THE decision by the government to scrap the US$20 electronic passport (e-passport) application fee is a welcome development that comes as a relief to ordinary Zimbabweans who would have struggled to afford it.
Last year, the government gazetted Statutory Instrument (SI 273 of 2021) to introduce the new e-passport pegged at US$100 with an additional application fee of US$20 that was supposed to be accessed at CBZ Bank only — triggering a public outcry.
On Friday, Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe rescinded the decision which, however, leaves the fees for both the ordinary and emergency passports unchanged at US$100 and US$200 respectively.
While we applaud the government for listening to the objections raised by the public regarding the US$20 application fee, the cost of obtaining a passport remains beyond the reach of ordinary Zimbabweans.
There is a need for authorities not to appear oblivious to the stinging economic situation in the country amid high levels of unemployment.
A responsible government must be mindful of the daily struggles of the governed. It is utterly insensitive for authorities to make access to travelling documents exorbitant in a country where the informal sector that depends largely on imports is the major source of livelihoods. The amount being charged for the acquisition of a passport is prohibitive especially for upcoming entrepreneurs who would want to travel out of the country to South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania or Botswana to buy stuff to sell. Where on earth would an entrepreneurial upstart intending to venture into selling clothes get US$100 to get a travelling document only without having to eat into what they intend to invest?
The exorbitant prices do not only affect those in the informal sector but the public service as well.
It is commonplace civil servants in Zimbabwe, for example, are not being remunerated adequately and that they supplement their meagre salaries by other means including cross-border trading.
For the government to charge unaffordable fees for public documents such as passports is to literally slap its employees in the face. We call upon the government to ensure that services and public documents are made affordable to all regardless of class. As it is, the prices being charged for passports are only affordable to the haves while the have-nots are denied the opportunity to travel for business purposes.
In line with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s declaration in 2017 that he was a listening leader, we expect the same to apply to minister Kazembe regarding passports fees.