THE Ministry of Home Affairs is a key government agency, since it offers a multitude of services to the citizens of Lesotho, as well as foreigners who wish to stay in the country.
However, since its establishment in 2006, the ministry has been accused of failing to clamp down on corruption and poor service delivery among other obstacles to fulfilling its mandate.
In this wide-ranging interview, Home Affairs Minister Tsukutlane Au shares his plans to revamp the ministry with the Lesotho Times (LT) Reporter Pascalinah Kabi.
LT: What are your plans in revamping the Home Affairs Ministry as one of the key ministries in service delivery? Over the years, the ministry has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, with allegations of corruption and poor service delivery?
Au: In terms of timely delivery of services, I have sat down with the Principal Secretary (‘Machabana Lemphane-Letsie) and informed the directors as heads of departments that we need to prepare and publish standards for all the services offered by the ministry. When people know what they are supposed to get, they will be able to demand them and put pressure on the said ministry to deliver.
Those standards will not only apply to the officials but the minister as well. For example, if we agreed that documents will be published within a certain time, the minister will only have a given time to deal with a certain issue; documents cannot be in the office of the minister more than they are supposed to be.
Actually, there is already a draft on that and very soon we will be publishing it. We already have a service charter but we think we need to go deeper into standards, provide a list of services that we are providing in all the departments. Disciplinary measures will be taken against anybody who is not able to provide services within that particular stipulated time. This is to address the problem of delay of services. I am aware that there are some services that are provided in liaison with other ministries like the Ministry of Finance.
I have always been passionate about service standards. When I was Public Service minister, we closely worked together with the Ministry of Finance because I realised that different government ministries were taking too long to pay suppliers. So I took the initiate to work closely with the Ministry of Finance and it was one of the top priorities to address and we agreed that payment of suppliers should only take about 22 days. We further established some service standards for different ministries but their application has differed with each ministry. I am optimistic that service delivery is going to be different this time.
I have also noted there are very long queues at our service points; sometimes people are forced to come back the following day. That is where the elements of corruption are cropping up and to address this problem, I have given the PS an instruction to introduce an electronic queue management system.
I once visited the National Identity and Civil Registry office at Maseru mall with Deputy Minister Machesetsa Mofomobe. Some of the people were complaining that officials were collecting M50 from others at the back to enable them jump the queue. The electronic queue management system will help address this problem by ensuring that people are served based on the time of their arrival.
Customer care is one important aspect in providing services, and we are going to ensure that all our frontline staffers are trained on that. We also need to revisit our structural set-up. For example, there is so much we are doing in regard to migration – a very big issue within the ministry yet our structures dealing with that is so thin on the ground yet this is the backbone of our ministry. Migration comes in different forms – either internal or external, voluntary or involuntary. As far as human trafficking is concerned, for example, we only have one person dealing with that who is the Commissioner of Refugees. Under him, there is literally nobody. He is at the level of a director and it is a bit strange that we have no one reporting to him.
LT: You are from the Alliance of Democrats, Deputy Minister Mofomobe is from the Basotho National Party, while PS Lemphane-Letsie is from the Reformed Congress of Lesotho. Given that you espouse different political ideologies, has it been easy to come up with one vision to develop the ministry?
Au: The situation calls for an ability to manage diversity and complexity. You have talked about different parties within one ministry and a leadership with diverse ideologies, philosophy and ideas so it means that I have to manage that diversity and harness it into one common understanding. I think I am trying to do that and the best way to do it is to engage people by having regular meetings. We have weekly meetings but such meetings may not be only once a week but held whenever there is a need to engage each other.
Before I was a minister, I realised that it was not easy to work with a deputy minister. When I was working as a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, there was only one governing political party at the time with the minister and deputy coming from the same party. I noted that they were always quarrelling. It was not always easy for them to work together and that was the phenomenon in a number of ministries.
And when I went abroad, I noted that it was a problem even in other countries for a minister to work with a deputy minister even if the two were from the same party. I did not have a deputy as Public Service minister in the previous regime. But, I noticed that the deputy ministers were always coming together to talk about their problems and challenges and at one time I heard them saying they needed to approach the then premier (Pakalitha Mosisili).
I have not encountered that problem this time around, and so far I do not think my deputy minister and I have problems. I must mention that it is not easy (to keep good relations). I cannot say I am angel and we are still going to have differences here and there but I think I am trying as much as possible to engage them. It is good to do that because it means we are on the same wave length on a number of issues. For example, we are working so well that when I am going for international or business trips, I really do not have to prepare hand-over notes in case I don’t have enough time. It is not a problem for me to leave on short notice because I am always with him (Mr Mofomobe) and we agree to disagree on certain issues.
LT: The 2016 United Nations Trafficking in Persons Report classifies Lesotho as a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking victims. As the responsible ministry, what are you doing to address this problem?
Au: We are reviewing our policies to ensure that movement of people in and out of the country is well managed and we are also working together with other countries. I did talk about migration and there is a broader policy on migration at the continental level. We are also working on our National Migration Policy which is also taking care of those things you have raised. I think before the end of this month or early next month, I will be taking the policy to cabinet for approval so that the implementation process can begin.
This is going to help us a lot in managing the movement of people in and out of the country and as we will be doing that, we will also be taking care of issues of human trafficking. Having passed the policy, we are also going to look into the legal instruments to ensure proper management of migration. In terms of legal instruments, when I joined the ministry, there was a document already on my desk – Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism Bill – which was drafted by the previous regime. It passed the National Assembly, went to the Senate and the Senate passed it with amendments. Unfortunately parliament was dissolved before it was enacted as the law.
We are now under a bit of pressure to make sure that it is passed as a law because in some way it is going to help us manage issues in regard to human trafficking although its main focus is on terrorism, terrorism financing and money laundering. We are working on that. I want to take an unusual route if parliament will allow me to request that it proceeds from the stage that it was when parliament was dissolved.
Normally that is not how it is done. One has to go back and start from the beginning because we have enslaved ourselves to the legal instruments that were initiated during the colonial era. We have the legislation passed more than 50 years back and we are still doing everything in accordance with that law. This is not helping our economy or anybody but only serving the interests of that particular piece of legislation. If I fail, I will have to start from scratch, but the problem with that is there is an anti-money laundering body which we are part of. They are a bit worried that we are not compliant and in fact they are classifying us as non-compliant and not cooperative with regards to implementing and legislating the laws controlling human trafficking and terrorism.
They are rightly putting a lot of pressure on us and gave us a deadline. After the deadline, they will openly declare us as non-compliant internationally and that they will not work with us. They will have to kick us out of the organisation and that will not be good. We have to complete everything before end of December. So if you go back for the sake of going back because of our own outdated legal instruments that are forcing us to start the process of enacting laws which were already discussed in parliament before parliament was dissolved.
LT: We are heading into the festive season and Basotho are already queuing for long hours at the border gates due to the introduction of biometric registration introduced by South Africa.
Au: The queues at the borders have been long even before the introduction of biometric registration by the South Africans. The introduction of biometric registration was done two weeks or so ago and at the officers’ level, we engaged the South African Ministry of Home Affairs to find out what is happening and how that could be resolved.
We understand that they had dismissed about 22 officers at the border because they have been involved in corrupt practices. The 22 officers have not been replaced and that is why we are experiencing these long queues even before the introduction of biometric registration. But I did have an informal discussion with then SA Minister of Home Affairs (Hlengiwe Mkhize) and we agreed to meet urgently, discuss all these problems and find solutions for Basotho taking into consideration that we are approaching December and a lot of people will be crossing the border.
We agreed to meet before the end of November but we still needed to follow proper challenges through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but she was reshuffled before we could even meet. A new minister has been appointed (Ayanda Dlodlo) but is currently on leave. The Deputy Minister (Fatima Chohan) is holding the fort. We are making arrangements to hold a meeting as soon as possible. We cannot wait for December because I am aware that the ruling party – African National Congress – is going to its December elective conference and that means the ministers will be focusing on that and would not want to entertain anything making them lose focus.
I am keeping in touch with them to ensure that we find solutions to these challenges so that we can have free movement of people not only during the festive season but even beyond that.
The meeting is also going to focus on the border movements and the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP). If you look at the LSP agreement, it is only be meant to be implemented within a period of four years. After four years it falls away and the question is, what is going to happen afterwards. I don’t understand why it was restricted to four years. After four years, our geographical situation and economical relationship with South Africa will not change. So I am looking beyond those four years.