IDs tender raises MPs’ eyebrows



MASERU – Parliament this week did not take kindly to the criteria used in selecting a new service provider for the production of passports and IDs. The explanation provided by the Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs, and Police, ’Mamphaka Mabesa, regarding the criteria used by her ministry in selecting a new service provider for the production of travel documents and identity documents was not received well by Parliament.

Selection of a new company followed failure by the initial contractor to deliver on the work it was contracted to do. Mabesa’s response attracted criticism from members of the portfolio committee on Law and Public Safety in the National Assembly.

She faced difficulty trying to convince Members of Parliament (MPs) that proper procedures and legal standards were adhered to in appointing the new passport and ID supplier after the Israeli company, Pangea, contracted for the document production, failed to deliver.

During the committee session on Tuesday this week, Mabesa explained that the ministry urgently sought an alternative supplier when Pangea failed to fulfil the contract. The ministry, she said, engaged four other companies before finding one willing to adhere to their terms and mode of payment.

Although Mabesa did not disclose the identity of the new supplier, she said that particular company agreed to a letter of credit as a mode of payment, as opposed to three other companies that declined the method. She said Pangea had recommended these four companies, prompting members of the committee to request details regarding the selection process and documentation thereof.

Mabesa clarified that the ministry still maintains an agreement with Pangea, but due to its inability to meet demands, permission was sought to procure services from other suppliers. Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) and Lithoteng MP Kobeli Letlailana, pressed for more information, asking, “How were you seeking out this supplier? We need documentation to understand the unfolding of this process.”

He was supported by Jane Lekunya, Democratic Congress (DC) MP for Mechechane, who expressed his bewilderment, saying: “I fail to comprehend how we maintain a contract with Pangea despite its failure to deliver the services it was contracted for.”He emphasised the importance of adhering to laws governing contract agreements, both in business and government dealings, asserting the committee’s need for detailed minutes outlining the engagement process with any new company.

The DC MP underscored the necessity of upholding the law even in the face of challenges, prompting Mabesa’s response that “we have not violated any law as we have not awarded the contract to a new company.” This contradicted her earlier explanation that Pangea’s failure necessitated the search for a new supplier.

Mabesa said the three other companies the ministry engaged with were unwilling to accept the government’s preferred mode of payment—a letter of credit—leading committee members to question how the ministry became aware of them.

These revelations unfolded during the ministry’s appearance before the parliament’s portfolio committee on law and public safety, summoned to address the persistent challenges surrounding passports and Identification Documents (ID) issuance. Many Basotho applicants have waited over three months without receiving their passports; even emergency applicants are experiencing delays beyond the prescribed timelines. Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe urged for refunds to be considered in light of these delays.

During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Mofomobe raised concerns that the ministry might have engaged in fraudulent practices by collecting the M630 emergency passport application fee from citizens while failing to deliver the passports within the promised one or two working days. He urged Minister Lephema to address the issue and consider refunds for Basotho who did not receive their emergency passports within the specified timeframes as per regulations.

Additionally, it surfaced that challenges extend to IDs as citizens face difficulties renewing their IDs while new applicants encounter shortages. Litšoane Keketsi from the National Identity and Civil Registration (NICR) revealed that not a single ID was procured in the previous financial year due to budget constraints. These challenges, attributed to budget limitations, supply chain issues, and inadequate planning by the ministry, persist.

Keketsi disclosed that as of April 15, 2024, only 1560 IDs were in stock, meaning that applicants who apply after exhausting this stock will face delays in obtaining their identity documents. He said the issuance of IDs is currently prioritised based on urgency, with NICR district managers exercising discretion in determining who receives them urgently.

The prolonged travel document problem prompted the Human Rights Organisation Section 2 to call on Parliament to hold Lephema accountable. Section 2 initially petitioned Lephema directly, criticising the favouritism towards those able to afford emergency passports.

When their concerns went unaddressed, they petitioned the National Assembly, emphasising that the ministry’s failure to issue passports violates citizens’ constitutional rights and poses risks to their well-being, especially in cases requiring urgent medical attention or for students studying abroad.

Section 2 highlighted the disparity where those with financial means can obtain emergency passports for leisure while deserving Basotho facing financial constraints suffer. Lephema previously attributed passport supply challenges to COVID-19’s impact on Panjea’s operations, leading to a mutual agreement for Lesotho to source passports elsewhere.

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