The soon to be launched National Identity Card would become the primary document for the issuance of Ghanaian passports to prospective applicants, Ms Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, Minister of Foreign Affairs Regional Integration announced on Thursday.
She explained that a major challenge in the passport application process is the lack of a national identity card, which is versatile with enhanced security features and a secured database, which would facilitate verification of the cards.
Answering questions in Parliament on passport acquisition and some challenges of non Ghanaians acquiring Ghanaian passports, Ms Botchwey stressed that “it is a crime against the State for a foreigner to acquire or attempt to acquire a Ghanaian passport.”
The Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration Minister’s caution was in response to a question asked by Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, Ranking Member on Foreign Affairs and MP for North Tongu on measures the Ministry is putting in place to prevent non-Ghanaian citizens from acquiring Ghanaian passports.
The Minister admitted that a few foreigners had attempted to acquire the Ghanaian passport and quite a few had succeeded through dubious means over the years However, the Passport Office and in collaboration with the Ghana Police Service actively and frequently effect the arrest and prosecution of suspected foreigners who may attempt to acquire Ghanaian passport.
“Currently, there are about four individuals at various stages of prosecution at the Courts,” the Minister told the lawmakers. She did not rule out, as investigations have revealed, that occasionally, an Officer from the various State institutions operating from the various Passport Application Centres (PACs) may connive with foreign applicants in an attempt to acquire a Ghanaian passport.
“In such cases, the Ministry in conjunction with the relevant state institutions withdraws the officer from the Passport Office, initiates internal disciplinary measures, and if the offence is found to be criminal in nature, the person is handed over to the police for prosecution at the law courts,” Ms Botchwey said.
Ten of such officers have currently been identified.
The Minister assured the House that the Passport Office is continuously embarking on various measures aimed at ensuring that only bona fide citizens of Ghana are issued with Ghana’s passports,’ Ms Botchwey said.
She added: “the Ministry has consistently taken a number of measures towards ensuring the security and integrity of the Ghanaian passport, as well as instituting the necessary safeguards to prevent the acquisition of the Ghanaian passport by non-Ghanaians or foreigners.”
According to the Minister, there are rigorous physical verification of prospective applicants as well as their citizenship documents by the security agencies at the Passport Office, the Bureau of National Investigation, the Defence Unit of the Ghana Armed Forces, the National Security Secretariat, the Ghana Immigration Service and the Births and Deaths Registry.
“These agencies, working in tandem with the Passport Office, have deployed trained officers at all PACs in Ghana, who have been tasked to physically verify every single applicant, interrogate applicants to ascertain nationality and verify all documents presented for the purposes of acquiring a Ghanaians passport before recommending applicants for approval by Director at the PACs.
“Where there are doubts in an applicant’s nationality, further background checks are carried out by the above mentioned security agencies. The BNI and the Criminal Investigations Department of the Ghana Police Service are requested, in instances of doubt, to carry out further background checks of an applicant’s parents and grandparents to ascertain their citizenship,” Ms Botchwey said.
This, she said may involve, but not limited, to inviting applicants to bring one or both parents and in some cases a grandparent for further interrogation, forensic audit of citizenship documents such as birth certificates, old passports, school certificates, Voter ID card and further checks that are undertaken by the Passport Office to ascertain the veracity of claim of Ghanaian citizenship by an applicant.