The Harare Passport Office, long dreaded by passport seekers for its chaotic and suffocating environment and crazy waiting times, has been renovated.
Located in the Makombe building on Herbert Chitepo, the office had been characterised by early morning queues that zigzagged many times outside and choked the corridors of the buildings. Recently, however, renovations have seen a lot of improvement to the office’s service delivery.
Writing on the matter for Harare News back in December, I became only too familiar with the ‘nightmares’ that having to get or renew a passport brought with it: the frustrating long hours, hunger pangs and accompanying ill-tempers.
Now, however, a completely new experience is to be had. Cosmetically, the buildings have been given a lick of paint, an exercise with a practical aim – the colour coding of the different stages of the passport application process. New signs also steer applicants through the processing offices. Corridors that had been impossible to get through are now virtually empty, with a previously unused inner courtyard decked out with benches and shading to provide a proper waiting area.
A computerised queue management system has also been installed and I spotted speakers set up to call applicants when their turn arrives.
Movement into the gates of the passport office complex also feels less hindered; touts are no longer as many nor as clamorous as they used to be, while the number of vendors has also decreased thanks to people needing to spend less time there.
As I entered the offices, I met an officer whose greeting to me was cordial. He asked me what I wanted to do and sent me to the right queue to get a passport application form.
“The conduct of the passport officials is, to say the least, professional. They are now quite helpful,” said Marjorie Chatambudza, the lady in front of me.
Chatambudza, who hails from Chitungwiza, said she was surprised by the marked improvement,“The last time I was here  it was really bad and chaotic.”
As I moved to the inner courtyard, a number of helpful officers greeted me and asked to see my form before directing me to the next queue. It is all remarkably orderly.
I struck up a conversation with Robert Stally, who was applying for his son’s passport. He concurs with Chatambudza. “So much has improved. Of particular mention is the conduct of the officers. It seems some bit of public relations has been instilled into them,” he tells me. Six years ago he spent a full two days at the office.
On the other hand, ablution facilities are still a cause of concern, as there is a lot of pressure on the two toilet blocks which cater for both staff and the passport seekers who number several hundred every day.
According to an officer from the Registrar General’s Office, the improvements are for citizens’ convenience. “This will go a long way in decongesting the passport office and offer good service,” she said.
She said the Registrar General’s Office is now working on improving the online passport application system so as to further cut the hours citizens have to spend at the passport offices.
In the past, scores of people lost their hard earned cash to swindlers. Many people blamed the Registrar General’s office for creating this situation, saying passport seekers were not warned about these illicit activities. Others complained that latecomers were being processed while those who were there from early morning spent more time in queues. Many people believed corruption to be rife due to the haphazard way the office operated.
Will the renovations change this? That remains to be seen.