CORRUPT syndicates that wake up early morning to join the queue at the passport office in Harare have resurfaced and are targeting impatient applicants whom they are charging between US$10 and US$20 to jump the queue, The Herald has established.
Although the passport office is offering an efficient service to the public, syndicates comprising illegal vendors, taxi drivers and money changers, who ply their businesses outside the premises, are taking advantage of the increasing number of applicants to solicit for money.
Growing publicity on the excellent service being offered by the passport office in Harare, has attracted more passport applicants, a development that has resulted in long queues emerging.
Over 600 people are being served daily and others have to complete the process the following day.
The passport office starts the day by serving those who would have failed to complete the process the previous day before entertaining new applicants.
The corrupt syndicates are now making a killing, approaching late comers who appear too busy and impatient, and offering to assist them in jumping the queue for a fee.
Instead of publicly marketing their dirty service, the touts have devised a new method of observing the applicants as they enter the premises, following them to the back of the queue.
They discourage people from following the queue, accusing the officers of delaying the process.
Later on, the touts start marketing their tainted services, describing it as a faster and hassle-free way of acquiring the travel document.
The Herald last week deployed journalists who went undercover with a view to get an appreciation of the situation at the passport office.
Upon arrival at the offices, the journalists joined the long queue.
While in the queue, a scruffy lad whispered to one of the reporters that the process was slow.
“You may not be served today
because of this long queue. Again the system is currently offline and it will take time to be fixed,” said the young man as he pulled the reporter by the hand.
While off the queue, he offered the journalist a position right in front of the queue.
“We have our boys in the queue and you choose where you want to be and be served quickly,” he said.
Immediately, a young woman with a baby strapped on her back arrived and took over the case, charging the reporter US$20 for the same favour.
“Just pay us US$20 and I will take you to that boy putting on a white cap,” she said.
While the reporter was talking to the woman, the shabby lad went back to the queue to get more clients.
The woman insisted she could not charge less because she had braved the early morning cold to join the queue together with her baby.
“As you can see, I have a young baby but I sacrificed to be here as early as 5am. I cannot charge less than US$20,” she said.
After negotiations, the fee was reduced to US$10.
The reporter expressed some interest and he was taken to the bench on the front row where a boy wearing a white cap offered him a seat.
People in the queue were in the dark and they could not even complain.
However, the reporter, who already has a valid passport, left the bench as if he wanted to collect the US$10 from his car before driving off after the mission had been accomplished.
The Herald established that the syndicate involves vendors, taxi drivers and money changers who operate outside the new passport building.
They engage in the corrupt activities to supplement their income.
However, people who spoke to The Herald yesterday could not hide their joy at the service they got at the passport office.
Mr Derrick Ncube said it took him two days to complete the process but he was happy with the service.
“I came yesterday a bit late but they attended to me. Because of the increasing number of applicants, I had to complete the process today.
“We were the first to be served before the new applicants were attended but I am so happy. The service is just good,” said Mr Ncube.
An elderly woman who preferred anonymity hailed the Civil Registry Department for an excellent service.
“I am a senior citizen and the officers here treated me well. I was served without joining the queue and it took me less than an hour to complete the passport application process.
“The service was simply excellent,” she said.
Ms Mitchelle Neshato praised the officers for a good service but called for an improvement on the electronic system maintenance.
“The system, at times is offline and there is need for an improvement in that respect to prevent technical glitches and unnecessary delays,” she said.
The new e-passport was launched by President Mnangagwa in December last year.
Issuance of e-passports began on January 18 as the Central Registry Department heeded Government’s directive to smoothen the process of acquiring travel documents which hitherto was mired in corrupt tendencies and bureaucracy.
The launch of the e-passport and the state-of-the-art passport enrolment centre, is in line with the Government’s vision for a modern and digitalised economy.
Strategic investment in key areas of the digital economy is seen as a critical way of Zimbabwe keeping pace with the dynamic technological environment.
When he launched the e-passport, the President said the rolling out of the travel document dovetailed with the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) objective of modernising the economy through the use of ICTs and digital technology.
The production of the e-passport ushered the country’s entry into the era of smart technology in travel and identification documents and conforms with the dictates of regional and international conventions, protocols and treaties that Zimbabwe is party to, particularly those relating to civil and travel documents.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation Convention requires that member states take measures to ensure the integrity, authenticity and security of travel and identity documents.
The e-passport will be machine readable to eradicate counterfeits.
The enhanced security features are expected to boost authorities’ quest in fighting cross-border organised crimes and illegal migration and maintain the integrity of the country’s immigration system.
President Mnangagwa is on record saying the Government was committed to ensuring that every citizen has easy access to vital civil registration and travel documents.
He said he was alive to the challenges people had been experiencing in acquiring travel and other official documents, resulting in the accumulation of a huge backlog.
The implementation of the biometric system is now at full throttle and is expected to culminate in increased production of not just e-passports, but also national identity cards, birth certificates, entry visas as well as residence permits.
The era of long queues and corrupt tendencies in the issuance of vital civil registration documents is set to be eradicated by this system. Herald.