BEARING in mind Lesotho’s history of unbridled corruption, it’s remarkable that we still found the corruption at the Passport Office quite shocking to say the least.
Thousands of Basotho are struggling to get passports.
Those lucky to submit their applications after queuing for as long as two weeks have to wait for as many years to finally get their passports.
We have, sadly, come to accept this immoral status quo as normal.
Many Basotho, frustrated by the situation at the Passport Office, simply give up or end up leaving the country illegally.
But as our undercover investigations have discovered, the same passport that “normally” comes out after up to three years can come out in two days.
As detailed in our special report, the Passport Office can be very efficient but only if one greases the palms of officers who process the travel documents.
It’s actually a syndicate that not only involves senior employees at the Passport Office but also street runners who look for “clients”.
The ease with which our reporter applied and got a passport — using a false name for that matter — should be embarrassing to our government.
In fact, the corruption at the Passport Office is a serious indictment of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) government which has not missed any given opportunity to deplore corruption.
If the LCD’s vow to combat corruption is not simply propaganda, here is a glorious chance for the government to prove that it can walk the talk.
Anywhere else in the world where governments are serious about fighting corruption, our revealing story would claim many scalps.
Not a day passes without citizens of this kingdom complaining about poor service rendered by government institutions.
We cannot have civil servants who treat citizens as if they owe them a living.
People have been complaining for ages that civil servants demand bribes to do the very jobs that taxpayers pay them to do.
And it’s not like the powers-that-be are not aware of the scandals at the Passport Office and other government departments.
But if they were waiting for the scandal to be exposed in the media, there they have it.
We believe our government has the capacity to stem out corruption in the civil service.
What we cannot vouch for is the political willpower to fight the scourge.
It’s not long ago when Lesotho made international headlines for fighting corruption in the multi-billion-rand Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme.
Considering how African governments seem reluctant in their fight against corruption, our little Lesotho received plaudits for punching above its weight.
But convicting and jailing top officials in the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme for corruptly fattening their bank accounts means nothing on the whole if we continue to allow civil servants to run the show as they wish.
This calls for the government to revamp the civil service by tackling rampant corruption and the dereliction of duty that characterises most government departments.
And it’s not like the government doesn’t have the means to tackle the crisis.
After all, the Public Service Act provides that the public officer be at the government’s disposal the whole of his time and also that no public officer may claim as of right additional remuneration in respect of any official duty or work any proper authority may require him to do.
Yet we have critical public offices like the Passport Office at the mercy of corrupt employees.
The government cannot continue to watch this decadent state of affairs.
We, as do all other taxpayers and voters, deserve an efficient civil service.
The inefficiency in government departments right now is chiefly because of corrupt systems.
Piecemeal actions against corrupt officials will not help.
Despite the embarrassment that investigations such as ours bring, the government must be humble enough to accept our public offices are rotten and then completely overhaul the entire systems.