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Fresh scandal rocks passport department

‘Mantoetse Maama

 MASERU — Another scandal has hit the Passport Services Department.

This time officials in the department are alleged to be selling passport pages to people whose passports would have been finished before their expiry date.

The new pages would then be inserted into the passports.

That way a person would be able to travel even when the original pages are finished.

Police this week confirmed they had arrested some people in connection with the scam.

This was after they were caught by immigration officers with passports that had pages whose numbers and details did not correspond with those on the original pages.

Police say most of the people arrested are Basotho working in South Africa.

In some cases, police say, the suspects would pluck out the pages that would have been endorsed by the South African immigration department after they would have overstayed.

They would then insert new blank pages to give the impression that they had never received an endorsement.

The fines for overstaying in South Africa range between M500 and M3 000.

When a passport is endorsed one cannot enter South Africa unless they have paid the fine.

It is these fines that police say most of the culprits were trying to evade by replacing the endorsed pages with new blank ones.

Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha says they are now investigating the source of the new passport pages.

He says police are interviewing a 27-year-old man from Berea who was arrested two weeks ago after he was caught with a passport that had been tampered with. 

Masupha says they suspect a well-organised syndicate is involved in the scam.

“There are many people who have been arrested for adding new pages to their passports,” he says.

“The passports would have run out of space when they are still valid.

“The syndicates promise the passport holders to renew the passports and then they add the pages.

“The passport officers realised that the passport numbers were different even though the pages were inserted systematically.”

Passport Services Department director Sello Mokoena says most of the suspects nabbed in the scam are from Maputsoe, Lesotho’s second city, about 80km north of Maseru.

“There were a few people who were arrested in Maseru but Maputsoe had more people,” Mokoena says.

He says they suspect the scam started when South Africa banned temporary travel documents and stopped issuing the “six months” border permits.

“Some people were fined for overstaying in South Africa, so they were avoiding paying the fines,” Mokoena says.

“They then tear off those pages and add the new ones.”

He says some even steal passports to tear off pages from passports whose holders have work permits.

“They add those pages so that it could appear as if they have work permits,” Mokoena says.

The passports department has been battling to clean up its image for some time.

Earlier this year the Sunday Express exposed how a syndicate involving passport officers was taking bribes to produce passports in as little as two days.

Until recently an applicant would wait  for up to two years before getting a new passport.

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