Holding a diplomatic passport facilitates easy travel as compared to an ordinary or a service passport.
In many countries, diplomatic passports are issued strictly to members of government [executive], diplomats and in some cases members of parliament.
In Ghana, Section (6) of the Passport and Travel Certificate Act, 1953, talks about the Minister issuing diplomatic passports to members of government who are proceeding on official government business.
The law goes on to say it can be issued to the wife of such member of government, who accompanies the member on the journey.
Diplomats who are to be posted outside of Ghana, their spouses and immediate family members who will be residing with them are also issued with diplomatic passports.
Again, the head of a delegation of Ghana, attending an international conference or convention at which countries are officially represented is also entitled to a diplomatic passport.
The law also allows for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to issue diplomatic passports to prominent Ghanaian citizens, who in the opinion of the government, requires a diplomatic passport for the purpose of which that person is travelling, and this is where discretion comes in.
It means the Minister can issue a diplomatic passport to anybody who in his/her opinion was a prominent citizen of the land.
In Ghana, until a decision was made during President John Evans Atta Mills’s era, to include them, Members of Parliament (MPs) were not issued with diplomatic passports. They were hitherto issued with service passports.
And as it stands, apart from members of government and diplomats, even wives of members of government who are travelling or accompanying them can come under the law to be issued with a diplomatic passport.
Over the years, there have been concerns about the caliber of people in possession of diplomatic passports.
Following the revelation that some members of parliament have been abusing their diplomatic passports and engaged in visa fraud, the calls for a clean up on who should hold a diplomatic passport have deepened.
In a radio interview on Accra-based Joy FM on Wednesday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, under whose portfolio Ghanaian passports are issued, said there have been a number of reported cases of abuse of diplomatic passports.
“Today I am told on authority that because of some abuses that have happened, it [diplomatic passport] doesn’t hold the kind of weight that it should have. There is the need to clean up the system. There is the need to ensure that whoever holds a diplomatic passport is really entitled to it and used for the purpose for which it was issued,” she said.
MPs visa fraud
The Speaker of Parliament, Prof Aaron Mike Oquaye on Wednesday confirmed to Graphic Online via telephone that the issue of the three sitting MPs, and a former MP alleged to have engaged in visa fraud by using their diplomatic passports has come to his attention.
The MPs are said to have used their diplomatic passports to secure visas for some “relatives” to travel to the UK but they did not return per their visa conditions.
They are Richard Acheampong, MP for Bia East in the Western Region, Joseph Benhazin Dahah, MP for Asutifi North in the Brong Ahafo Region, Johnson Kwaku Adu, MP for Ahafo Ano South West, in the Ashanti Region and George Boakye, former MP for Asunafo South in the Brong Ahafo Region.
Commenting, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said the allegations were serious and that she will wait for the Speaker of Parliament to finish his findings, then the Ministry would act on the findings.
Ms Botchway blamed the law covering the issuance of diplomatic passports as the cause for the abuse.
“…in my opinion, the law has to be looked at again and indeed I have had my legal department/bureau to have a look at the law and see what we can do, to sort of narrow it a bit than what it is."
She said because the law also states that any prominent citizen should be issued with one, it allows for discretion on the part of the Minister.
“This law has been with us since 1950s and I think it is about time that we have a second look at it. In other African countries, at least that I know, Members of Parliament are issued with diplomatic passports like here but not their wives or spouses.”
Number of diplomatic passports
Asked about the number of diplomatic passports the Ghanaian government has issued as of now, the Minister said, “I’m not in a position at this moment to give you a figure, we are still compiling because some passports have been returned, indeed many passports have been returned, passports that were held by members of former government, many of them have been returned, but at least not all of them have, we are in the process of compiling as well as former Members of Parliament. A good number of them have returned their passports, although not all," she said.
"So we are in the process of compiling, once I finish the compilation then I will know how many passports we have out there. Those who are no longer in employment of government or parliament, we put out an advert some time back to ask everybody who is no longer in employment of government to send their passports back, which by and large they have complied, although I must say that some have delayed."
"We will have to take some first (steps), whether to send a list to our entry points so that Immigration will have it on their system so that anybody who tries to travel with a diplomatic passport who is not entitled to it would be stopped at the exit."
Asked why that cannot be done automatically, the Minister responded that once they finish with their compilation they will do that in the next week or two, it would be done.
Asked if it was difficult to put the data together and that the information was not stored at one place, Ms Botchway said: “it’s not difficult but it needs to come from the Passport Office and because I just took over I need to be able to put that information together because I don’t want a situation where a mistake would be made and it would be an embarrassment to a citizen of Ghana who has served in government."
She said when it comes to diplomatic passports, she believes its usage should be limited to only official duties.