MASERU — Thousands of people are struggling to get passports.
In fact, if you are lucky to submit your application after days of waiting in the long queues, it will take up to three years to get the passport.
Many simply give up.
But there is a corrupt system, as our investigations have discovered, that can produce the passport in two days.
For M760 one can grease runners who are apparently part of a syndicate that produces genuine passports in a few days.
It’s a well organised system that involves short-circuiting the process by bribing both the runners and senior officials to expedite the procedure.
Our reporter NTSEBENG MOTSOELI went undercover last week and used this system to get a passport under a false name.
It took her four days to get the passport but that was only because there was a public holiday during the week.
Below is her story of how she got the passport:
IT’S Friday, March 5, around 3.30pm.
The Passport Office is packed with people.
Some have come to collect their passports while others are submitting their applications.
The queues are meandering.
A dozen photographers swarm me as I approach the gate.
They all want to take my passport photo.
I settle for a persistent but polite young man.
He sure knows how to get ahead of competition and sways me with his aggressive bargaining and persuasion and promises to do a good job.
He later tells me his name is Steve.
With the issue of the price for his service settled at M50 instead of the usual M60, we move to a less crowded area for him to take my picture.
As we walk away from his disappointed competitors, Steve tells me about his other business.
His “real business” is to organise passports for people like me, he tells me as he leads me to his makeshift studio just around the corner.
“You can have your passport in a few days,” he tells me.
“It’s a legal one (passport). I have connections inside. I have people who are going to help me do this.”
“I have done this several times and it has never gone wrong. Trust me,” he assures me, perhaps after sensing my doubt.
He says it will cost about M800 but he will be requesting the money bit by bit at every step of the process.
This, Steve tells me, is to show that he is genuine.
Steve is a frank man who knows what’s possible and what’s not.
So when I try to push my luck by pleading that I need the passport by Sunday morning he tells me with a straight face: “It won’t be possible because my connections in the Passport Office don’t work on weekends.
“We are doing legal passports. There are no leaked passports going around on the street.
“I am helping you get a valid passport quicker than you would if you joined the line.”
It’s clear that Steve is not the main man in the game.
His role, it seems, is to get clients for the syndicate of officials in the Passport Office.
Deal sealed, the process begins but I have to pay him for the pictures first.
I give him M50 for a passport application form.
Ordinarily, the form is supposed to be acquired free of charge.
I give him another M30 “for a letter from a chief certifying that I am indeed resident in his village”.
The application form and the letter are supposed to have the chief’s stamp but Steve assures me that he has got it covered.
He has letters and forms that already have a stamp from a chief in Sekamaneng.
“Ah, by the way sister, what did you say your name was,” he asks as he is about to fill the form on my behalf and write the “chief’s letter”.
“Matlotlisang Sefali,” I respond.
By this time I am already startled by the speed at which the process is moving.
It normally takes days to get an application form and a letter from a chief but here I was getting them from Steve in minutes.
Steve briskly fills the form and scribbles the chief’s letter certifying that I am from Sekamaneng.
I have never lived in Sekamaneng.
Steve is making up most of the details, like my village and how long I have lived there.
With my form filled and the chief’s letter in hand, we walk into the Passport Office.
Steve leads the way.
Suddenly, he turns back to me with a disappointed look.
“Ah! We are late,” he tells me with his head hung on his left shoulder.
“We are not going to get any help.”
“There comes my associate,” he says, pointing to a rotund lady who he says is a senior official in the Passport Office.
The woman is already walking out of the building.
Steve tells me to meet him at the Passport Office on Monday.
By 8am on Monday, I am there.
The place, as usual, is already crowded.
Steve is already waiting with my documents.
He starts running around with my application form and the letter from the chief to find a photocopy of a passport belonging to anyone 10 years my senior.
It’s standard requirement for applicants to bring a passport copy of their elder relatives.
After about 10 minutes Steve emerges with a broad smile on his face.
He is holding a passport copy of one Bennet Lesole.
The copy has been certified by the police.
I have never met Lesole.
Armed with my documents Steve rushes into the Passport Office, leaving me outside.
He says he is going to negotiate with the security guard at the door to let me through and pay for my registration.
For this stage I hand Steve M120.
A few minutes later he comes out and escorts me to the front of the queue.
Some people grumble.
It’s understandable — after all some have arrived here at around 5am.
Some pass muted jibes about favouritism and corruption.
Still, I overcome my guilty conscience for skipping the queue and step forward to hand my papers to an officer who proceeds to check and approve my application with no questions asked.
I pay the standard passport application fee of M100.
I give Steve my particulars and receipt and he disappears into one of the offices.
After a while he comes out and signals me — by winking his eye — to follow him.
He directs me to a desk where a female officer quickly copies the information from my application form into a record book.
She hands me another receipt which she says I must bring when I come to collect the passport.
Steve sounds excited about how things have gone so far.
“We are almost done,” he says as we walk out of the gate.
He says he already has someone at the Passport Services headquarters who will push my travel document through in two days.
“There is a good guy there. He is a good guy,” he assures me.
“I have been working with him for some time.
“I can assure you that he will process the whole thing and before you know it you will have a valid passport.”
We agree to meet his associate at the headquarters the following day, Tuesday.
Steve introduces him to me only as Thabo.
I hand over my receipts to him.
“Bring M500 when you come to collect the passport on Monday,” Thabo tells me as we part ways.
When I protest that Steve had promised that I would get it in two days, Thabo calmly tells me that the problem with my application was that it had come during a week when there was a national holiday.
He was referring to Moshoeshoe Day which fell on March 11.
“It’s possible to get it in two days but there is a holiday on Thursday and on Friday people don’t normally work full day,” Thabo says.
When I go there on Monday Steve tells me the passport is out but we could not collect it because Thabo was not in the office.
We meet Thabo the following day, Tuesday, and he hands me a valid passport.
I give him M500.
My passport number is RA888889.
My personal number is stated as 070882A264841F.
The passport was issued on March 12 2010, three days after my application was submitted, and it expires on March 11 2020.
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