THE INTERVIEW Freeman Razemba
In April this year, President Mnangagwa appointed Ms Respect Gono as the new Chief Immigration Officer. Ms Gono was a senior civil servant in the Office of the President and Cabinet and has served Government for 27 years. She replaced Mr Clemence Masango, who is now the Registrar-General.
Since her appointment, the new boss in the Department of Immigration has hit the ground running. Ms Gono started off with a tour of the country’s ports of entry and exit that has taken her to different parts of the country. Her familiarisation programme took her to Victoria Falls recently where she personally assessed the processing of arrivals and departures.
Prior to visiting Victoria Falls, Mrs Gono had visited Chirundu One-Stop Border Post, Kariba, Nyamapanda and Kanyemba border posts, where rehabilitation works are underway under the auspices of the Rapid Results Initiative programme.
Our Senior Reporter, Freeman Razemba (FR) had an interview with Ms Gono (RG) in which they discussed wide-ranging issues. Below is the full interview:
FR: Can you give us a brief background to the tour that you recently made at the country’s ports of entry and exit?
RG: The tour was to engage various stakeholders with a view to have a general appreciation of their operations, as well as exploring possible synergies and opportunities that may be exploited to enhance the department’s efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of immigration services.
The department has asked all stakeholders to make detailed presentations on their functions, achievements and possible solutions to challenges concerning their divisions and we have been going through them one by one.
FR: So far, what assurance can you give to the visitors and citizens of this country?
RG: During my tenure, I will work around the clock to make the department as flexible, fluid and efficient as possible.
At first I used the tours to have first-hand appreciation of the various projects the department is undertaking under the Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) programme and the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP). These projects are part and parcel of the broad Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP), whose objective is to enable Government to transform Zimbabwe into an upper middle income economy by 2030.
FR: What has the department done so far to improve on the movement of people at borders?
RG: The thrust is to bring greater convenience to travellers, tourists and potential investors. There has been a lot of work done by the department in facilitating ease of movement into and out of the country which shows that indeed Zimbabwe is open for business. This thrust is in tandem with the Second Republic’s reform agenda which dissuades the silo mentality when doing Government business.
FR: What is the turnaround time at any point of entry/exit?
RG: The current turnaround time for clearance of travellers is three minutes measured from the time a traveller arrives at an officer’s desk and it applies to stations where visas are issued manually. The department is currently running a machine-generated visa pilot programme at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, Victoria Falls International Airport, Victoria Falls Land Barrier and Kazungula Border Post, which is meant to reduce the clearance time to one minute.
FR: How far have you gone so far in terms of digitisation?
RG: The Department of Immigration has been implementing a digitisation strategy, including implementing the online visa application and payment system so as to leverage on the advantages of using technology.
The online visa application processing and payment facility as well as the machine-generated visa are further demonstrations of the department’s commitment to continuously automate and improve its operations in line with international best practices with the ultimate objective of creating paperless systems and processes.
FR: Can you tell us about the numbers of travellers that are being cleared countrywide while coming in and exiting?
RG: There has been a notable increase of travellers cleared around the country’s ports of entry and exits. The department predicts a continuation of the trend as the raft of measures to ease migration challenges continues to be implemented.
As at December 31, 2018, 11 172 231 travellers passed through Zimbabwe’s entry and exit ports, marking a 4,85 percent increase from the corresponding period in the previous year when a total of 10 655 625 was cleared. In the same period, Victoria Falls alone cleared 146 249 entries against 124 518 in 2017, representing growth by 17,5 percent in the number of tourists who entered the country.
FR: The department was in the middle of a storm of allegations of sexual harassment recently, what action have you taken so far on such allegations?
RG: We would like to make it clear to the public that as the Department of Immigration we do not condone sexual harassment or any form of abuse based on gender. Investigations regarding the sexual harassment allegations are still underway.
FR: What are some of the measures that have been put in place to curb corruption in the department which has often been reported about?
RG: As an arm of the Government, the Department of Immigration has joined hands in fighting corruption in our society. The department maintains an unwavering intolerance policy on corruption. We have a sound code of conduct that we ensure is made aware to officers apart from the in-house training sessions that we periodically carry on from time to time.
The department is guided by the Public Service Regulations of 2000 and all officers are aware that any violations of its provisions are dealt with accordingly. We have on record officers who have been reprimanded, penalised and discharged.
Digitisation of work processes is an ongoing exercise in the department. This is meant to eliminate human interface thus plugging all forms of revenue leakages that would emanate from manual processes. The department introduced an online visa application and payment platform. The department is also working towards an e-permit platform which totally eliminates physical interface between officers and clients.
There is a staff transfer policy in place to ensure that officers do not enjoy prolonged stay at one station where they will over familiarise themselves with clients who use respective borders.
Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) systems were installed at strategic points, for example, Beitbridge Border Post, for purposes of monitoring and supervising operational processes at ports of entry. Funds permitting, there are plans to roll them out to all the border posts.
Receiving complaints from clients and making prompt responses is prioritised. A receptive and equal access reporting mechanism was structured to ensure that every complaint received is investigated. This includes my accessibility as head of department with my official line in the public domain. This is meant to bypass artificial barriers to accessibility.
All our officers when on duty are dressed in uniform displaying name tags for ease of identification, transparency and accountability
FR: What are the measures that have been put in place to crack down on illegal immigrants in the country and this year how many have been arrested and deported?
RG: The department formulated compliance teams nationwide to enforce national migration laws. The department carries out spontaneous and sporadic operations countrywide.
The department has strengthened stakeholder engagement with other security departments. The department publishes cases of those in breach of national migration laws to deter future offenders. This has also resulted in citizens giving tip-offs leading to successful arrests. Prosecute offenders to avoid repeat offending.
To date a total of 614 have been prosecuted while 562 illegal immigrants have been deported from the country.
FR: What assurance can you give to visitors in terms of services and any warnings to some unscrupulous agents that dupe people into believing that they offer services on behalf of the department?
RG: The department is working towards fulfilling His Excellency, the President’s Vision 2030 and is implementing robust measures to ensure smooth facilitation of travellers at all the ports, as well as streamlining requirements for provision of any services and cutting down processing times in line with the ease of doing business reforms.
The official departmental website for visa applications is www.evisa.gov.zw. Any other websites luring clients are not in any way linked to the department. The department does not have any third parties who offer services on their behalf and as such would discourage members of the public from engaging any persons claiming to act for or on behalf of the department and to report them to the law enforcement agencies. To those misleading the public, the Department warns them that the long arm of the law will catch up with them.
I would like to reiterate that I operate using an open door policy and my official line is in the public domain for any comments, suggestions, complaints or compliments. I am here to serve.
FR: Any other relevant information that might be of interest to both visitors and members of the public?
RG: The department has included Category B nationals on the online visa payment platform. This move seeks to reduce clearance time at the ports as the travellers would have already paid for their visas online.
I would also like reassure visitors and the general Zimbabwean public that the Department of Immigration is committed to ensuring facilitation of movement and business whilst upholding the security of the country by barring entry of mala fide travellers and curbing irregular migration.