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Rights group wants Minister grilled over passports

SECTION 2, a human rights organisation advocating for the respect of the Constitution, wants parliament to summon Home Affairs Minister Lebona Lephema to explain why the ministry is not issuing passports 0n time. The association has asked Clerk of Parliament, Advocate Fine Maema, to arrange that the relevant portfolio committee grill Lephema over the matter.

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Section 2’s secretary-general, Tjatjapa Sekobi, told Advocate Maema about “a matter of utmost urgency regarding prolonged delays and discriminatory practices in passport issuance”.

Sekobi said the association wrote to Lephema on December 15 outlining serious concerns about “discriminatory practices favouring those who can afford ‘emergency passports’ and the potential violation of fundamental human rights”.

“Regrettably, the 14-day period for a response, as outlined in the letter, has elapsed without any tangible actions or communications from the Ministry of Home Affairs”.
Sekobi said this not only violates Basotho’s constitutional rights but also “pose serious risks to their well-being, particularly in cases where urgent medical attention abroad is required”.

“Moreover, it is crucial to note that these issues not only inconvenience immigration workers but also (cause) undue stress on students studying abroad,” Sekobi said.
The students, he said, rely on timely passport issuance for their academic pursuits.

Section 2 said in light of the gravity of the concerns, it was petitioning the Law and Public Safety Cluster to summon Lephema and ask him why the passports are not being issued timeously.

Sources who spoke to thepost this week said some people were getting their passports after six months or more while those who could afford to pay for emergency passports were getting theirs after two weeks.

A passport generally costs M130 with an emergency passport costing M600.
However, some individuals were getting their passports after two days.

Section 2 said it was concerned that some deserving Basotho who do not have enough money to pay for emergency passports are suffering while some who just want to cross to South Africa for pleasure get them speedily merely because they have money.

The association wants the committee to ask Lephema the reasons for the prolonged delays in the issuance of passports and the justification for the preferential processing for emergency passports at an additional fee.

It also wants Lephema to be asked if he is adhering to section 17(1) of the Lesotho Passport and Travel Documents Act 2018, which requires him to report to parliament regarding any issue involving passports every six months after the beginning of the financial year.

“Given the urgency and the potential impact on citizens’ lives and rights, we implore the committee to expedite the summoning of the Ministry for a thorough and transparent inquiry into these pressing matters.”

Home Affairs Minister Lebona Lephema told Lesotho Television last night that the ministry will start issuing passports soon.
He said the ministry was previously working with an Israeli company called Panjia.

“But, lately, we encountered challenges when trying to get the passports and we called the middleman who told us that their business was affected by Covid-19,” he said.

“We asked them to allow us to communicate straight with the passport manufacturer based in the UK. We agreed that we would now work with the manufacturer and not the middleman.”

Lephema said they will start “issuing passports according to the list of people who applied”.

Staff Reporter

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