Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Ghana biometric passport story

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Uncertainty appears to surround the actual day when the first Ghanaian biometric passport will be issued. But it is certain that by the new global rules regarding types of passports that countries should have, Ghana will introduce its biometric passport this year.

A Ghanaian Times report cited the acting Director, Legal and Consular Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, McArios Akanbeanab Akanbong as saying in May 2009 that Ghana was going to issue its citizens with biometric passports in 2010.

The issuance of the passport is a requirement for the country to meet the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) deadline for member states to provide their nationals with such a document to avoid being denied entry into member countries of ICAO.

According to the report, Mr. Akanbong indicated that without a biometric passport, Ghanaians travelling outside risked being denied entry as their data would not be at the Biometric Centre for immigration officers at international airports to crosscheck their details.

A biometric passport has features like electronic chip into which has been processed, the thumbprint of holders and kept at a biometric centre. It has a holographic foil, watermark paper, invisible and visible foil and digital photographs of holders are used.

In January 2010, the GNA reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will launch the country’s biometric passport on February 3, 2010. The report said in preparation to the launch, Regional Immigration Commanders and Information Service Officers were trained.

The biometric passport is expected to have some benefits to the country. According to Mr Akanbong, these would include elimination of middlemen in the application and acquisition of passports and the avoidance of situations where individuals manipulate the system and acquire multi-passports.

“No middleman can acquire a biometric passport for anyone because with this system, the applicant has to be available for his or her thumbprint to be taken for data and identification purposes before the passport is issued,” he said.

But just when Ghanaians were psyched up for the biometric passport, a Daily Graphic reports put a spanner in the works. The issuance of the biometric passport has been put on hold.

The Daily Graphic reports says the Passports Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration says its plan to begin the issuance of biometric passports to Ghanaians has been put on hold until the heavy backlog of passports applications currently at the office has been cleared.

It has, therefore, set March 23, 2010, as the new date to begin the sale of new forms for the biometric passports.

The period will also be used to replace all hand-written passports being held by Ghanaians abroad with appropriate booklets, the report added.

But while all these were going on, Ghanaians were told not to panic. A Ghanaian Times report citing Madam Bernice Benneh, the Director of Passports said there is no need to panic because “there will be a five-year interface period for the current passports to be phased out.”

She reportedly assured Ghanaian travelers that they will not encounter any difficulties with the introduction of the biometric passports as passports currently in circulation will remain valid until 2015.

Meanwhile, passport forms are unavailable at designated points. The designated points for acquiring passport forms are the post offices and all branches of Ecobank, but forms are unavailable. This development has left many Ghanaians whose passports are expired or are expiring this month in limbo as they have no information on what to do.



Emmanuel.K.Bensah II said...

Emmanuel! An important point that seems to have eluded many is the fact that this passport is ALSO an ECOWAS passport!!

Emmanuel K. Dogbevi said...

Emmanuel, how would anyone know when the officials who should inform everyone else are busy arguing over who should issue the passport?!

Besides, in all the news items making the rounds, not a single reference has been made about this point you just raised.