New era for Tanzania as smart passports launched

01Feb 2018
Henry Mwangonde
The Guardian
New era for Tanzania as smart passports launched

TANZANIA yesterday entered the era of electronic passports, becoming second only to Kenya in the six-nation East African Community (EAC) to introduce the smart travel document expected to enhance security and boost government revenue collections.

The coming of the e-passport, which is embedded with a machine-readable computer chip containing the holder’s biometric information on a tamper-proof page, is touted as a major step towards curbing fraud and easing clearance at international airports where e-readers are installed.

President John Magufuli said yesterday’s launch in Dar es Salaam that the e-passports would bring a lasting solution to a number of challenges associated with immigration services in the country.

He said the development was a milestone in efforts by the government to improve productivity and simplify service delivery in that, alongside enhancing national security, it would reining in illegal migration and play a key role in boosting revenue collection.

“I am very happy with the reforms that have been taken at the Immigration Department. This used to be a centre for engineering schemes through which people were literally minting money. I know there are a few still doing so, but at least things have changed,” he said.

The newly launched electronic EAC passports are expected to replace the national documents in use until now and set to be phased out by January 2020.

Tanzania becomes the second EAC member country after Kenya, which launched the documents in September last year, 17 years after the bloc began discussions on the matter.

The 35th EAC Council of Ministers meeting held in April last year directed member-states to start issuing the regional e-passport this month.

The technology used in printing the e-passport in Tanzania was installed by HID Global, a US-based firm, with support from the government of Ireland. It cost about $58 million.

Speaking at the event, Home Affairs minister Dr Mwigulu Nchemba said the government was determined to improve all services offered by the Immigration department “which has a crucial role to play in ensuring and promoting peace and security in our country”.

“Implementation started in September 2017, with a view to having the first phase accomplished in January 2018,” said Commissioner General of Immigration Dr Anna Makakala on the e-passports, which are reckoned to be among the most secure and modern in the world.

Verifying the identities of travellers is seen globally as a high priority for governments worldwide, many cracking down on counterfeit passports and upgrading border facilities.

HID Global President and CEO Stefan Widing is quoted as having said: “We worked very closely with Tanzania’s government to conceptualise and bring into being this state-of the-art passport solution. Their government’s vision for faster, more secure electronic verification of identities matched our end-to-end solution capabilities for citizen identity.”

“Working on a strict timeline, the Immigration team in Tanzania was a strong partner with us to deliver on this exemplary government project,” added Widing.

One of many benefits of the new e-passport solution is said to be that the holders can have an “emergency passport” on their smart phone, if their passports are stolen or lost in another country. The emergency passport, verifiable electronically by the embassy, allows travellers to obtain the necessary document to return home or request replacement passports without the need for further online checks, filling out forms or other time-consuming tasks.

The new travel document will cost 150, 000 ($67.5) and will be valid for 10 years, just like the ones now in use.

Dignitaries at yesterday’s launch included Zanzibar President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan and Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa.

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