- Applicants to pay three times more for new, bigger document, to be introduced this week.
Government will this week introduce a new passport with twice the number of pages, but with applicants paying through the nose for the critical document.
The 64-page passport would be double the size of the current one which has 32 pages, but is going to cost M300—up from the M100 applicants have been paying to acquire the current one.
According to Home Affairs minister Lekhetho Rakuoane, government would start issuing the bulkier passports on Thursday. The minister emphasised though, that the passports were “not really new” as they were stockpiled in 2013 by the previous government led by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, which could not introduce them at the time for fear of public anger because they were “too expensive”.
However, Advocate Rakuoane said the 32-page passport would still be available although stocks of the document had run-out, hence the introduction of the bigger one whose obvious benefit, cost aside, is that it takes much longer to fill, saving the holders the inconvenience of having to constantly reapply for a new one.
Advocate Rakuoane told a media briefing in Maseru on Thursday: “These 64-page passports are not necessarily new as they were stocked in large numbers in 2013. But because they were obviously expensive, costing around M600 each to produce, the government of the day, for political reasons, decided not to introduce them despite spending millions of maloti to purchase them.”
The minister noted a government gazette issued in 2013 indicated the 64-page passport was to cost the applicant M400 after government subsidy.
“However, since then, those passports have never been used. They remained stored in large numbers because they were being avoided for political reasons. The government resorted to producing the 32-page passport as a way of ensuring the costs of applying for the document remained low,” said Advocate Rakuoane.
“But as things stand, we have come to a point where there is a passport crisis in our country. We have run out of the smaller document so much that from 17 September 2015, we will only be processing the 64-page passports at M300 each.
“However, for those who cannot afford the M300, they can wait until we have a new batch of the 32-page passports, and we expect this to be at the end of October 2015.
“But the application fee for the 32-page passport has since been increased from M100 to M150 because it has also become expensive to produce.”
Advocate Rakuoane reiterated that the passports are being sourced from Israeli company, Nikuv International Projects (NIP). NIP was controversially awarded a M300 million contract to produce passports, national identity documents and birth certificates two years ago without an open public tender, sparking outrage which resulted in government probing how the company had been selected for the job.
Former Ministry of Home Affairs Principal Secretary Retšelisitsoe Khetsi has since been charged with corruption in relation to the awarding of the tender and the case is still pending before the High Court.
Advocate Rakuoane further noted of the passports: “It costs the government around M50million per year to produce 150 000 passports. Each month, we issue around 12 000 passports, which is why we order 150 000 so that we don’t find ourselves in a situation where we don’t have passports at all.
“After placing an order for the production of the passports, the government has to wait a long time for the company to process and deliver them.
“However, a solution to the passport crisis is encouraging the use of national Identity Documents (IDs) for people who don’t necessarily need to travel a lot outside the country.
“As a ministry, we are also trying to sensitise some organisations which still strictly demand passports for identification purposes, even where individuals have IDs as means of identification.”
On his part, the National Identity Civil Registry (NICR) Director, Tumelo Raboletse, told the same press briefing that there was also “a problem” of the slow production of IDs.
“For instance, at the moment, we are able to produce around 2000 birth certificates a day, which are required for one to qualify for an ID. However, on the other hand, we can only produce 180 IDs a day, which therefore creates a backlog,” Mr Raboletse explained.
“This is due to lack of efficient systems for the production of IDs. We intend to soon relocate the ministry to a much more conducive environment where we hope the situation will improve.”