Getting a Passport is a necessary document that must be obtained by everyone who will ever have to travel out of the country.
As a Ghanaian, if one provides the necessary documentation to prove their citizenry among other things, one is entitled to be given the passport even if the person has plans of travelling or not.
However, there have been multiple reports of people being denied the chance to take their passport pictures based on appearance even though all their documents check out.
People have complained of being turned away because they had braids or have dyed their hair.
To understand why that is and whether the Passport Office supports the actions of their staff Kuulpeeps.com interviewed the Director of Passports at the Passport Office Louis Kwame Obeng.
Below is a Q & A from our conversation with Louis.
Kuulpeeps: Thank you sir for agreeing to this interview. Can you briefly tell us what the do’s and don’t’s are expected of passport applicants?
Louis: A passport applicant is somebody who has completed the online application and has been given an appointment to appear at any of our Passport Application Centres for him or her to go through the application process. What is required of that person is for him or her to submit all the relevant documents for his or her application and after haven been and haven certified that the applicant meets all the requirements then the duty of the passport office is to capture the data of the applicant then we proceed to issue the passport. If you say the do’s and don’t’s, the do’s of passport applicants from our perceptive is for the applicant to provide all the relevant documents that qualify him or her for the passport and then we will, in turn, do the vetting and then capture the data of the applicant and if we are satisfied with all the information provided, we issue the applicant with the passport. The don’t‘s is when you don’t provide these documents then, of course, we will not be in the position to issue the passport that you require.
Kuulpeeps: If a man or a woman has afro hair, dreadlocks or braids, can he or she be allowed to take the passport photo?
Louis: Absolutely. We don’t have any dress code and we don’t have any specific way you should appear because it doesn’t change your personality. Our responsibility is to take you a picture for the issuance of your passport so we don’t determine what you should wear or how you should appear. The most important thing is that we take all the relevant features that should appear in the photograph so we don’t prescribe a particular way that you should appear.
Kuulpeeps: Have you received complaints from people who have been turned away?
Louis: Recently I had a complaint and immediately I called the officer and the officer apologised because it was his perception about how the applicant appeared so he was saying that because this is a picture that will last for 10 years why don’t you appear nicely in a certain way so that the picture will look nice. This has nothing to do with the position of Passport Office and the officer who was doing that did not represent Passport Office’s policy. It is not for us to determine how you appear in your passport, it is for you the applicant to prepare yourself knowing that you are coming to take a picture that will be used for your passport. The person taking the picture may have some advice for you, that is the person’s technical advice to the applicant but it is not because the Passport Office has a policy concerning how you should appear and that when you don’t appear that particular way, then the one taking the picture will say no you are not appearing the way we expect you to appear therefore we are not taking the picture.
Kuulpeeps: What is the position of the Passport Office on passport applicants who have dyed their hair? For instance blonde, blue, red among others.
Louis: It is the right of the individual to appear in a particular way because when we give you the passport, you will carry it along so if you appear nicely in that book that’s your choice and it’s not the choice of the passport office. The picture is your passport and you will carry it so if you decide that this is how you want to appear in your passport, Passport Office cannot say you cannot appear that way. As far as dressing and appearances are concerned there is nothing like the position at the Passport Ofice where individuals have to put out some standard appearance for which reason if you’re not meeting that expectation we say we will not admit you.
Kuulpeeps: When an applicant is prevented from taking the passport photo by an officer based on their hair, what is the appeal process if the applicant doesn’t want to cut or redye the hair as might have been requested by the officer?
Louis: In all the application centres, we have officers who are in charge so when you encounter a situation like that immediately look for the officer in charge and you will be given access to meet that officer. If that officer for whatever reason is not able to handle that case, refer the matter to us at the headquarters and we will resolve it. Applicants can lodge a complaint here (Head Office) that I have been treated unfairly and we will find a solution to it.
Kuulpeeps: Will men who choose to wear earrings be allowed to take their passport photos?
Louis: The information in the passport is about you so if you decided that you are going to appear in a particular way that’s your choice. We cannot say please remove your earrings. If you don’t want to remove the earring, that’s your passport, because at the end of the day wherever you go to and produce that passport, it is you, so if you appear in an earring, that’s you. The officer who is doing the capturing has to obey whatever you decide to do.
Kuulpeeps: There have been reports that people have been denied entry into the Passport Office premises because they were wearing tattered jeans. What is your position on that?
Louis: That is absolutely unacceptable and we don’t prescribe dressing for people who come to our facility. It is a public space just like the DVLA. When you are going there for a service, nobody can say with this dressing you can’t enter. Of course, I have heard complaints and reports that people come to the gate and the security people look at you and say this is not fit for a public place – that is wrong and I have spoken to them that it is absolutely wrong. Passport Office is a public space so we don’t prescribe dressing for individuals who visit the office. We have dealt with complaints like that. Passport Office is a public place and we render a public service so everyone who enters there and who is a member of the public must be treated with all the courtesy and respect that is required. We can’t impose behaviour, of course, we expect you to be respectful and courteous, we don’t want you to behave in an indecent way. These are normal behaviour that human beings put up when they are in the midst of other people.
Kuulpeeps: What are the official channels to lodge a complaint about the conduct of a Passport Office employee?
Louis: We have heads in all our centres, ask for that person and lodge a complaint. We have Passport Office Hotline and you can call to lodge a complaint or come to the head office to lodge a complaint and we will do our best to attend to you.
Thank you very much, Louis Obeng for this conversation.
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