Cellphone service to help passport applicants

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MASERU — The Ministry of Home Affairs plans to introduce a system that will make it possible for people who have applied for passports to check the status of their applications using their cell phones.

The new system will allow those who applied for passports to check the status of their applications on request using a short message service (sms).

Home affairs ministry officials believe the sms facility might help reduce long queues that have been the order of the day at the passport offices in Maseru.

The facility requires passport applicants to send the receipt number of their application to a given operator by sms.

The applicant will immediately get a response indicating whether their passport is ready for collection, in production or if there is a query.

An information officer at the Home Affairs Ministry, Hape Marumo, said data on all passport applications will be entered into a system which is linked to a telecommunication service provider.

Marumo said the new system was both convenient and economical to the public.

“We are trying as much as possible to reduce any inconvenience to the public. We believe this system will reduce long queues and it will be economical for the public,” she said.

She said the home affairs ministry will soon launch a pilot project of the service in Maseru before rolling it out country-wide.

Marumo said the service would ensure that people would know the status of their applications before visiting the passport offices.

“Of course people are not denied access to the offices at any time but this will give an alternative for them to know at least the status of their applications,” she said.

In the past people have been made to wait in long queues to make simple enquiries on their passports.

The situation deteriorated after the government last month phased out the use of temporary travel documents.

Local companies Mobile Lesotho Events and Technology Solutions (MLETS) and MobiAds will provide the enquiry service on behalf of the passport office.

MLETS representative Mpho Mahula said the system could be used by subscribers of the country’s two biggest mobile phone operators.

“The enquiry service can be used by customers of the two mobile operators in the country, and it will allow for an instant notification about the status of their passports,” Mahula said.

MobiAds representative Kudzai Dandawa said the sms system would be convenient to the public.

“It will be more convenient for the public as an individual can use the enquiry service as opposed to waiting in long queues at the passport offices,” Dandawa said.

The home affairs ministry is battling to clear the backlog of thousands of passport applicants some of whom have waited for years without getting the crucial travel document.

The South African government last month suspended the six-month travel permits used by Lesotho citizens to enter the neighbouring country citing abuse of the permit by locals.

The Lesotho government was also compelled to stop issuing temporary travel documents to its citizens after the papers were rejected by South Africa as a means of entry into the country.

An alternative temporary travel document provided by Lesotho was also rejected by South African authorities on the basis that it did not meet required security standards.

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