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, which should have begun on Wednesday.
The period will also be used to replace all hand-written passports being held by Ghanaians abroad with appropriate booklets.
Under the schedule for the introduction of the biometric passports, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration was to release the new forms from January 25, 2010, while the launch was to take place on Wednesday.
Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, the Foreign Minister, however, told the Daily Graphic that the date for the sale of the forms had to be changed to coincide with the launch date to avoid the situation where applicants would have to wait till the launch.
Already the Controller and Accountant-General’s Department (CAGD) has taken delivery of the application forms and 750,000 biometric passport booklets ready for the launch.
Alhaji Mumuni said the postponement of the launch date was also to ensure the maturity of the Legislative Instrument currently before Parliament for the new fees to be charged.
He explained further that it also became obvious that the launch of the biometric passports was going to create problems for the issuing authority, since quite a number of applications were still in their possession.
He said until the biometric passports will be launched on March 23, 2010, persons who urgently required passports to travel could apply for the present generation of passports.
Reacting to concerns of the quality of the biometric passport, Alhaji Mumuni said a lot of checks had been done on it and explained that the design was approved by a stakeholders committee made up of representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, National Security, Bureau of National Investigations, the police, Ghana Immigration Service and the Controller and Accountant-General’s Department.
Alhaji Mumuni said the company printing the biometric passport booklets was not new to the business as it currently printed those of Liberia.
He said the Attorney-General’s Department had also given the company a clean bill of health after the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigated it for a series of allegations.
According to the minister, the government could not abrogate the contract because the government had already paid out £5 million of the entire project cost to the company. He referred the Daily Graphic to an advertisement in the March 3, 2007 edition of the Ghanaian Times which solicited comments on the award of the contract to the company.
He said it was after no adverse comments were submitted that the government signed the contract.
Alhaji Mumuni said the company had also kept to its timetable and referred the Daily Graphic to a letter written by the company on March 28, 2008, complaining about the delay in the implementation schedule.
The biometric passport will incorporate features such as a watermark paper, holographic foil, invisible and visible features and digital photographs such as the Supreme Court, Parliament House and the adinkra symbols and, therefore, make it difficult to forge and also to prevent multiple acquisition.
Alhaji Mumuni said Ghana’s missions in London, Rome, Berlin and Washington had been identified to also issue the biometric passports until a time that it would be extended to other missions.
Source: Daily Graphic