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Passport office to tighten screws

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

 MASERU — The Passport Services Department is in the process of acquiring a biometric system that will weed out people who make multiple passport applications or hold more than one passport.

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

Once it is installed in Lesotho, 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 for how long the passport is valid.

The system will also be able to detect people who want to acquire numerous passports under different names.

The Passport Services Department says one of the reasons Lesotho has a huge passport backlog is because some individuals are applying for multiple passports under different names.

The department says many people already have more than one valid passport because the current system cannot detect multiple applications.

It is a criminal offence for a person to have two valid passports whether under the same names or different ones.

Passport services director Sello Mokoena told the Sunday Express that the biometric system will help clean up the mess in his department.

“That system is coming soon,” he said yesterday.

“Once we have the system it will be impossible for people to make multiple applications.

“That will mean we will only be dealing with people who are making new applications, replacements or renewals.”

Mokoena said the discussions that he had had with the Ministry of Home Affairs, under which his department falls, over a biometric system had been “fruitful”.

The ministry and the department, he said, were now working hard “to acquire the system as soon as possible”.

“The ministry wants this system in place urgently. The department is desperate for this system,” Mokoena said.

The department has been rocked by allegations of corruption over the past six months.

In March this year an undercover reporter from this paper uncovered a syndicate involving passport officials who were taking bribes to speed up the issuance of the travel documents.

The investigative story revealed how the syndicate was demanding as much as M800 to process a passport in two days.

It costs only M100 to get a passport through proper channels but because of the backlog some people have been on the waiting list for the past three years.

Nearly 200 000 applicants are still waiting for their passports but the department claims this number has reduced dramatically since June.

The department has also promised to eradicate corruption.

It recently moved its offices from the Pitso Ground to the old Disaster Management Authority building near the High Court.

Mokoena told the media that the Pitso Grounds offices had become a breeding ground for corruption.

Meanwhile, the department is eager to clean its image by showing evidence that its officers are not the only ones to blame for corruption in the issuance of passports.

On Friday the department hastily called a press conference where they told the reporters that they had caught a man who had a passport that had been tampered with.

Apparently it is Julius Ramotsokoane himself who reported to the department that his passport had been tampered with after he allegedly discovered that some of the pages in his passport had details of two other people.

Ramotsokoane, who had been using the passport since 2005, said he was only made aware of the inconsistence of his passport number when it was put through the scanner.

He was charged and fined M5 000.

The passport department says Ramotsokoane will not get a Lesotho passport again.

“Section 15 of the passports law of 1998 says so,” an official in the department said.

“It however does not say for how long a person who is found in possession of an illegal passport will not get one.”

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