MASERU — Thousands of counterfeit vehicle registration certificates and temporary travel documents produced by corrupt workers at the government’s printing department have flooded the market.
The Sunday Express can reveal that the same workers are illegally printing government order books which are being used to defraud the treasury department.
The Government Printing and Stationery Office, the only authorised printer and supplier of government documents, falls under the Law Office.
The Law Office in turn falls under the Attorney-General’s Office.
Vehicle registration certificates — commonly referred to as blue cards — are being sold mostly to people who register stolen vehicles in Lesotho.
A blue card is proof of ownership of a vehicle.
It carries the owner’s details as well as the chassis, engine and registration numbers of the vehicle.
It is an identity document for a vehicle.
Once a vehicle has a blue card it means it is legally registered in Lesotho.
Workers at the Government Printing and Stationery Office have been selling these blue cards mostly to owners of taxis that would have been stolen from South Africa, investigations have revealed.
In the process the government has lost thousands of maloti that it would have otherwise made had the registration been done through the official channel.
The workers have also smuggled government order books which they sell to dodgy dealers who then use them to claim payments from government ministries and departments for services and goods they never provided.
Some established businesses that supply the government with goods and services are also understood to have bought the fake order books to inflate their claims from the state.
The workers are also the main suppliers of illegal temporary travel documents which are being sold to desperate people who want to travel outside the country.
Investigations show that dozens of workers in the government’s printing section have since been dismissed, suspended or are facing disciplinary action.
Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha told the Sunday Express that since February some workers from the Government Printing and Stationery Office have been arrested for selling counterfeit blue cards.
And many vehicle owners have also been arrested after being caught with counterfeit blue cards, he said.
“Police have arrested a number of workers from Government Printer and some have already appeared before the courts,” Masupha said.
“Other suspects were members of the community and some civil servants who were part of the blue cards theft syndicate.
“The police also confiscated many vehicles including tractors and other machines.”
Masupha said 305 blue cards were stolen from the Government Printing and Stationery Office.
He said what made the use of counterfeit blue cards prevalent was that Lesotho’s police did not have advanced technology to detect stolen cars.
“Once the owner produces a genuine blue card we are satisfied that the vehicle belongs to him,” he said.
The Sunday Express understands Attorney-General Tsokolo Makhethe is planning to set up a commission of inquiry into the corrupt activities at the Government Printing and Stationery Office.
“It’s now a crisis and it is seriously affecting other departments,” said a source close to Makhethe.
“This corruption has been going on for some time now. It has become so entrenched.
“Blue cards and government order books are the main source of money for this syndicate.”
Makhethe is understood to have ordered that the production of temporary travel documents be stopped before Easter after realising that theft of the documents had gotten out of control.
The attorney-general and the director of the Government Printing and Stationery Office were last week locked in marathon meetings as they battle to find a solution to the crisis.
Pressure, the source said, is also mounting on the attorney-general to clean up the mess in the department.
“A number of departments have raised alarm about the fraud,” the source said.
“The Traffic Department and Passport Services Department have been hit hard.
“Everything is pointing back to the Government Printer.”
Makhethe could not be reached for comment as he was constantly said to be in meetings.
Officials at the Government Printing and Stationery Office were also not available for comment.
However the principal secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs, Lefa Mokotjo, told the Lesotho Times, our sister paper, that the Passport Services Department could not issue temporary travel documents because the Government Printing and Stationery Office had stopped producing them due to corruption.
He said the decision was reached “after discovering that some government officers were fraudulently reproducing them for their own personal enrichment”.
“We are aware that there is a syndicate that includes workers at the Government Printer and the Passport Services Department and people in the street who sell the documents,” Mokotjo said.