ZIMBABWE may start using the electronic passport before the end of this year, a Cabinet minister has said.
Home Affairs co-minister Theresa Makone told The Standard that progress had been made towards digitalising the country’s travel document to match international standards.
“We are moving to what we call the e-passport which is readable worldwide,” Makone said.
“It follows international set standards and we should have the e-passport available to our citizens very soon, I would say in the next three to six months.
“He (Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede) has been working very diligently at it, quietly but it has been happening.”
An e-passport is the same as a regular passport but in addition, it has a small contactless integrated circuit (computer chip) embedded in the back cover.
The chip securely stores the same data visually displayed on the photo page of the passport and additionally includes a digital photograph.
Makone said the introduction of the e-passport would reduce the price of the travelling document, which she said was very expensive.
“At the moment, I want to say that, at least the process of getting a passport, although it is still very expensive in my opinion, at least now it is systematic,” she said.
“You know on the day you hand in your form, what day you can come and collect your passport but it is still very expensive compared to regional prices.
“I would like to see it mass produced and once we start getting mass production, then the cost will come down.”
An ordinary Zimbabwean passport costs US$50 while other regional countries charge less than US$30 for the same document.
Makone said digitalising the document would also curb the practice of fake documents as that would instantly be detected internationally.
She added that the movement of the Registrar General’s Office to a spacious building, which has been pending for the past five years, was likely to decongest the office that had become synonymous with long queues.
“Issues about minor things like lifts, lights and keys have been stopping the movement from those small premises which give the department a feel of overcrowding and inefficiency,” Makone said.
“I would like to see the Registrar’s offices commissioned as soon as possible to allow the different departments to handle their own traffic in different floors, unlike the current situation where everyone stands in the same queue.”
Turning to immigration issues, Makone said her ministry was now receiving fewer complaints regarding employment permits after government revoked some of the powers that had been ceded to the principal immigration officer.
“We had given too much power to the principal immigration officer (but) we have since reversed some of those powers so that the minister has a final say and this has brought a little bit of sanity in the employment permit application process,” she said.
“The decisions are based on merit, largely because we do not know the applicant as we do not deal with them on a day-to-day basis.”
Makone said the Home Affairs ministry was working on a bill to domesticate the Parlemo Protocol aimed at curbing trafficking of persons, especially women and children.
The ministry recently successfully pushed for the protocol to be ratified in both houses of parliament, eight years after the country acceded to it.
“When we have got situations where people are trafficked or suspect that they are being trafficked, we will no longer prosecute offenders under a whole array of laws, making it very difficult for us to allocate the correct kind of sentence,” she said.
“Now that we will domesticate those laws after ratification by both the lower house and upper house, we will now have uniform treatment for people that do trafficking, but with special emphasis on the trafficking of women and children.”
Most victims were being trafficked under the guise of employment, where they ended up being ill-treated and in some cases forced into prostitution in South Africa, Europe and Middle East.
She said internal trafficking was also rife, with urban dwellers fuelling this through taking people from the rural areas so they work for them as domestic workers but end up underpaying them.
‘Congestion at the registrar’s office will be a thing of the past’
Makone said congestion would be reduced if the draft constitution is adopted as it proposed that voter registration be handled by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission instead.
She said the department would then concentrate on registration of births, deaths, marriages and other related things.
There has been complaints that the Registrar General’s Office was failing in its mandate of registering voters, with allegations that the voters roll had names of dead people.
Complains have also been raised that the department was centralised, thereby inconveniencing those who live away from voter registration centres.
“He (Mudede) is trying by all means at the moment to have everyone registered, get equipment into the country, get people trained and open centres throughout the country,” she said. “But while we are doing it at the moment, we are not the final authority in the near future.”