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Biometric system will not stop passport corruption

IN this edition we carry a story in which the Passport Services Department says it’s in the process of acquiring a biometric system to weed out multiple passport applicants and holders.

A biometric system is an automatic technique used to identify a person based on their fingerprints and iris.

When installed passport applicants will have their fingerprints stored in a database.

Because each person’s fingerprints are unique the system will be able to detect when a person wants to make a fraudulent passport application.

The system will say when the last application was made and when the passport will expire.

The system will be able to detect people trying to acquire numerous passports under different names.

The passport department says the reason why Lesotho has a huge passport backlog is because some individuals are applying for many passports under different names.

We have no doubt that the system will help stop multiple applications.

What however worries us is the assertion by the passport services director, Sello Mokoena, that the biometric system will clean up the mess in his department.

Mokoena is correct to say that multiple applications are contributing to the passport backlog but he is wrong to think that they are the main source of the rot in his department. 

We believe the problem in the passport services department has little to do with multiple applications but more with corruption.

The biometric system will weed out multiple passport applicants but it will not detect corrupt officials that man Mokoena’s department.

The new system is mainly targeted at dishonest customers and not corrupt officials.

It is a noble initiative that is however limited in its effectiveness when it comes to dealing with corruption.

There are passport service workers who are running “private passport offices” right in the comfort of the department’s offices.

These officials have created sophisticated syndicates that are raking in thousands of maloti from their criminal activities.

The syndicates involve front-desk officers and those in the production section.

These officials have corrupted the whole process.

For years they have been sabotaging the process so that it grounds to a halt and force desperate people to pay them bribes.

A corrupt official thrives on slowing a process so that people get the impression that it is impossible to get a service on time.

That is how the syndicates at the passport department operate.

Mokoena does not need to launch a commission of inquiry to know who is running these syndicates.

In March this year it took our undercover reporter just a day to be linked to one of these syndicates.

She paid them M800 and got her passport in two days.

Mokoena needs to get to the bottom of these syndicates if he wants to run an efficient department.

He must ensure that corrupt officials are fired and brought to book.

Meanwhile we must say that we are worried that the department has gone into a denial mood as it seeks to clean its soiled image.

This week the department called a press conference to announce that it had caught a man who had a passport that had been tampered with.

Apparently it is the man himself who had reported to the department that his travel document had a problem after he discovered that some of the pages in his passport had details of two other people.

But instead of using the man’s information to deal with a broader problem in his department, Mokoena rushed to the police.

The man was fined M5 000 and will probably never get a passport again.

It didn’t matter that the man had reported himself.

The department saw it has opportunity to make capital out of the whole episode.

In the meantime the real criminals — corrupt passport officials — are enjoying freedom and the fruits of their evil ways.

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