Interior and Foreign Affairs In Passport Tug-Of-War

The Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) and the Passport Office are embroiled in a dispute over which of the two institutions has the mandate to issue biometric passports in the country. The controversy threatens to delay Ghana’s migration from manual passports to use of biometric ones by April this year. Spokespersons for both the GIS and the Passport Office told the Daily Graphic that the new date of March 23, 2010 which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had set for the migration to be effected would not materialize unless the impasse was amicably resolved. Part of the revenue to be generated from the exercise is to be retained by the issuing authority as an internally generated funds and some sources have pointed to that incentive as one of the reasons why both the GIS and the Passport Office are so embroiled in their issuance. And with no clear position on who is in charge, the two institutions have acquired new offices in Kumasi to be used as the Passport Application Centre. The Daily Graphic has, however, learnt that the matter is currently at the Presidency, as earlier attempts to settle it at the stakeholders, the ministerial and National Security levels failed. Under the prevailing law, NRC Decree 155, the Passport Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration has the power and authority to issue passports. However, the GIS, under the Interior Ministry, is the body which receives and vets application forms before their onward submission to the Passport Office. The Passport Office intends to do away with that function of the GIS in the issuance of the biometric passports and towards that end the office has proposed to the government to recruit 85 data entry clerks for the purpose of manning the application centres. The passport Office further adds that its decision to take absolute control over the processing and issuance of biometric passports has been informed by complaints from applicant that they often encounter delays in the processing of their forms. In its defence, the GIS argued that since it was the body that dealt with the administration of passports after their issuance, it must continue to receive and vet applications until such tune that the law was amended to give the issuance of passports to the GIS. It is the case of the GIS that the world over it is the duty of the Home Affairs Ministry through its immigration authorities, to receive and vet passport applications and issue passports. While acknowledging the fact that the current law gave the mandate to the Passport Office, the GIS said it was asked to use its offices throughout the country to receive and vet application forms before their onward submission to the Passport Office. "As I speak with you now, some district and regional offices, particularly the Greater Accra offices, of the GIS do nothing apart from passport processing. So what will happen to the offices and the staff?" an officer of G IS asked The GIS said it handled all passport matters after issuance and so it made sense that that outfit should be made to handle everything about pa sports. According to the GIS, it had an automated system in place at its headquarters where all data captured could be sent for easy accessibility. Under the original schedule of implementation in line with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) directive that all countries must migrate onto biometric passports by April 2010. Ghana should have launched its programme in July 2009. However, the turf war between the two organizations has continuously delayed the implementation Equipment procured for installation at the application centre had been lying idle at the offices of the company which won the bid to produce the passport booklets.