Controversy over Ghana VP remarks on ID card use as passport shows need for public engagement
The recent claim by Ghana’s vice president Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia that the country’s national biometric ID card (the Ghana Card) will soon be accepted as a digital passport for travel around the world has stirred keen debate in the polity, according to local media reports.
During a public lecture on 2 November to explain efforts undertaken by the Ghanaian government to digitize access to public services, the VP said that the government has “been working with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) this year to globally activate the e-passport function of the Ghanacard (sic) and I am happy to announce that on 13th October 2021, Ghana officially became the 79th member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Public Key Directory (PKD) community,” as reported by GhanaWeb.
“This means that by the end of the first quarter of 2022, the Ghana Card will be recognized globally as an e-passport and can be read and verified in all ICAO compliant borders (in 197 countries and 44,000 airports in the world). When this happens, holders of the Ghanacard will be allowed to board any flight to Ghana. Furthermore, the good news for diaspora Ghanaians is that when the Ghana Immigration Service is linked to the NIA architecture, diaspora Ghanaians who hold the Ghana Card should not have to obtain visas to travel to Ghana.”
Since the VP mentioned this in his discourse, there have been divergent opinions on the issue. While some politicians have accused the country’s second-ranked government official of spreading lies, others believe it is an opportunity for the government, through the Ministry of Communication, to explain to citizens details about digital ID developments and what they mean for them.
Identity official accuses Bawumia of peddling lies
One of those who have reacted to the VP’s remark about the issue is the former Executive Secretary of the country’s National Identification Authority (NIA), who called the declaration dishonest.
Osei Kwame Griffiths was quoted by Modern Ghana describing the VP’s assertion as dishonest and offensive, arguing that there is no country in the world that accepts digital ID cards as a substitute for passports. This is also not entirely the case, however, as people can cross borders with national ID cards in some jurisdictions such as in the EU.
Griffiths said the claim is “a blatant lie that must be quickly corrected” and regretted that the vice president was misleading Ghanaians with his definition of a digital passport.
Former MP wants VP’s speech better explained to Ghanaians
A former Member of Parliament said in order for Ghanaians to better understand what the VP’s discourse means, the Ministry of Communication should carry out an awareness raising campaign, writes Peace FM Online.
Erstwhile MP for Manhyia North, Collins Owusu Amankwa, told the outlet it was important for the Communication Ministry team to go down to the field to let citizens understand what the VP said, and what it means for them.
“We need ambassadors to create this awareness. The government shouldn’t make it look like the Vice President has delivered a public lecture, so it stops there. No! We have to get down to the grass roots and interpret it to the people for their understanding…This time is an opportune time for us to humbly explain matters to people for them to understand what we’re saying,” the lawmaker was quoted as saying on local radio.
What the VP actually said about the digital passport
Another report by GhanaWeb appears to shed more light on what Bawumia’s digital passport remark actually meant.
The report quotes the VP as saying that the development does not mean Ghanaians do not require their physical passports when they travel.
“As I said before, we have become the 79th member of the ICAO PKD community. This means that by the first quarter of next year, airports will be able to read the Ghana Card and all information in it. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need your physical passport to travel. We will get to the stage where we can have agreements. What is happening right now is we are linking every passport with the national ID card. The Ghana Card number and the passport number will be linked so that your travel history is preserved,” the VP said.
He added that all of this will be possible only when the ICAO 2.0 visa system goes operational which will allow for the issuance of electronic visas to Ghanaians.
This development in Ghana, some observers opine, once more highlights the need for governments around the world to better communicate on projects like these with their citizens so that they can understand what it means for them on a day-to-day basis.