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EDITORIAL COMMENT: Govt waiver on reg fees progressive

THE Ministry of Home Affairs has taken a bold decision to waive payment for the acquisition of crucial civil documents like national identity cards and birth certificates.

The waiver coincides with a 90-day intensified registration exercise by the office of the Registrar-General to allow as many people as possible to acquire these important documents.

We do not have figures of how many people are without and in need of these documents. But information at hand indicates a substantial number of people.

What we all know is just how difficult it is to conduct formal business without either of the documents. For many people in the informal sector, parting with $10 to get such a document becomes a luxury when it competes with other daily requirements.

But we know that one must produce a national identification document for them to buy a cellphone line from any of the service providers and their agents countrywide.

That means a huge number of people without such documents cannot benefit from the proliferation of cellphone technology in rural areas because they are not easy to identify. The idea is to reduce crime by being able to account for all the lines service providers sell to the public. Otherwise criminals would buy lines, use them to commit offences and then discard them. In this age of cyber crime, that would be utterly irresponsible for the country.

But beyond the personal interest, the waiver of fees for these important documents comes at a time Zimbabwe is preparing for harmonised elections next year. While voting is not compulsory as is the case in countries such as Australia, it is nevertheless a constitutional right for every Zimbabwean.

Yet there are thousands of people who have had to forego this constitutional right because the same Constitution requires people to positively identify themselves at the polling station before they are allowed to vote.

The only way they can do so is to produce their national identification cards or birth certificates. More importantly, people without such documents are badly circumscribed in terms of opportunities. They can’t acquire travel documents such as passports, which limits their opportunities in a fast globalising world. They can only cross the border illegally.

It is good that the waiver has been announced while there is plenty of time for people to register. People have just come out of the hectic harvesting season and cooling off before the next summer cropping season. Given that there are mobile registration teams deployed across the country, it should be feasible to capture as many people as possible.

However, for maximum effect and benefit, there is also a need for a publicity blitz on all mainstream media, especially radio which still enjoy easily the furthest reach at the least cost, without requiring any special attention.

People listen to radio as they go about their normal chores, while driving or while they commute in public transport. NGOs and political parties can also play their part. So are the churches where most Zimbabweans spend their day on Sunday. There are also social media platforms which can be used to spread the word. We have no doubt Zimbabweans can play their part to assist those far away.

We thus want to commend Home Affairs minister Dr Ignatius Chombo for this timely intervention to waive the fees to allow as many people as possible to acquire these documents, not only with an eye on the forthcoming elections, but because they have a bearing on their daily lives.

They can make the difference between getting a job and being arrested as a criminal intruder. Not to mention that the police have had problems trying to identify people killed in traffic accidents without personal identification documents.