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Diasporia News of Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Source: Linus Atarah

Ghana Embassy in Copenhagen needs a face-lift

A friend of mine returned from a recent trip to Ghana and announced to me that, “in Ghana nothing works”. She continued, “officials are so laid-back you never find anyone trying to do his or her job with any attachment of seriousness”. That was a serious indictment and she had cause to be angry. Her problems began with the officials at the Ghana Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark where she had paid for a multiple entry visa for three months only to be issued with just a single one for one month. Since the embassy insists in doing transactions only cash, it wouldn’t have been difficult to manipulate the price difference between a one-month visa and a three-month multiple visa. She had to make the changes in Ghana and that’s where her nightmare with Ghanaian bureaucracy began. She was still asked to pay for something she had already in Denmark.

Hardly did I expect that a portion of the bitter medicine was also reserved for me. The embassy claimed they had mailed my passport containing a Ghana visa to me in December. The registered parcel never arrived. All my email messages sent to the embassy complaining over the issue went without even a single response. It couldn’t have lost on the officials that it is the responsibility of the sender of a registered mail to launch a formal complaint to the dispatching post office so that they could initiate an official investigation. That is the usual procedure with international mail. The Finnish post office told me they couldn’t begin an investigation until they had a formal notification from Denmark since the letter didn’t even arrive in Finland – from the barcode they observed the letter didn’t register in their computer system, which means the letter hadn’t left the shores of Denmark.

According to the Danish post office, they would not act based on my complaint alone unless with confirmation from the Ghana embassy which was not forthcoming. After all my email messages went unanswered and nobody saying anything sensible to me on the telephone, I decided another approach. I wrote two letters, one to the Danish post office customer service complaining of my missing passport and the other addressed to the Ghana embassy in Copenhagen urging them to launch a formal complaint with the Danish post. Amazingly the letters were posted on the same day and within two days, the Danish post office customer service responded to me via email. That was over a month ago and I am yet to receive any response from the Ghana embassy officials!!!

When I finally managed to get hold of the head of the consular section on the phone, he assured me he had received my letter and that he had sent an official complaint to the Danish post office and even forwarded me a copy of that official complaint. Up till now I am still waiting for that copy of the letter to arrive. We are talking about Finland and Denmark where mail flow between them is as swift as internal mail. Could that letter have also been lost at the post office? I seriously doubt that. Either the head of the consular section was not telling the truth or a member of staff who was asked to mail that letter had failed to do so.

Whichever way, it raises red flags. It seems to me that some member of the staff in the embassy knows something about the passport and probably doesn’t want to launch a complaint so that I could have the passport cancelled. Initially I didn’t want to fall for conspiracy theories that something sinister might have happened to my passport but since the Head of the consular section’s assurance did not materialize I can’t help but harbour that suspicion.

My major concern however, is that there is s potential case of identity theft and it is mind-boggling that the Ghanaian officials at the Copenhagen embassy have chosen to adopt such a cavalier attitude towards it, just a reflection of what my Finnish friend observed of the working culture in Ghana.

The UK is expelling an Israeli diplomat over the use of forged British passport by Israeli secret service in the murder of a Palestinian in Dubai. For all we know those passports might have been stolen in the UK embassy in Israel or given away by officials. There is a parallel here because my passport could fall into the hands of a drug trafficker or worse while I am sitting innocently in Finland. If that person is later on caught, the damage done to me would take a while to be restored.

But equally worrying is how Ghanaian officials working abroad in a culture which emphasizes seriousness towards work and providing efficient customer service cannot have it rubbed off on them. Why bother to have an email address if the mail box is left unattended? There is a change of telephone number and yet no information of it on the website. Worse still the message on the answering machine is only in Danish. Are Danish-speaking clients worth more than English-speaking ones?

The Ghana embassy in Denmark needs to be cleaned thoroughly with a brush, a mop and a large bucket of detergent and after that the foreign ministry in Ghana should seriously revise its criteria for sending people abroad in order to uphold the image of the country.

Linus Atarah