Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, on Tuesday said the Government has resumed work on the implementation of the biometric passport system to bring it into effect by the close of this year.
The Minister made the announcement when he took his turn at the “Meet the Press” series in Accra.
He noted that the even though the implementation originally was slated for March 2009, it was delayed because the previous Government shifted attention from it to e-passport, a third generation system.
Alhaji Mumuni said as a result of the shift in attention, a contract awarded to Buck Press, a local printing house, to print two dimensional machine-readable bar codes, was withdrawn.
“Eventually both the biometric and the e-passport processes were stalled, but now we have gone back to the biometric system to ensure that by the close of this year the system comes into effect,” he said.
Alhaji Mumuni said the Government “ambitiously” set July 7, 2009 as the deadline for the implementation of the biometric passport system, but that had also delayed due to logistical bottlenecks.
He said the biometric system was a requirement from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) which enjoined all nations to go biometric by April 2010.
“This Government is committed to the ICAO requirement, since that would place Ghana in a wide comity of States,” he said.
Alhaji Mumuni said the biometric system had advantages to ensure security of the passport system, curtailing delays in the issuance of travel documents, and complete elimination of “unscrupulous and illegal passport contractors”.
He said the system would also help to sieve non-Ghanaians who claimed citizenship just to acquire Ghanaian passports.
The Minister said as part of the biometric system, the operations of the Passport Office would be computerized to enable it to serve customers online.
Alhaji Mumuni said the Ministry was also in the process of computerizing visa application and processing to offer applicants online services, registering all Ghanaians abroad, and also renovating some of the foreign mission buildings to enable them to operate adequately.
He said currently some foreign missions, particularly those in Dakar and Luanda, were being ejected for non-payment of rent, adding that the Ministry had not been able to help because it was financially constrained.
“Parliament allocated GH¢73,108,536 to the Ministry for personal emoluments, administrative expenses, service expenditure and investment activities,” he said.
The Minister later told the GNA that the amount constituted only about 50 per cent of what the Ministry required, adding “as a result of our outlays abroad, this is woefully inadequate.”
Alhaji Mumuni said Ghana’s foreign missions generated some five million US dollars annually in service charges and other fees.
He said it was necessary to take a second look at the budgetary requirements of the Ministry and augment it to enable it to fund foreign missions to perform their crucial roles in promoting the country’s image abroad.
Alhaji Mumuni said the Ministry was also in the process of establishing an office complex on the site of the former foreign students’ hostel, which was the Ministry’s property.
He noted that the previous Government gave it out to private developers for reasons only known to them, “but we have taken it back and placed notices on it to ward off encroachers”.
The Minister warned that encroachers would be prosecuted and dealt with according to the law. “We are currently working with the Chinese government to start the construction of an office complex for the Ministry on that property,” he said.
Touching on Ghana’s position on the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir, he said the Government was sticking with the African Union (AU) on the matter.
He said the AU’s position was that no African country was obliged to implement the ICC’s warrant, and that by the provisions of Article 98 of the AU Charter, Ghana was enjoined to treat President Al-Bashir as the leader of a sovereign State and therefore did not have to arrest him.
On the recent events in Niger, where President Mamadou Tandja has set aside the national constitution and other State institutions in order to extend his stay in power, he said “again Niger is a sovereign State so we cannot interfere”.
Alhaji Mumuni, however, expressed the hope that the situation in Niger would not degenerate into violent clashes.
He also touched on the compensations for the families of the six Ghanaians, who were found dead in The Gambia, saying that a joint Ghana-Gambia Committee had been set to determine the quantum of the compensation.
The Minister also outlined the benefits of Ghana’s relations with countries like Brazil, Cuba, India, China, Canada and many European States in the form of loans and grants for various development projects.
He said Ghana had also played her by receiving and taking care of refugees and displaced persons from other countries.