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Zimbabweans rush to beat January passport fee hike

by Staff reporter
20 Dec 2023 at 01:11hrs | Views
LONG winding queues have resurfaced at the Civil Registry offices in Bulawayo as scores of people including Diasporans on holiday continue to flood the facility to apply for passports and other national identity documents.

The sudden increase in the number of people streaming to the Civil Registry could probably be attributed to the hike in passport fees in January coupled with the festive season when most people would be planning on travelling out of the country for a holiday.

The new passport application fee was recently announced in the 2024 national budget proposal by the Minister of Finance, Economic Development and Investment Promotion, Professor Mthuli Ncube.

The Civil Registry Department charges US$120 for ordinary passports, which takes seven working days to be out while an emergency or express passport costs US$220 and comes out within 48 hours.

The Treasury had initially proposed to review passport fees for an ordinary passport to US$200 but later slashed it to US$150 following public concerns.

Following the sudden rush for passports, the Civil Registry Department extended the working hours of all its e-passport offices across the country.

When a Chronicle news crew visited the Civil Registry offices in Bulawayo yesterday, there was a hive of activity with long queues, which are synonymous with the festive season.

Usually during this time of the year, hordes of people, among them diasporans, swarm the Civil Registry offices across the country to apply for travel documents.

In interviews, some applicants said they had queued for more than 10 hours to apply for passports while others said they were forced to sleep outside the building to beat the queues.

 "I have been coming here for the past two days. I am trying to beat the congestion as well as the increase in fees. I am trying to save the little that I have so that I enjoy Christmas with my family and possibly get an opportunity to travel abroad," said Mr Pride Dube.

Some people alleged that Civil Registry staff were prioritising those applying for emergency passports and deliberately ignoring ordinary passport applicants.

"The staff are on a go-slow and we have to wait for long hours. We are in the wet season now and you can imagine waking up early and getting soaked while standing in the queue," said Mr Leeroy Khumalo with a long face.

Another applicant, Ms Sithabisiwe Ngwenya said: "This is a tiresome process and although we are aware that they have extended the working hours, their pace is slow. What is the point of extending when they are going to just serve a few people?"

Mr Butholezwe Sibindi, who is based in South Africa, said he had been queuing since Friday last week.

"I came from South Africa with the hope that things had improved but alas it is still the same story. This is disappointing because I have been stuck in these long queues for days instead of spending quality time with my family," he said.

In a statement, the Civil Registry Department said it has extended working hours for all its offices across the country's 10 provinces.

"The Civil Registry Department wishes to advise its valuable clients that it has extended its working hours in the passport section with immediate effect. The passport offices will be open from Monday to Friday from 7am to 7pm during weekdays and from 8am to 3pm on Saturdays," read the statement.

The department said the extension of working hours is in response to an increase in the number of clients visiting their passport offices.

"The festive season is the busiest period for the department. With industry and schools closed, and returning citizens from the diaspora taking advantage of their visit to have their documents processed, the department witnesses an influx of clients visiting its passport offices," read the statement.

The department said the recent announcement by the Government to increase passport fees with effect from January has also contributed to clients rushing to apply for passports before the deadline.

"In this regard, the department is extending its operating hours to facilitate efficient e-passport services in response to the high demand."

E-passports are issued in Harare, Bulawayo, Chinhoyi, Gwanda, Gweru, Lupane, Marondera, Beitbridge, Chipinge, Chitungwiza, Hwange, Mazowe, Mwenezi and Zvishavane civil registry offices.

Passport applicants are supposed to bring their original birth certificates, national identity documents, and marriage certificates.

The Registrar General Mr Henry Machiri said during the festive season, the numbers swell with most of the applicants being diasporans and school children.

"The festive season is our busiest in terms of passport applications, and most of our citizens who are in the diaspora want to apply for documents. Schools have closed and so we are expecting all these people to be coming now since they need to be there physically for biometrics," he said.

"So, the number will increase since most people want to beat the deadline to avoid paying more money. In the proposed national budget, the fees for passports will increase in the coming month and some people want to beat the deadline and submit their applications now."

Mr Machiri urged people whose passports are ready to visit their offices and collect the documents.

The e-passport scheme was launched by President Mnangagwa in December last year after the Government entered into a partnership with a Lithuanian company, Garsu Pasaulis, on a build, operate, and transfer (BOT) basis to produce new passports that meet modern international standards and allow Zimbabweans to travel without additional complications.

Before the opening of the facility in Bulawayo, e-passports were obtained in Harare only.

The implementation of the e-passport project resonates with the National Development Strategy One (NDS1) objective of modernising the economy through the use of ICTs and digital technology, as the country rallies towards the attainment of Vision 2030.

Source - The Chronicle
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