THE launch of e-passports by President Emmerson Mnangagwa this week is a step in the right direction to modernise the economy and meet global standards in international travel documents.

He is championing an ambitious Vision 2030 — to make Zimbabwe an upper-middle-class economy.

That can be achieved if the economy is industrialised with enhanced use of information communication technologies under the fourth industrial revolution. There are many other factors which will determine attaining the vision.

Accessing travel documents such as passports has been stressful in Zimbabwe, what with the long queues at the Registrar-General’s Office and the rampant corruption.

Even the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission had to set up an office at the RG’s premises to fight the vice.

Will the new e-passport application and processing close the gaps manipulated by corrupt officers, some of whom are deeply embedded in the illegal activities?

A commercial bank, in which the government is a shareholder, will now receive application fees. While this can help deal with corrupt officers at the RG’s office, questions are lingering about the monopoly and putative oligarchies that have been created in this process.

With a daily capacity of 30 000 passports, the current backlog of about 185 000 is likely to be cleared given that it dropped from 400 000 in August 2020.

The cost of passports has also reduced from US$318 for an emergency passport to US$200 while the normal travel document costs US$100. Comparatively, the figures are slightly higher than others in the region.

While the e-passport regime seems plausible prima facie, there are questions about the tendering processes. This is so because in April 2016, the late former president Robert Mugabe launched a e-passport equipment which was said to produce 16 000 documents a day. The project was done in partnership with a Japanese company.

The newly launched project is a government partnership with a Lithuanian company, Garsu Pasaulis, on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis. If it is a BOT project, it means Garsu Pasaulis injected its money and will implement the project for a number of years to recoup its investment before handing it over to the government.

But what happened to the Japanese equipment? The Home Affairs ministry should clarify this grey area.  It’s taxpayers’ money after all and the executive arm of government must be held to account.

What is also worrisome is that the old passport will cease to be recognised internationally by December 2023.

A statutory instrument to that effect has already been released by the Home Affairs ministry. This means some five million current passport holders will need to apply for the new e-passports even if the documents are still valid. Government needs to review this and allow the old passports to run their course.

Such knee-jerk decisions need urgent revision.