Back in December last year, Minister for Home Affairs Kazembe Kazembe announced that the ministry was working on an online passport application platform. At the time the system was still in the inception stage but the main motivation behind its creation was to offer a digital channel that Zimbabweans can apply for their key travel document without having to queue at the registrar’s office.
“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.”Kazembe Kazembe Minister for Home Affairs
There has been an update to the online passport application system according to a report by The Herald. The platform will not only let individuals apply for passports online but will also let them make appointments at the Registrar’s office to ease congestion.
So what problem has the government solved?
When the online passport system was announced, there was little mention of how applicants could go around getting passports without visiting the Registrar’s office.
The logistics element was one of the key criticism of the announcement back in December last year. And it looks like the govt has addressed this because according to the same report by The Herald individuals will now be able to collect their passports at their nearest post office.
This is good for two reasons. The first is that you won’t have to travel to town in order to collect your document. Transport be it personal or public is a nightmare because of the cost of fuel as well as the inconsistent and unreliable public transport system.
The second reason is that this gives ZimPost some much needed business. I should stress at this point that fees have not been announced for this service or if it has a fee at all. However, even if there is a fee, it is I think a preferable option compared to both the money and time lost getting to the Registrar’s office.
But there are still problems, present, potential and perennial
As with anything that the government is solely responsible for, history is the best tutor as to the potential outcome of the endeavour. A perennial problem for government sites is that they tend to be easily overwhelmed.
We saw this earlier this year when ZIMRA’s website was unable to process ITF263 or tax clearance certificates. Now, this isn’t to say that the system is being created by the same people responsible for the ZIMRA portal. However, we have seen little in the way of a name of a contractor or company that has been awarded a tender to use their track record (if any) to inspire some hope.
The present problem that the Registrar’s office has had with passports has been to do with a backlog. At the moment there is a reported 250 000 passports yet to be issued (dating back to 2016/2017) which is a decline from the 400 000 that was there at the beginning of the year.
Even with an online passport application system, the issue of backlog might be one that could plague the Registrar’s office for some time to come. In saying that Minister Kazembe did say that purse strings had been loosened for Fedilty printers to procure a much-needed equipment upgrade.
“The first solution done by Government is to buy additional machinery to increase capacity to match demand. This was approved by Cabinet and Treasury has released funds for the procurement of the machinery.”
Be that as it may, the proof is of course in the eradication of the backlog and until we see it, well…
Lastly there was no launch date for the platform. So yeah…
Oh… almost forgot, data is expensive
For this online passport application system to be of true value, it has to be free. The government has to zero-rate the site if this is going to benefit all Zimbabweans.