Another one of those things that should have come a lot earlier, but in Zimbabwe, it’s better late than never. The government is reportedly set to introduce online passport applications. This new development was revealed by Minister for Home Affairs Kazembe Kazembe during the official opening of Zimbabwe’s first district passport office in Chitungwiza:
“We are in the process of coming up with an integrated information communication technology (ICT) solution which will not just bring these physical structures to your doorsteps, but bring the actual service to homes through online services.
Ideally, the passport application process in its entirety should be done within the confines of our homes.
You see these people clapping – they are crying. People are being swindled at passport offices. Corruption must come to an end. When people come to our offices, please let’s serve them with the dignity they deserve. Two or three should be arrested to set an example.”
The passport office, among many other government buildings, is not a place where anyone wants to spend any stretch of time. As the Minister said there is a lot of corruption and poor treatment of anyone wanting to get any business done there.
Introducing an online platform to apply for passports, I think, is a step in the right direction. For one it ensures that you won’t have to queue to submit your application.
This process can be done from anywhere you are so you can save time and money in actually going to the passport office. Those in the diaspora can also benefit from this because depending on which country you are in, the nearest embassy may be some distance away. Decentralising the application process is an added benefit for those in the country. If you don’t have a passport office in the city or town you live you will be able to apply for one online.
However there are some problems that I think the government will ineviably run into or may not have accounted for.
The online passport application platform could be easily overwhelmed
With the way things are going in Zimbabwe, a passport is an essential document. There are a number of people who want to try their luck abroad and there are many who’s passports are close to expiring. These factors and more will cause an avalanche of people to apply online and this will overload the platform.
This platform should be built to be able to handle “the worst-case scenario” number of people who might want to access it. The government has plenty of examples to draw from, anyone who has ever tried to use the ZIMRA website can attest to the issues it has had. If the platform isn’t down, it isn’t working well.
The govt has to make sure that this website is regularly maintained and is always up. In the event that it does go down, they should communicate quickly with the public and work speedily to restoring service.
You apply for the passport online, then what?
Doing the application online is just a third of the battle. On top of having payment options that suit Zimbabweans at home and abroad. The govt has to include options for how you can take possession of your passport.
There are, at present, no details of how exactly this will work, but there should a mail or physical pick up options for passport collection. The mail option is something that the govt could attach a small charge to. This will give ZimPost quite a lot of work and revenue.
The delivery option should also be there for Zimbabweans in the diaspora. There should, I think, be no charge if an individual can or wants to pick up their document at the embassy.
For Zimbabweans at home and without a district or local passport office the delivery of the document to the post office, I think, shouldn’t carry a charge.
Data may be cheaper than travelling but govt should zero-rate the platform
This year has been immeasurably difficult for Zimbabweans. Data might be cheaper than the cost of transport but the govt should zero-rate and make access to this platform free for all Zimbabweans.
We recently saw Stanbic Bank zero-rate it’s banking platforms, the government can do the same. Cutting the cost of buying data to make an application would help people save money in these tough times.
I don’t think it should stop there though. The government should zero-rate all of its websites, platforms and online message boards. Because the information the government publishes would get a lot further if there was no cost attached to accessing it.