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Fact Finding Visit To Ghana Embassy Berlin

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A working visit to Ghana Embassy Berlin: The social and economic advancement of a Diaspora community to a large extent depends on the policies, efficiency, and competence of the embassy and particularly the Ambassador in charge. The embassies have two major focuses, one is the interest of the home country, and two is the interest of the people in the Diaspora. It is no secret that the first is of paramount interest to the embassy staffs.

The complaints about the working ethics of the embassy in Berlin become a daily talked about issue. A fact finding mission to the embassy was inevitable. To avoid a long essay, let’s overlook the immediate past where the Ghana Embassies worldwide had no passport booklets, which was an extremely embarrassing development in our history.

Online Passport form
Before travelling to Berlin, I visited the Ghana Embassy Berlin website: http://berlin.ghpassportonline.com/ and filled the passport forms. As a Systems Engineer, I must admit it was not user friendly, a mixture of Postal Codes as practiced in Germany and Post office Box as done in Ghana. 
Then again, the Calendar integrated in the program could be better, though I finally found a way out. Let’s be honest we don’t apply for Passports on a daily basis. 

But one could tell that it is a one system for all countries approach. I would suggest that the forms be adjusted to suit the Ghanaian embassies in various countries. This is a matter of deactivating some of the buttons, and working on the default fields. The forms accept too many errors…

Nevertheless let’s be proud we are advancing with the technological age as a country, there is always room for improvement.

Submission of Passport forms & Processing
When, I arrived around 10.30 the passport section -/front desk was filled to capacity, I spent majority of the time there, speaking to junior staffs of the embassy, A family from Manheim, a mother and daughter from Dortmund, a man from Stuttgart, and a lot of Ghanaians from Hamburg.

Challenges noticed
My forms were full of errors, and that of a post graduate student from Hamburg as well. Some of the errors couldn’t be detected by the program, while others were man-made. The inability to complete the forms well is the main challenge and the source of delay.

Names
Most Ghanaians have multiple and compound names, for instance Beddy, John Desmond then again Beddy, Desmond John. Sadly some could not tell what their surnames was. All detected errors had to be filled manually by the workers at the counter. The allocated time of 20 minutes per person is absolutely inadequate since the error rate is about 80% per applicants.

Appointments
People coming to process their passports without appointments made up about 30 percent. Those with tangible reasons were served, the question is what tangible reason is? Kofi who comes from far away Munich has to insist on seeing the Boss, since his reason was not accepted. Funerals remain the number one reason why people insist they must be considered. 

Older citizens and mothers with babies without appointments are considered to the detriment of those already waiting impatiently and hungry. Everyone is served according to the time of appointment.

Finger print machine
Another addressable challenge is the finger print machine, I had to try several times before it succeeded, remember at any given time it was someone else’s turn.

For the first time I felt sad for the workers, the telephone was constantly ringing, picking a call means not serving the people, and then again people don’t go straight to the point. Is it about a Passport or Visa? People first begin with a very long story without coming to point.

Visa Section
The Visa section which has been separated from the Passports section was a good decision, it was quite orderly, except one could notice it was a temporary arrangement not an outstanding working environment for a staff. 
Ghanaians holding German Passports have complained bitterly about higher visa fees as compared to other European countries like France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK. Since it is a huge source of income to the government, I advise they take advantage of the RIGHT OF ABODE, which is obtainable at the Ministry of Interior for a fee.

Dialogue with Junior Staffs
It is no secret junior staffs could not say much, these days getting a job is not easy, and nobody wants to lose his or her job. At least they revealed they sometimes work on Sundays. Then again one said they come to work as early as 6.30 in the morning.

Dialogue with the Head of Consuler Section
I first congratulated Mr. Samuel Adotey Anum, Minister and Head of Consuler section about their good works and that within a short period they have introduced Visa and Passports online. Ghanaians love good news first.

I asked our senior diplomat how many times he goes downstairs to take questions. He confirmed several times a day, and added that Mondays and Thursdays are hectic. I went straight to the point, what are you people doing to address the challenges at the Passport section?

As I came to post we used to serve about 200 people per month, but as of today we are serving about 800 people per month. The concrete step is that we have acquired two capturing and processing gadgets in addition to the existing one. Soon we shall have two staffs at the front desk at a given time. One of the gadget is a mobile system, thus we will be travelling to the major cities to capture and process the passport forms. The people are then spared the stress and time of travelling to Berlin. 

We have already arranged with the community leadership in Freiburg to go and have their forms processed and Bio details captiured there. For Hamburg it is going to be easier since we already have a Consulate there.

Receiving Calls
I had difficulty asking why calls are not picked at the reception, based on what I noticed.

What could be done
A form of Ticketing System could be introduced, with first and second level support. Two or three well trained workers with adequate efficiency in English, German, and some local languages could answer calls. They can solve minor issues and forward those complicated issues to the rightful workers.

IT- Training:
The leadership should constantly be upgrading and updating their staffs with periodic training, to keep them informed since the IT world is extremely dynamic.

More Staff & System
Obviously the consular section is under staffed and needs a few more working hands. Some could be employed on four hours basis per day. From 10 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon.

Time per Applicant
Time allocated to each applicant is inadequate, it needs to increase from 20 minutes to 30 minutes or decrease the appointments per day.

Community Leadership
Community leaders like UGAG, Ghana Unions, Opinion Leaders, Chiefs and Pastors who have access to the top hierarchy should occasionally undertake familiarization tours to the Embassy, dialogue with the Embassy and propose how best their people can be served. Let us be reminded that positions goes with responsibilities.

God Bless Ghana
God Bless Germany
Desmond John Beddy