MASERU — Chaos has erupted at the new Passport Office as photographers barred from entering the premises battle for customers.
On Thursday a group of photographers entered the premises and set up their studio.
They said they had been contracted by the Passport Services Department to move their operations from the old Pitso Ground offices.
The group that claims to have been contracted by the department is led by ’Mope Lebajoa and one Seabata.
The move has however sparked outrage from some photographers who say they have been barred from operating near the Passport Office which is now located near the Palace of Justice.
The photographers accused the department of being corrupt.
The department moved the Passport Office to the new premises on Monday claiming that the offices at Pitso Ground had become a fertile ground for corrupt activities.
Officials also alleged that the photographers operating makeshift studios in the shacks around the Pitso Ground offices were illegally offering passport services.
They said the photographers would be barred from operating around the new offices.
But when Lebajoa and his team set base at the new offices a row erupted.
There are more than 20 photographers who survive on the passport business.
When the Sunday Express visited the Passport Office on Friday, Lebajoa and his group were busy processing photos.
Lebajoa insisted that he had been contracted by the Passport Services Department to be the sole provider of passport photos to the department.
“The other photographers do not produce good photos and we are the only ones around here who have the right quality required by the passport department,” Lebajoa said.
Asked if his group underwent a tender process to get the contract, Lebajoa said they responded to an announcement over the radio calling on photographers to come to the new building for selection.
“The other photographers were arrogant and they did not attend the meeting,” he said.
“Also, the municipality made it clear from the onset that no photographer was to be seen around here.
“Some disobedient photographers came to this place despite the municipality’s clear warning while we obediently stayed behind.
“We were picked from there and brought here.”
The group does not pay rent for using the government premises.
Libete Lerata, a leader of disgruntled photographers, said he suspected that some senior officials in the Passport Services Department had interests in Lebajoa’s group’s operations.
“This is unfair competition,” Lerata said.
Another angry photographer, Ngaka Makhabane, said it was not true that their photos were of poor quality.
“We use the same digital cameras and the paper is also the same,” he said.
“Anybody saying our photos are of less quality needs the help of a psychiatrist.”
An information officer at the Passport Services Department, Hope Marumo, however, said it was not correct to say Lebajoa and his group had been contracted.
“The department has not contracted anybody to take photos for the passport applicants,” she said.
“The passport department director says that group will be removed from the premises.”