate covers, black pens and other items to desperate passport seekers.

Passport touts also hover around the area looking for unsuspecting “clients”. The atmosphere gives an impression that getting a Zimbabwean passport is such a mammoth task and the touts who act as unofficial passport agents make it appear very clear one cannot obtain the precious document without their “indispensable expertise”.

Photographers are busy taking and processing instant passport photographs during the witching hours while food and airtime vendors also rummage for their share of the business.

Queuing starts the previous evening and by three o’clock in the morning about 200 people will already be in the long-winding queue.

The passport touts stand at nearby streets corners accosting people on their way to join the long queue and selling position numbers which enable one to jump the queue. “Clients” are convinced that without a place in the front it would be difficult to get to process a passport that day — an impression NewsDay investigation found to be false.

The numbers are sold for up to $10 and usually, the same number is sold to many people, resulting in confusion and often squabbles over the coveted positions.

Many unsuspecting people fall prey to the touts and buy these fake numbers in the long queue only to discover that by the time the passport office opens they are not in the front places as many other people would be claiming the same positions.
By the time they discover they have been tricked, the tout in question would already have disappeared with their money, and, even were they to locate them, most of these touts are a violent lot and therefore not easy to intimidate or recover moeny from.

Although Mudede’s offices have been accused of alleged corruption and inefficiency, the RG has religiously denied the allegations and said his staffers’ hands were clean. Although this may not be entirely true, Mudede’s officials are right to place blame on the touts.

What cannot be ruled out is the ugly fact that these touts sometimes act in cahoots with unscrupulous elements in the passport offices. Week-long investigations by Newsday uncovered numerous nefarious activities obtaining inside and outside the passport offices where teams of touts and passport officers run complex networks fleecing passport seekers of thousands of dollars.

In one instance, the NewsDay team first asked close friends and relatives if they knew someone who could facilitate getting a passport without having to go through the pressure of waking up in the middle of the night to join the long queues.

Contacts who claimed they could facilitate quick passports were introduced by various people and most of them said they were not really staffers at the RG’s office, but worked with insiders who could easily sort out a passport for a fee.

Usually the insiders’ identities are protected and one would in the rare cases eventually get to know the men and women behind the scheme after they have paid the required service money and are in the process of getting their documents done.

One of our team members pretended they required an urgent passport processed and the tout who identified himself as Boyido Chikomo said he could provide the service for a fee of $450.

Emergency passports officially cost $318 for a same-day document and $253 for a three- day one. This meant the tout and his accomplices were going to pocket $132, which is a lot of money from one client.

Chikomo was asked how he would manage to produce a passport when he did not even work at the RG’s Office, and he said it was easy.

“I work with people employed at the passport office, but they do not like their identities to be known and so I collect the money and the documents and hand them over to those people in the offices who will then process the passport,” said Chikomo.

“You might think $132 is too much money, but it is not because we have to share it among at least four people,” he said.

We had been told about the likes of Chikomo and how many unsuspecting “clients” lost their money, but still failed to get the service. Needless to say, we left Chikomo with a promise we would engage him later.

When the passport offices were opened, as early as seven o’clock in the morning, which is very early for government offices which officially open at 08:00, and much to the amazement of scores of people that had been duped, everyone in the long queue was served and by lunchtime, half of the queue had successfully processed their applications.

While in the queue, our team met Zimbabweans from South Africa who openly disclosed they did not have some of the required documents like citizenship certificates but were going to bribe staffers at the RG’s offices to get one-day passports. By lunch, one of those people confirmed to a member of our team that the mission had been successful.

“I just waved $450 at one of the staffers in these offices and without any hassles, they had begun processing my one-day passport and here it is. I will soon be going back to South Africa.

“If you have money I can introduce you to the person, but you have to be confidential about the deal as it might cost them their job,” he said.
During the investigations, we also made two unsuccessful attempts to bribe officers at the RG’s offices.

“We cannot take bribes,” one of them, a lady working from Room 100 said. “If you can just be patient, join the queues and you will find that by six o’clock in the evening everyone would have been served. We are now working overtime.”

After going through the normal procedure and without paying any bribe, three members of our team found that in fact it was not so difficult to process a Zimbabwean passport as long as one’s papers were in order.

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