Officials at registry offices in Bulawayo are cashing in on desperate identity document seekers demanding bribes as high as US$100 for processing a passport at a time when the Registrar-General’s Department is serving a limited number of people per day owing to operational challenges and Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.
Registry offices across the country have since the first ever Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020 to date been not operating at full capacity, a development that has seen the number of citizens seeking identity documents such as birth certificates, national identity cards and passports ballooning to unparalleled levels.
Only emergency passports which cost US$318 are being processed with Zimbabweans working outside the country being prioritised and who want to submit those applications have to book at least two weeks in advance.
A recent visit to the Bulawayo offices as part of investigations revealed that they are already fully booked up to December 31 meaning that new applicants have to wait until next year unless they engage in corrupt activities unleashed by this reporter.
Early this month this reporter posed as a passport seeker and visited passport offices in Bulawayo and joined a queue as early as 7am and while in that queue was approached by a ‘good Samaritan’ who was selling passport covers and some pens.
“Are you booked already?” politely asked the man in a bluish work suit.
“These days they only take those that would have been booked in advance. Would you want us to do our ‘Maths’ if not booked already?
This reporter then feigned strong interest in what the man was talking about and asked how to go about with the deal.
“You only pay US$420 and your passport will be sorted out without any hassles and the good thing is that you do not pay with me; I will not touch your money,” said the man.
“Once the two of us agree on the deal I contact the people that I work with from the passport office and they will then come to the gate to receive you. You will then make your payment inside there.”
When this reporter sought clarifications on a number of issues, it was then established that the bribe facilitators work together with security guards at the gate who would then let in bribe payers without subjecting them to questioning as they would do to anybody else who approaches the gate which is now kept closed.
The US$420 paid is inclusive of the US$318 passport fee that frustrated and desperate passport seekers part with.
This reporter then said he was willing to pay the bribe the following day since he had not brought enough money.
Excited by that, the facilitator then gave this reporter his contact details and introduced him to his wife who poses as a vendor right in front of the passport offices.
“This is my wife; we work together here,” said the man.
“Should you come here tomorrow or any other day and not find me here, just talk to her and she will gladly assist you. They know her inside there as well. Be free to talk to her.”
While the man was still explaining to this reporter how they operate, came a woman from Tsholotsho who wanted to submit a passport application form for her husband based in South Africa. Apparently, the woman knew how the system operates. Upon agreeing on the R1000 bribe said she would go and get some money to top up and then come back.
“This is how I got my passport as well,” said the woman.
Earlier on the facilitator revealed that he is employed elsewhere, adding out of the identity documents deals they are earning a living, although competition from other facilitators is high. The man claimed he has links at both the passports and IDs and birth certificates offices.
A Bulawayo woman who attempted eight times to submit a passport application for her relative based in South Africa before settling for a bribe described her experience in dealing with officials at registry offices as “terrible, stressful, upsetting and difficult.”
She said she endured waking up as early as 3 am to join the snake-winding queues to be later told story after story
“I was once number three having joined the queue past 3am,” explained the woman. “I was told I had come on the wrong day for submitting and advised to come on a Tuesday. It’s Humpty Dumpty. The officials would always tell you their 200 capacity for the week would have been reached and so forth.”
She further explained: “I had to ask a friend who asked a fellow govt worker in Harare to submit on my behalf, of course with a monetary incentive.”
However, she could not be drawn into disclosing how much the incentive was.
She added that those who pay bribes to have their document processed should not be blamed as they are forced by the circumstances they find themselves in.
“If they are desperate, who can blame them,” she queried.
“The people to blame are the registry officials who allow the situation to thrive to their benefit.”
Acting Registrar-General, Henry Machiri, was said to be in a meeting when his office was called for comment and had not responded to questions sent via email at the time of publishing.
Similarly, Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister, Kazembe Kazembe, under whose purview falls the registry offices, did not answer his phone when called for comment. He also had not responded to questions sent to him through WhatsApp.
However, in April this year, Kazembe who made an impromptu visit to Makombe Registry Offices in Harare, experienced the corruption when he was made to pay US$30 bribe to jump the queue.
Political analyst Effie Ncube, said it is unfortunate that 40 years after independence the government is still failing to provide the important service of passports.
“That is contributing to a very serious inconvenience not only to the diasporans but to Zimbabweans who want to travel abroad for many reasons including medical attention, jobs and other things,” said Ncube.
“It’s high time the government opened its offices for all people who want passports and to provide those passports because people are paying for them. It is just laziness, poor service provision, inefficiency and ineffectiveness by the state and it is killing people in a very big way.”