Fidelis Munyoro/Zvamaida Murwira, Harare Bureau
PASSPORT fees will have to be increased significantly to capacitate the Registrar General’s office to clear the large accumulated backlogs and assure Zimbabweans of rapid processing of applications since the materials used to make the passports are all imported and expensive, Government officials have said.
However, the Government is not seeking to make a profit from the passport and will ensure that the passports remain reasonably priced, since the passport office is a public service, not a profit-making business.
Even on a switch to full cost recovery, not all costs are in foreign currency since there are significant costs in local currency, principally the salaries of processing and printing staff, with only the actual special security paper, covers and fraud-resistant inks being imported. It could not be established yesterday what each of these costs actually were and how they would be fed into a formula seeking cost recovery, as some countries now use.
But both Registrar General Clemence Masango and the Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, Kazembe Kazembe, said yesterday only 2 000 passports a day were now being produced yet if adequate foreign exchange could be made available or bought on the interbank market, that total could be more than doubled to 4 600, allowing the RG’s office to meet current demand and attack the backlog.
Currently an ordinary passport costs $53 while an emergency passport costs $253. These charges were set in 2010 and Minister Kazembe said passports were basically being produced at “zero cost” to applicants.
Zimbabwe’s passports are the cheapest in the region. South Africa is the next cheapest at R400 while Botswana charges P1 260. Zambia charges US$100 and DRC a whopping US$185. British passports are £72,50 (US$91) while the US charges US$110 for the first passport a person receives, since there are a lot of checks, but considerably less for subsequent passports.
Mr Masango said the costing exercise for the production of a passport was done in 2010 when Zimbabwe was fully dollarised. “The $53 is what Cabinet authority then approved as could be charged as the minimum cost of the passport but not necessarily exact cost of production. Remember this is a public service,” he said.
“Government is not in the business of 100 percent cost recovery or profit making; there is a social responsibility element that goes into the fees for public services but $53 is what was approved.”
Newly appointed Minister Kazembe said it would be prudent to increase the passport charge to enable the full production capacity of passports. “We are talking about the possibility of a price increase. We have been charging $53 for non-urgent passports for a very long time.
“This was at the time when it was 1:1 with the US dollar. Consumables are imported and they need foreign currency which is dependent on the exchange rate,” he said after a familiarisation tour of the passport office yesterday.
Minister Kazembe said the exchange rate has since moved from 1:1 to about 15:1, making it prudent to review the passport charge.
“They want to cover their costs so that we can continue to produce passports. So I think it is in order that we need to review, need to look at the price, basing it on the exchange rate,” he said.
But Minister Kazembe said passports needed to be accessible, in terms of both availability and the price.
The RG’s Office is producing 2 000 passports a day at present due to shortages of consumables.
Minister Kazembe said he would engage Treasury to see if the RG’s Office could get more resources.
“It is very difficult but we will do our best with whatever we can get. I will talk to my counterpart, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development (Professor Mthuli Ncube) to get more funding to enable us reach the target we want but that depends on the availability of consumables.”
Minister Kazembe said he had engaged Mr Masango and his team on issues pertaining to clamping down on potential corruption.
He also called on people to report any suspected cases of corruption to eliminate the vice. “My door is open, the RG’s door is open,” he said adding that he was considering introducing a whistleblower facility where people could directly report corruption allegations to his office.
Meanwhile, Mr Masango yesterday accused the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) of lacking objectivity, professionalism and harbouring pre-conceived motives in its inquiry into challenges faced by citizens when seeking national identity and travel documents.
Mr Masango said media reports attributed to ZHRC about the inquiry conducted across the country showed that commissioners had already made conclusions about the operations of his office before the exercise has ended.
ZHRC led by Mr Elasto Mugwadi has invited Mr Masango to respond to several allegations related to citizens’ challenges in obtaining birth certificates, national identity cards and passports.
Mr Masango said he raised the issues “as a matter of procedure and professionalism”.
“As a result, until I get assurance and proof that the commission will stick to your own terms of reference, as a department we will not participate in the inquiry; we will not allow ourselves to be subjected to this kind of abuse.
“This is a flawed process. I am questioning the objectivity of the commission, whether your findings will be objective; the Commission started with a preconceived position of finding the Department to blame,” said Mr Masango.
He said instead of seeking to establish the truth, the ZHRC had gone on “an attacking, confrontational and accusatory mode making judgments in the process of what should be an inquiry”.
He called on the ZHRC to exercise self-control and desist from becoming “emotional and reckless” and going against its terms of reference.
In response, Mr Mugwadi said most of the issues raised by Mr Masango came from the people they interviewed during public hearings and not commissioners.
“A lot of issues that were raised were coming from witnesses. There is going to be validation of this process before we come up with a final document,” he said.
Mr Mugwadi told Mr Masango that ZHRC was an independent body and they would still proceed with their work with or without his department’s response.
Newly appointed Secretary for Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Mr Aaron Nhepera, who was also present, said they would file a written response to the ZHRC by end of the week.