KABUL -- Afghan citizens are lauding a new online passport application system aimed at curbing corruption and significantly reducing processing times.
The government launched the "Online Passport System" during a ceremony in Kabul on March 12.
The new system will reduce processing times to two to three days, Minister of Communications and Information Technology Shahzad Gul Aryobee said at the ceremony.
Until now, citizens were required to be present in person when applying, leading to a passport processing time as long as two weeks.
The country's Central Passport Department should be able to issue about 10,000 passports a day, said Sayed Omar Saboori, director of the department.
"Currently, 2,000 to 2,500 passports are issued per day," Saboori said at the ceremony. Six thousand applicants can use the new system at the same time, said the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
The online application will roll out first in Kabul and then to the rest of the provinces in three months, said Saboori.
The new system will be able to store the data of 150 million individuals, he added.
The online system provides more efficient processing than before and "will reduce corruption", Masood Andarabi, the acting interior minister, predicted at the ceremony.
The new system will help the government crack down on corruption as well as curb bureaucracy, agreed Muhammad Naeem Nazari, director of the Civil Society and Human Rights Network and a civil society activist in Kabul.
"This is a highly effective initiative," Nazari told Salaam Times. "As we go toward e-governance, we eliminate excessive bureaucracy."
"Currently, if an individual wants to process something" in a public office, he or she faces too many government workers, he said.
"But this initiative will allow the same individual to process his or her business online by himself or herself using a digital platform. This also helps reduce corruption, and things can be done fast," Nazari said.
"I hope that the use of technology is expanded to other parts of the government so that it can make things easier for citizens and block corruption," he added.
"Electronic governance can definitely help reduce corruption, provided that the process is designed to reduce interactions between customers and government workers," Sayed Ikram Afzali, executive director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, told Salaam Times.
"In addition, there should be a system to collect complaints and respond to them. An electronic system may not function properly if there isn't a response system and a system to record complaints," he said.
"In general, this is a great step, and I hope that the government can make it available for all and provide even more services," Afzali added.
Following developed countries
The new passport application system demonstrates that Afghanistan is becoming a more advanced country, said Nadia Sediqi, 25, who works at an Afghan NGO in Kabul.
"I am very excited that the government is going to launch an online application system for passports," she said. "In many developed countries, public services are online. If these systems are set up in our country, they will obviously make things simpler. We welcome this development."
Sediqi expressed the need for the system to be adopted throughout the country, not just in Kabul.
"As demand for obtaining and renewing passports has soared, applicants have to wait for hours in front of the passport office, and this situation is even worse in the provinces," she said. "I hope that this initiative is rapidly implemented throughout the country."
"We are happy that we can now submit an online application for a passport, and this has made things easier for us," Mohebullah, a psychology student at Kabul University, told Salaam Times while visiting an office of the Central Passport Department.