Passport shortage saga: Govt officials making a killing on the back of a crisis

SENIOR government officials are raking in thousands of dollars in kick-backs from a squalid deal struck with Israeli security company, Nikuv International Projects Ltd, which has now seen Zimbabwe passport backlog soar over 300 000.

The passport backlog has ground many Zimbabweans with some resorting to paying bribes in order to obtain travel documents.

Investigations into the matter showed corruption is not only rampant at the Registrar General’s Office but the-bribery-pyramid extends to the office of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage’s Permanent Secretary Melusi Matshiya.

Sources told Zim Morning Post that Matshiya is currently fighting in the corner of Nikuv against the desires of other government officials who want a new contractor who will offer long suffering Zimbabweans a fresh start.

The current deal is such that Nikuv is a facilitator for the purchase of consumables. Government can cut out the middleman by awarding a contract to a company which has the capacity to provide the service,” the source told Zim Morning Post.

“The biggest hurdle is individuals coalescing around the permanent secretary. They are holding onto Nikuv taking advantage of the process which is open to manipulation through inflating prices of consumables and receiving kick-backs.”

In 2013, without going to tender, the then Robert Mugabe-led government awarded Nikuv the contract to take over the production of passports from government printers (Fidelity).

The move was seen as a reward to Nikuv for its role in the 2013 disputed elections.

On its part, Nikuv backed its operations with officials insisting they received the contract because their system issues an advanced machine-readable passport which is highly secure and tamper-proof.

It was said that Nikuv’s service will produce a new digitalised document that will eliminate counterfeit passports and also allow the country to match international e-passport standards.

Their role also extended to designing procedures, supplying special chemical products and passport issuance workflow.

Six years later Zimbabweans are worse off than they were before the coming in of the Israeli company.

Officially, government blames the shortage of passports on lack of foreign currency. This week Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Ambassador Cain Mathema celebrated the arrival of passport paper and other consumables.

He told journalists that government is moving to clear the over 300 000 passport backlog by producing 100 000 copies by December.

Further steps have been taken to take delivery of passport paper and consumables, as well as material for the production of synthetic identification cards to make sure that all those requiring our services get them in line with our client service charter,” said Mathema.

However, observers say its a false dawn.