By Margaret Matibiri
THE INITIATIVE by the government to clear the passport backlog and revert to the Passport offices normal operations which seeks to have all citizens getting the document within stipulated times has created major corruption loopholes within the system.
A day in the life of a passport seeker at Harare’s Central Registry revealed to this reporter that getting the precious document has become even more difficult and pricey.
Many citizens have been stuck for months without accessing the document while many others in the diaspora have been left stranded after the expiration of their passports, hence, the passport office in Harare is always packed with desperate citizens.
Since government authorised the Civil Registry Department to charge US$318 for passport applicants in the Diaspora while local charges remained unchanged, it has opened blind spots in the system as most people are willing to get the important document at any cost.
Addressing members of the media in December last year, Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe said:
“Citizens in the Diaspora need to have valid passports to regularise their stay in the host countries. As a way of assisting the department to attend to requirements for passports by citizens in the Diaspora, Government has therefore authorised the Civil Registry Department to charge US$318 for passports, in respect of those in the Diaspora. The applications will be prioritised on an urgent basis.”
The passport is in turn issued after 24 hours.
Following this move by the government to address the passport challenge, social media has been employed as a tool of advertising quick access methods to getting passports to Zimbabweans with no papers to support their stay in foreign countries while exploiting the system put in place by the government.
WhatsApp groups have been created and contact details of individuals who have ‘links’ and ‘connections’ to fast-track the process of getting passports have been shared and the services are rendered while the price is tagged in US Dollars ranging from US$100 to as much as US$600 plus the US$318 which is paid to the Civil Registry Department.
One lady, Nyasha (not real) was one of the beneficiaries of the ongoing scam currently taking place at the passport offices.
Nyasha (24) has no passport and no workers permit to ‘justify’ her need for her passport urgently as required as she had jumped one of the country’s borders illegally to a neighbouring country together with her husband who unlike her, has a passport. She gave birth to her son while in the foreign country and could not get him a birth certificate as she is living there illegally and she had to cross the border illegally again to return home and try to fix the situation and this time, she is accompanied by her three-year-old son whom she fears may not get identification papers as well.
She is desperate and ‘has no option.’
While she queued to get her passport after a long struggle, an elderly man probably in his sixties who later identified himself as Mazviita Chivero approached her on the bench where she was waiting to get in the cashiers’ office to pay the US$318.
Nyasha who had inked the name Mugwambi (an employee at the passport office) on her right hand received a folded small paper and verbal instructions from Chivero to the effect that she should say Taffie had referred her. Like the many other anxious applicants who had been waiting for their turn to be served since morning, we shared a packet of Maputi and began our small talk. It was at this point that Nyasha opened up that she had got assistance from the elderly guy who had said he had an inside person, in this case, a lady identified as Linda Mugwambi.
Mugwambi works from office 100 at the premises, one of the offices where applicants go through to have their papers signed to finalise the passport process.
Having had empathy for the reporter’s predicament after a sob story had been shared, Nyasha who later approached Chivero who was sitting with her husband and child, promised to arrange for a meeting but warned that US$150 was required for the deal to be processed. She approached Chivero who is generally over-cautious and was told off with instructions that the person who did the transactions was not around.
After the reporter approached the white-headed Chivero who has long since retired on grounds of old age, he denied any allegations of having assisted and or linked Nyasha to get a passport even without having a work permit to prove that she was indeed living abroad.
It became apparent that Chivero engages his clients and gets as much information about them so he can claim to be related to them when push comes to shove, in this instance, he alleged to be their uncle but the couple refuted this saying they had got his contact details from a friend on WhatsApp.
Chivero also claimed to be related to Mugwambi who he said was married to his relative before he fled from the scene.
When Mugwambi was approached for a comment, she dismissed the allegations as she went on to indicate that allegations were being raised of corruption and that she had nothing to do with it.
“You know what, today Mr Nyamande (one of her co-workers) was called to the accounts department by the transport officer from the accounts department saying twenty people had demanded their passports alleging that one Mr Makiwa was getting money for them and Makiwa had no knowledge of this. I do not know anyone named Taffie or Chivero,” she said.
“I am the one doing the emergency, super express passports together with another lady who is not in at the moment, I authorise and she records. The system is not strict as to the owner of the passport, people just come with receipts (for processing) and whatever happens outside, one would not know. I collect receipts in the morning and if there are any persons receiving money (outside of those formerly charged) I have no idea.”
Cases of many other individuals either from the passport office or elsewhere with links inside the offices demanding foreign currency for passports are rampant and have become the normal procedure to acquire the travelling document.
This, however, is not the only scam happening at the passport office as, the queues drag on for days at times and many faces have become quite common and this as we discovered, is because the cashiers have to note down the serial numbers of all the money they process manually which becomes a taxing and long process.
The cashiers also come in their offices with monies which they cash in at the expense of everyone waiting in line to be served and no one seems to know who they are paying for and how much it costs to get that premium package which exonerates some citizens to the scorching heat at Makombe and the not so friendly customer service rendered.
Cashiers also do not have US$2 change and they serve those with monies that do not require changing and often than not, the desperate seekers leave behind the US$2 out of frustration and no one seems to have an idea where this money goes.
All external applicants who had already paid the initial ZWL$53 for their applications before the government announced that they can now pay US$318 are also not getting a refund for the money they had paid, and it is not deducted from the US$318 which also raises eyebrows.
Exposé: The Passport Office’s scam
By Margaret Matibiri