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General News of Friday, 19 March 2010

Source: Daily Graphic

Bio-Passports Ready: Migration Starts Tuesday

All is set for the take-off of Ghana’s migration to the use of biometric passports on Tuesday, March 23, 2010. So far, the Central Operations and Productions (COP) centre and the two Passport Applications Centers (PACs) for Accra are all ready for the smooth take-off.

Within six weeks of the launch, the PACs in Kumasi, Tamale and Ho will also start receiving biometric passport applications for processing. The PACs in Sekondi/Takoradi and Sunyani will also be ready to receive and process applications after those in Kumasi, Tamale and Ho have been installed.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni, told the Daily Graphic yesterday that by the middle of this year, all the PACs would be on stream to facilitate the application and acquisition process.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has set April 1, 2010 for all member countries to commence the issuance of machine readable passports incorporating biometric data, while all non-biometric machine readable passports incorporating biometric data, while all non-biometric machine readable passports will cease to be accepted as regular travelling documents by other ICAO countries effective November 24, 2015.

That means that Ghanaians in possession of valid old passports can still use them until November 24, 2015. Already, the Controller and Accountant-General’s Department (CAGD) has taken delivery of application forms and 750,000 biometric passport booklets ready for the launch.

Under the new regime, new passport fees of GH¢50 and GH¢100 will be charged for ordinary and expedited delivery services, respectively. It is expected that the new biometric passports will be issued between seven and 14 days. The minister explained that the GH¢50 and GH¢100 covered the cost of the application forms.

Under the programme to migrate from the current generation of passports to biometric ones, seven PACs are to be initially established, with two in Accra and the rest in Tamale, Ho, Sekondi/Takoradi, Kumasi and Sunyani.

The PACs in Accra are located at the East Wing of the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration and the Passport Office, where the COP centre, which will be the main point for vetting and issuance, is also located.

Ghana originally scheduled the take-off of the programme for July 2009 but that could not be done for various technical reasons. Alhaji Mumuni attributed the delay mainly to the non-availability of suitable buildings which could accommodate physically challenged persons. He said the buildings for the PACs in the regions had been identified and were being refurbished to make them disability friendly. He appealed to Ghanaians, especially those outside Accra, not to rush to Accra for the biometric passports after the launch but wait patiently until a PAC was opened close to them.

The minister said if there was an urgent need for one to travel, then the person might have to come to Accra. He said personnel from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other security agencies, including the Ghana Immigration Service, had been trained to man the PACs.

Alhaji Mumuni said Ghana’s missions in London, Rome, Berlin and Washington had been identified to also issue the biometric passports until the time when it would be extended to other missions. He said applicants would now have to personally submit their application forms at the application centers for their passport photographs to be taken with a high resolution camera, while finger prints and signatures were also recorded.

“This means that instead of the applicant submitting photographs with a passport application form that is already thumb-printed somewhere, it will now be required that the photograph and the fingerprints of the applicants are taken at the application centers when he presents the forms. This is also intended to eliminate middlemen,” he said.

According to him, applicants would also send along their birth certificates and other documentation, including their national identification cards, to be vetted and scanned into the system at the PAC.

He said the information would be uploaded to Central Operations and Production Unit of the Passport Office, where the details and certificates would be verified, during which all details would be vetted against the stop list.

Alhaji Mumuni said the forms would then be passed on to the directors for final vetting and authorization to issue the passports, stressing that “all the processes, with the exception of the final vetting, printing and issuance, are expected to take place on the same day, thus enhancing service delivery”.

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