ED Relaunches E-Passport
15 December 2021
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By A Correspondent- Zimbabwe’s passport prices will double from US$60 to US$120 after the government awarded a passport production contract to a corruption-linked Belgian firm.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Tuesday launched an e-passport as it was announced that all current Zimbabwean passports will cease to be accepted internationally by December 31, 2023.

Semlex, through its Lithuania-registered subsidiary Garsu Pasaulis, was handed the opaque contract by Zimbabwe’s home affairs ministry without going to tender.

Controversially, a statutory instrument published on Tuesday said CBZ bank had been picked to receive passport application fees of US$20. The ordinary e-passports, which the government says have enhanced security including biometric data, will cost US$100 and the fees double to US$200 for those requiring emergency e-passports.

A home affairs ministry circular issued on Monday said old passports would be allowed to run their course and only then would holders be issued with the e-passports upon application.

The statutory instrument, however, said old passports would be phased out by 2023, obligating up to five million Zimbabweans who hold the old passports, including some in foreign countries, to apply for the new e-passports within the next two years.

Critics of the government announcement said the rushed implementation could earn Semlex upwards of US$500,000 within two years.

The main opposition MDC Alliance has demanded a review of the contract award to Semlex through Garsu Pasaulis. The party also criticised the decision to rush Zimbabweans to change their passports at cost even when they are still valid.

“We’re extremely concerned at the latest move by Mr Mnangagwa’s regime to introduce a new e-passport in a manner that does not comply with the principles of administrative justice established in section 68 of the Constitution,” spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said.

“We have consistently challenged the regime’s penchant for dodgy deals and the failure to comply with due process and a transparent tender regime in the award of public contracts including this very passport production one. We further take issue with the fact that a bank associated with the regime (CBZ) has been awarded a statutory monopoly to collect passport application fees.

“We are further told that the old passport will be phased out in 2023 despite earlier undertakings that all passports would be allowed to run their course. We urge the regime to conduct wide consultations with stakeholders as required by law before they roll out of basic public services and to ensure that corrupt practices are investigated and eradicated.”

Mahere said under an MDC Alliance government, “the welfare and best interests of the people will return to all administrative decision making.”

A September 2020 investigation by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found that Semlex “used bribes, kickbacks and insider dealing to secure contracts around the world, inflating the cost of vital documents for ordinary citizens while lining the pockets of wealthy elites.”

Its corrupt footprints can be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan, The Gambia, Comoros, Gabon, Chad and Congo-Brazzaville.

Semlex is owned by Syria-born Albert Karaziwan, a Belgian citizen.

In a 2017 investigation, the Reuters news agency reported that Semlex “has won business in Africa – on paper worth hundreds of millions of dollars – through political connections, sometimes without going through open tender processes and sometimes while making payments to intermediaries.”

In 2015, the DRC’s budget ministry approved a US$450 million contract with Semlex to supply biometric passports and ID cards for its 70 million citizens. The passport price went up from US$100 to US$185, making the DRC’s passport among the world’s most expensive, even though its people are on average among the poorest.

That deal arranged for US$60 from each passport to go to an obscure Gulf company owned by a close relative of the DRC’s then President Joseph Kabila.

In May last year, the new government of President Felix Tshisekedi said it would not renew the Semlex contract. Prosecutors have been investigating allegations of money laundering and corruption by Semlex.

In 2017, Mozambique terminated a 10-year Semlex contract, potentially worth several hundred million dollars, that had been awarded in 2009 by the country’s previous government. The deal was struck without an open tender. The current Mozambican government says Semlex invested a fraction of the US$100 million it had promised to spend on training, electronic scanners at borders and other infrastructure. It says citizens lost out from the deal.

Other documents illustrate how Semlex appears to benefit more than the state coffers of countries that agree to its deals. In 2013, Semlex extended an existing contract with Madagascar to supply passports and more than doubled the amount it charged. Under the new deal, citizens had to pay 36.25 euros (around US$47) for a passport; of that, the state received 2.5 euros and Semlex got 33.75 euros, a contract between the two sides showed. Previously, Semlex received 15.50 euros per passport.

Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe declined to discuss the financial deal with Semlex’s subsidiary, referring questions to the finance ministry.-ZimLive