The passport office has been fraught with complaints of corruption even prior to the inception of the online process. The creation of the online/biometric system was supposed to make the entire application process more convenient, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey in a news article in 2018. This online process was also supposed to curb reported instances of corruption and extortion over the years associated with the Passport Office Ghana, as well as fraudulent middlemen, also known as ‘goro boys’ within the office. These alleged corrupt activities range from monetary extortion of individuals who either want to acquire a new passport or renew their passports to frustrating passport applicants to the extent of having to forgo their initial passport application and report their passports as stolen in order to reapply through another individual at the passport office who presents them with a less stressful and faster deal in exchange for a bribe.
My experience with the Passport Office Ghana has not been pleasant, starting with my prior manual passport application in 2017. I decided to use the premium option during that time because I needed the passport urgently to go for some elective medical and surgical programs in Europe. To my surprise, this premium passport application, which was supposed to take less than 3 months, took me a year to finally get my hands on my passport, with the excuse that my data had been wiped off their system. I found that excuse not plausible, but nothing was done about the delay, and no apology from the Passport Office Ghana was rendered.
Fast-forward to 2022, I decided to go with the regular option for renewal since I had been scarred by the premium experience years ago. The first roadblock I encountered was the website being down for maintenance for over 3 months whenever I tried to apply. I physically went to the Ridge Passport Office and was told by one of the officials at the gate to keep trying the website, and that is how the system is. Finally, on the 9th of February, 2023, I was able to get the application created and completed the form on 4th March, 2023. I attended the appointment on the 20th of June, 2023 which was also a stressful process. I was given a receipt signifying that I had completed the passport application process and that I could pick up my passport by the 1st of August, 2023. I went within the week of the given date to check whether my passport was ready, only for someone at the front desk to give me back the receipt after almost an hour of waiting with a new date and later date of collection in September written on it in pen with no explanation whatsoever. Therefore, I sought to find out what the reason for the delay could be, and I was told by an official at the front desk that I was not the only one it was happening to and that other people had been waiting for years. True to his word, I met other people at the passport office who had several dates written on their receipts signifying that they had been in and out of the passport office with no favourable explanation for the delay in receiving their passports; some individuals had been waiting for their passports for more than a year. That was when I realized that this process was about to be a rollercoaster. Nonetheless, I still waited until the new date of collection.
During the waiting period, I decided to call the passport office support lines, and all the lines given for regular enquiries never went through. Therefore, I decided to call the number for the premium enquiries and explain the situation to them. I was told to monitor my application via the online system which I did and I realized there were some inconsistencies regarding the date I attended my appointment, which was said to be on the 13th of September, 2023 though I attended in June. Also, on the aforementioned date, my passport application status was showing as ‘queried’ and a status of ‘transferred ‘was showing for 20th June, 2023 which was the actual date I attended the appointment. So, I decided to call the premium helpline office back to inform them of this, and then I was told that most of the time, the online status is wrong and is not a true reflection of the status of my application. I got confused because this was the same office that told me to track my application online since everything was online. When I also asked when my passport would be ready, I was told to wait patiently for a call and that when it was ready, I would be called; the call has never come to date.
Subsequently, when I tried calling the passport office helplines, they were not going through, or even when they do, the call drops right before I get to speak to any of their officials. Therefore, I decided to make enquiries from some of my friends who knew people working at the passport office since I did not have time to physically go to the office. I felt I needed plausible answers rather than somewhat of an automated customer service response since my possible travel dates were also drawing nearer.
The first person I was put in touch with who was purported to work at the passport office was called Theo. On the 25th of October 2023, I called to ask him what the issue could be if my online passport application status was showing as queried, and I made it clear to him that I had tried contacting the official helplines, but it did not go through. I asked Theo if he could possibly check on the reason for this because I really wanted to get to the bottom of it. Theo gave me the assurance that he would try to see what the problem could be. Theo called back to tell me that there was no problem with my passport application, but he could push to get my passport for me, but I just have to give him Ghc400.00. So I asked Theo if this was an official charge because, based on my knowledge about the passport application process, this charge has not been listed and there was no charge for passport collection. He did not respond to that and said that if I do not want to pay the money, then he will not be able to get the passport for me. I declined to engage in that and told him if that was what he wanted to do, then he should stop because I would not pay any bribe.
I continued my quest to find out what could be the issue with my passport application since the entire process had taken over 8 months now. I was given some information from a purported passport official via a friend of mine about a group of passports being printed already but allegedly being kept somewhere and not being issued, of which my passport was allegedly part. My friend also further stated that the passport official is requiring Ghc800.00 in order to ‘fish out’ my passport and hand it over to me. I told my friend that I was not interested in paying bribes and that I was going to get my passport the right way without all that, no matter how difficult.
Hence, I sought to get to the bottom of this information by contacting another friend of mine, who put me in touch with another individual purported to work at the passport office named Sammy. On the 22nd of November, 2023 at 8:04am, I called Sammy to tell him about the challenges I was facing with the passport office and the corrupt practices within the institution. Sammy said he did not believe individuals in the passport office were asking for money and that he was going to try and see if he could help find out the status and location of my passport within the passport office. I made it clear to Sammy that I was not going to pay any bribe to him or anyone whatsoever. Mr. Sammy spoke on the phone with me at 12:19pm the same day saying that he had my passport but I needed to pay him Ghc200.00 before I could get it from him otherwise, he was not going to give my passport to me. Again, I asked whether this was an official charge by the passport office and how this charge came about because I clearly stated I was not going to be engaged in any illegal activity, such as paying a bribe. He stated that it was not official, but he wanted me to pay him Ghc200.00 if I wanted my passport, and rudely ended the call. I called him back to ask if he knew whether what he was doing was illegal, and he became so rude that he proceeded (without my permission) to call my friend, who had introduced me to him, and started talking about how he was in control of this situation and that if I did not have money to pay him, I was not going to get my passport. Essentially, Sammy felt that because he works at the passport office and had access to my passport, he could hold my passport at ransom until I gave him what he wanted, which in this case was the Ghc200.00. Sammy further went on to state that if I wanted to be ‘book-long’ or, in correct terms, principled, then I would never get my passport since he has it with him and that I could go to either the court or the police, but nothing would be done to him. He also said that since he was in possession of my passport and I am in need of my passport, my hands were in his mouth, so whenever I am ready with the Ghc200.00, I should call him, but if I was not ready, then I should not disturb him. So I let him know that I would get my passport without having to pay anyone a bribe and ended the call.
I got to the passport office around 2:30pm on the 22nd of November, 2023 the same day of calling Sammy. On arrival, I spoke to two ladies and two gentlemen at the front desk of the Passport Office around Tema station about how certain people who are purported to work at the passport office including Sammy were demanding bribes before issuing my passport and sought to find out if that was now the order of the day at the passport office. Initially, one of the ladies at the front desk said they did not think Sammy worked at the passport office, and another gentleman further went on to ask me how I knew my passport had been printed. I told them that Sammy called to tell me he had my passport and told me my passport had been printed in September 2023. I also made them know that if they were saying Sammy did not work at the passport office and was not a passport official, then there was a bigger issue at hand because that meant that any individual could have access to people’s passports and hold them at ransom till they got what they wanted. Then, another gentleman asked me to give him Sammy’s number, and that was when he said he recognized the person. He also confirmed that Sammy indeed works at the passport office. Sammy was also asked by the other gentleman, who I later learned was his boss, if he had my passport. He responded in the affirmative but said he was outside the office. This meant that he had picked up my passport from the passport office without my permission and was carrying it around town with him like it was his personal property. Sammy was then instructed by his boss to bring the passport to the Passport Office around Tema station, and I was waiting for him. I sat down to wait for him and within 10 minutes, I was called to the front desk and told that Sammy had brought my passport. I was asked to sign in a book that I had received my passport, and those at the front desk who were initially in disbelief that Sammy worked there were now seeing that the allegations were true. Sammy never had the courage to show his face upon arrival but rather called my friend to make it known that I had made things difficult for him and his boys by reporting him to his boss and that he did not expect that this matter would escalate the way he did. He also further stated that my verbal report to his boss would hamper his movement within the office and that the other workers would lose trust in him, and pleaded that he was just a hustler.
I only managed to get my passport without paying a bribe or doing anything illegal because I was determined and daring enough to face the corrupt system head-on without fear of the consequences in terms of delay in getting my passport or victimization from corrupt officials.
After my verbal report, I was not given the opportunity by the passport office to file an official complaint regarding the matter, and their helplines were still unavailable for me to file an official complaint. These are the corrupt practices that some Ghanaians go through anytime they want to apply for a passport, and it seems to have become the order of the day. Some individuals within the passport office act with impunity and comfortably request bribes without fear of sanctions. The system is corrupt, and being a Ghanaian has become so painful. Doing the right thing has become so stressful, and though this was a pyrrhic victory against corruption, any serious organization or country where such corrupt practices have been reported would launch an investigation. But here we are, back to the drawing board. The corruption in this country is sickening and the authorities are looking on. Have you ever had any corrupt experiences at the passport office? Share with me in the comments or via email.
Dr. Naa Adzoa Adzeley Boi-Dsane.