From Richard Owusu-Akyaw, Kumasi .
Information reaching The Chronicle indicates that scarcity of passport forms in the Ashanti Region and Kumasi in particular has opened the opportunity for black market operators who are cashing in big time.
According to The Chronicle sources, the black-market operators (Goro Boys) have stockpiled the forms and are selling them at exorbitant fees to applicants.
A follow up investigation conducted by this reporter revealed that most of the banks in Kumasi Metropolis do not have the forms.
As a result, the ‘goro boys’ are selling it at GHS70 instead of GHS50 to prospective applicants who are chasing the forms from one bank to another without success.
The Chronicle investigation also established that some of the goro boys fill the witness section of the passport forms before selling them to the unsuspecting public. Apart from this obvious breach of the law, some of the forms are fake.
A source at the passport office in Kumasi told The Chronicle that the outfit cannot be blamed for the shortage because they have delegated the distribution of the forms to the banks and the Controller and Accountant General Department.
The source also admitted that some of the forms being sold by the ‘goro boys’ are fake and that some of the suspects have been arrested by the Bureau of National Investigation (BNI) officials attached to the passport office.
Reacting to the story, Alhaji Mohammed Habib Tijani, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, confirmed that indeed, there was a shortage of passport forms and booklets.
He, however, disclosed that they now have replenished the stock. He told The Chronicle via telephone interview that: “Generally, there were shortage of forms and booklets but we are now okay”.
According to him, the shortage is normal and that after August the situation will normalise. He partly attributed the scarcity to the ‘goro boys.’ He noted that “sometimes the middle men try to create artificial shortage”.
According to him, during the Hajj, the ministry experienced similar difficulties “because there was a lot of pressure and we are not surprised that people are complaining about the shortages. It is because of the number of people who want to travel that puts pressure on us.
“For instance, if we have 6,500 people who are embarking on the pilgrimage and assuming only thousand have passports, we should be expecting a surge in passport applications.”
Mr Tijanni was emphatic that the passport forms should not be sold above GHS50 and GHS100, adding that the GHS50 form is meant for normal application process and it takes three weeks for the passport to be ready, while GHS100 is for express applicants and it takes ten to fifteen days to process.
The Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs announced that his ministry intends to improve the quality of passport and in so doing, they want to increase the number of pages of the passport and also extend the expiration date from five to ten years.
Asked if there will be ordinary and express applications in the upcoming online registration, he responded that they are considering some changes in the online application too.
He stated that those who are undergoing online registration process in Accra, either chose GHS50 or GHS100 cedis forms.
Mr. Mohammed Tijani said the ministry is going through procurement process and that very soon “we will begin the online application process.”