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Ministry in storm over e-passports

by Staff reporter
31 Oct 2023 at 16:28hrs | Views
THE Auditor-General (AG) has raised the red flag over failure by the Home Affairs ministry to provide information on how much was raised from the issuance electronic passports (e-passports), amid concern that Treasury could have been prejudiced of millions of dollars in revenue, The NewsHawks has established.

Critics say while access to a passport is a basic human right as it enables people to exercise their constitutional right to free movement, Zimbabwe's passport fees are almost 400% higher than those of other Southern African Development  Community countries, making them the most expensive travel documents in the region.

Before the introduction of the e-passports, an ordinary passport cost US$53, while an urgent passport (three working days to process) cost US$253.

The e-passport project is being implemented by the government in partnership with Garsu Pasaulis on a build-own-operate-transfer arrangement.

It costs US$120 to get an ordinary Zimbabwean passport and, of that amount, US$20 is paid to CBZ Bank as an application fee.

An emergency or express passport on the other hand costs US$220.

South Africa charges R400 for a passport, equivalent to US$25, while Botswana charges P260 (US$25).

Namibia's passport goes for R400 (or US$25), and Mozambique charges 2 500 meticais (about US$40).

According to findings in the Auditor-General's latest Appropriation Accounts, Finance and Revenue Statements, and Fund Accounts for the year ending 31 December 2022, the Home Affairs ministry disclosed revenue collected in local currency while the service is being provided in hard currency.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa launched the e-passports in 2021 after the government partnered a murky Lithuanian company in producing the travel documents.

 Garsu Pasaulis, which was controversially awarded a contract to produce e-passports by the Zimbabwean government, is a dodgy entity previously implicated in bribery allegations and corruption in Asia and several African countries.

"The Ministry implemented an e-passport system based on biometric technology during the year under review," acting AG Rheah Kujinga said in a statement accompanying the audited public accounts.

"The cost of the ordinary passport was US$100 and express passport US$200. However, the Ministry did not disclose the revenue collected from the e-passports. Furthermore, the Ministry did not submit the statistics of the ordinary and express passports produced during the year under review. I was, therefore, not able to ascertain and validate the accuracy of ZWL$3 099 645 and ZWL$2 543 381 322 disclosed as the Revenue Received and receipts in the Receipts and Disbursements Returns respectively.

"The Ministry did not also avail the general ledgers for the USD and Rand accounts in respect of Programme 2 – Civil Registration for the year under review. I was, therefore, not able to verify the amount of administration fees collected."

The AG said the Revenue Received account may be materially misstated.

"The Ministry should ensure that all the passport fees have been properly accounted for. Reconciliations should be carried out on a monthly basis," the report says.

Pressed to comment on the audit findings, the Home Affairs ministry said: "The observation is noted. The sharing of the revenue is done automatically from the main receiving account at CBZ. The government`s share is swept automatically into Treasury`s Main Exchequer Account.

"However, what remains is for Civil Registration to do a master receipt and introduce the revenue into the SAP system. Civil Registration is expected to conduct reconciliations on a weekly basis to ensure that the sharing conforms to the 60:40 sharing ratio as agreed on in the contract and Government is not prejudiced."

The AG was however not satisfied with this response.

"The Ministry did not address the issue of number of passport produced and the maintenance of the general ledgers of the USD and Rand accounts," the AG said.

According to HID, an American manufacturer of secure identity products, an e-passport is essentially an enhanced version of the traditional passport.

The main difference with a classic Machine Readable Travel Document/Passport (MRTD/MRP) is the inclusion of a chip or integrated circuit (IC).

Oddly enough, Zimbabwe's new passport fees do not necessarily translate to the exact cost of production, since not all materials used to make the passports are imported.

While the government is not in the business of 100% cost recovery or profit-making, there is a social responsibility element that goes into public service fees.

The Passport Office provides a public service and should not be a profit-making undertaking.

Even on a switch to full cost recovery, not all costs are in foreign currency and dependent on the exchange rate since there are significant costs in local currency.
Costs like salaries for processing and printing staff are paid in local currency.

Only the actual special security paper, covers and fraud-resistant inks are imported.

The government has over the past few months decentralised the issuance of the new passports in an effort to ease the backlog.

Source - newshawks