MASERU — Five opposition MPs yesterday marched in Maseru to demand the removal of Lesao Lehohla as home affairs minister.
The MPs accused Lehohla, who is also the deputy prime minister, of failing to run the ministry resulting in a huge backlog in passport applications.
They said Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili should “replace the home affairs minister from his present ministerial post and [move him]to another post”.
The MPs were joined in the march by about 150 supporters who were mostly clad in opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) party regalia.
They were led by ABC youth league leader, Libe Moremoholo.
Other MPs who took part in the march were Moseme Makhele from Hlotse constituency, Tatia Moseme from Berea, ’Mapheello Ts’uluba from Qoaling and Lehlohonolo Mafaesa from the Stadium Area.
The marchers accused Lehohla of failing to address the passport crisis that has seen thousands of Basotho waiting for the document for years.
They also chanted political songs and lifted placards denouncing the deputy prime minister.
“Lehohla has dismally failed,” read one placard.
“Lehohla must go,” said another.
Lehohla was not in his office to receive the petition.
Home affairs principal secretary, Rets’elisitsoe Khetsi, received the petition on behalf of the minister.
The petition said Lehohla’s ministry was plagued by poor governance and weak administration resulting in the ministry failing to issue passports on time.
“A few weeks ago, the responsible minister, Hon Lesao Lehohla, announced to the Basotho nation that passports will be issued to any applicant within two weeks while applicants seeking emergency passports (would have their passports) issued within two days,” said Moremoholo reading the petition to the home affairs principal secretary Rets’elisitsoe Khetsi who received it.
“We, as the MPs, are worried (because this has not happened) in the (manner) the minister pledged during a press conference held at TV-Lesotho.”
Lehohla last month promised that the government would issue passports within two weeks after the South African government tightened entry requirements at the borders.
The South African government also rejected the use of temporary travel documents and stopped issuing the six-month permit which allowed Basotho to enter the country without having their passports stamped.
Thousands of Basotho who do not have passports were caught off guard by the new requirements as they often relied on the temporary travel documents to travel to and from Lesotho.
On average it takes about four years for a passport application to be processed in Lesotho.
The MPs said the crisis at the borders was not South Africa’s problem “but it is a predicament engineered by the government of Lesotho due to its ineptness”.
Moremoholo said there are some passport applications dating back as far as 2002.
He said some applicants were still “waiting to get their passports while other applicants died without getting any service from the immigration department”.
“Thousands of Basotho … have lost their jobs, more especially (those) working (in South Africa) due to unavailability of passports.”
Moremoholo also accused Lehohla of buying a defective “clocking machine” which “never worked since its purchase”.
Asked to respond, Lehohla told the Lesotho Times last night that the complaining MPs should approach Mosisili if they want him removed.
“I did not appoint myself in this post,” Lehohla said.
“I think they should go to the prime minister and tell him that.”
Lehohla also said most passport applicants decided to rely on temporary travel documents instead of going to the ministry to collect their passports and “now they are feeling the need to have passports.”
“There are passports in the offices but these people do not go to collect them,” he said.
“It is their responsibility to ensure that they have passports, not mine.”
Responding to charges that there were long queues at the passport offices because of the delay in issuing passports Lehohla said “long queues are everywhere.”
“There are queues at the banks too.”