A CONSIDERABLE reduction in the price of a re-entry visa for permanent residents in July this year has almost gone unnoticed by most of the public and even some officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration.
On July 1 2010, in Government Gazette 4514, the new fee for a 24-month re-entry visa for permanent residents, reduced from N$3 150 to a mere N$690, was gazetted.
According to several applicants, however, the memo on the changes was not sent to regional offices across the country, where Home Affairs officials still insist on charging the old fees despite protests from people who were informed of the amendments by Home Affairs in Windhoek.
Several applicants were allegedly unknowingly overcharged by uninformed officials and others battled with regional offices who refused to process applications for less than N$3 150.
As recently as September 24, the offices at Tsumeb and Grootfontein were charging the N$3 150 fee until a fax arrived from headquarters informing them of the July 1 amendment.
At Keetmanshoop the regional Home Affairs office is still waiting for the fax. A manager at the southern office yesterday hotly defended the fee of N$3 150, which he insisted was "not the wrong information".
"We get instructions in writing and we haven't seen the change in black and white," he said.
He added that it was not his job to contact the ministry's head office in Windhoek to enquire about the matter, as all changes would eventually be faxed to his office.
A permanent resident holder living in the North, who preferred to remain anonymous, fearing a backlash from Home Affairs officers, applied for a visa at Grootfontein and Tsumeb after the amendment in July.
Enquiries at the Windhoek offices equipped him with the knowledge that the new re-entry fee was N$690. However, officials at the regional offices claimed they did not know about the changes.
"They still demanded N$3 150 for a re-entry visa at the same time the Ministry in Windhoek confirmed to me that in Windhoek I would only pay N$690 for the same visa."
Allison Hishekwa, the deputy director of Aliens Control, Citizenship and Passports in the Ministry of Home Affairs, refused to answer any questions about the issue.
He would only confirm that the ministry had received several queries about the amendment and promised that it would "issue a statement soon", three months after the amendment was gazetted.
He refused to say whether those who had been overcharged would be refunded.
Ombudsman John Walters said yesterday that as soon as the fees were gazetted, they became applicable.
Walters criticised the way in which the ministry had communicated such a significant change.
"There is something wrong with the system if you don't inform your own officials and they still overcharge the people contrary to the regulations. We should address that."
Walters said in his opinion "the State is not entitled to charge any money" from permanent residents for a visa. He said Home Affairs was illegally charging permanent residents.
"[It] is contrary to the law it is an illegal practice," he said.
He supported his argument by referring to the Immigration Control Act, which states that citizens of Namibia or anyone with domicile in Namibia does not need a visa to enter the country.
Permanent residence permit holders had equal rights to Namibian citizens apart from being unable to vote, Walters explained.