Since the beginning of the year, the passport office has been dogged by several challenges, chief among them the shortage of printing paper, forcing it to scale down on operations.
High demand for passports, shortage of passport paper and inadequate personnel working in the passport offices across the country have in the past few months compounded the crisis, resulting in further decline in the of number passports being issued out.
All this has resulted in a huge backlog — probably one that had never been experienced in recent memory — leading to great inconvenience, frustration and anxiety in the public.
The picture is not rosy at all.
Thousands of people have been stranded with some missing important events and fulfilling other life-changing commitments after failing to get travel documents in time.
Hundreds of expatriate Zimbabwean workers intending to regularise their work permits are failing to do so after the Passport Office put a cap on passport production.
Since passports are normally required together with applications for work authorisation or visa processes to other countries, the decline in passport issuance is already negatively impacting on a lot of people intending to tender their job applications or process their work permits to various stations across the world.
Even some students who have enrolled at various universities across the globe and intend to travel fail, might not be able to do so in time, throwing their plans in disarray.
The impact of shortages of passports is also being felt by cross-border traders who, due to the nature of their trade, have to travel regularly to remain in business.
With uncertainty on travel documents pervading across, the majority of these traders have since altered their business itineraries, keeping an eye on the number of their passport pages, instead of focusing on business opportunities.
The plight of the informal cross-border traders is being made worse by the fact that some neighbouring countries insist that Zimbabweans wishing to visit or pass through their territories should have actual passports and not temporary emergency travel documents for the issuance of long-term visas.
Should such a situation continue to prevail, we envisage more problems. We do not rule out the possibility of daring and desperate Zimbabweans crossing borders undocumented in efforts to fulfil certain itineraries.
This therefore makes the shortage of passports a case of national emergency, as it has severe national and security implications.
We therefore welcome the Government’s decision to buy new machinery to print the travel documents in a bid to normalise the situation.
Last week, the Government announced that it had bought a new printing machinery to print passports and other travel documents at a cost of nearly $600 000.
This latest development will ensure that the increasing backlog of passport applications dating back to July 2018 would be cleared within a month once the machinery becomes operational.
Once the machinery has been set up, it would be able to produce about 3 000 passports a day, a figure which is expected to go up to about 8 000 copies a day.
Such daily figures will greatly reduce the backlog because the Passport Office will now be able to issue out 160 000 passports monthly.
We hope the installation of the machinery would be matched with the recruitment of staff to beef up the numbers and ensure smooth operations at the passports office across the country.
Already, there are reports that most stations across the country are currently understaffed, a situation that should be urgently addressed to ensure that printing of the passports would not be stalled once all systems are in order.
With the Treasury having made a payment plan for the procurement of consumables with the suppliers to ensure consistence delivery, we do not anticipate any challenges in the issuance of passports within the expected scheduled period.
The Registrar-General’s Office, which superintend over the Passport Office, should use the latest debacle on passports as a learning curve to fine-tune its systems and improve on operations.
It should also put in place measures that allow for a continuity of production in the event that resources dwindle against a backdrop of serious foreign currency shortages.
That alone calls for forward planning, in terms of timely procurement in anticipation of a situation like this.