The world is watching

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ELSEWHERE in this issue, we carry a disturbing story about how the noble process of identifying a new company to design and issue electronic passports (e-passports) for Lesotho is being mishandled at the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Why public officials would want to award such a high value contract under such spurious and shadowy circumstances baffles our imagination.

This government’s image is already tainted by widespread perceptions that it is easy-going on corruption. This explains why many donors who assist the country stipulate stringent regulations in all tenders in which their funds are used.

The World Bank is particularly stringent.

And rightly so.

Though this does not guarantee out-rightly clean processes as civil servants still do the picking in most of these tenders, it at least gives some semblance of legitimacy to these processes.

This country has already had its fair share of negative reporting in the international media over rigged tenders.

The international controversy created over the multi-billion maloti tenders awarded over the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is still fresh in the minds of many. 

The parcelling out of state-of-the-art luxury vehicles for as little as M4 000 to politicians and top civil servants was rightly condemned as a “corruption bonanza” in one international newspaper.

Moreso after some of the beneficiaries immediately put their vehicles on the market at their actual market values soon after the deal.

Why the Ministry of Home Affairs has therefore elected to handle the high-value tender process for e-passports in such a brazenly skewed and less than transparent process, further risking the reputation of this country, is therefore beyond comprehension. 

There can only be one legitimate suspicion; someone somewhere in the government bureaucracy has done their homework and seen an opportunity to line their pockets.

Our policy as a newspaper is to support any government of the day, elected in free, fair and democratic elections, in its pursuance of socio-economic programmes that benefit the people.

This is the reason why we don’t focus on negativity but also give positive coverage to the government whenever it does right.

But when public tender processes are routinely flouted as is abundantly the case in this e-passports episode, we would have failed in our duties to the public if we fail to ring the alarm bells.

While the changeover to e-passport systems has become imperative, there is no justification whatsoever for not subjecting this process to an open public tender process to get the best international candidate for the job. 

This government can indeed proceed and award a tender to a favoured company under the current opaque circumstances, but there can be no doubt that things change.

Those responsible would not have done themselves a favour. One day, someone will have to be held accountable.

Corruption is one of the prime evils that has blighted Africa’s reputation.

It is one of the main inducers of the poverty which is a byword for this continent.

It is no coincidence that the few countries that are well governed and regarded as the least corrupt on the continent (Botswana and Mauritius) have created better standards of living for their citizens while the most corrupt like Zimbabwe and Nigeria are seas of poverty.

Despite all its economic might, South Africa has failed to make a significant dent in alleviating massive poverty among a larger percentage of its people; thanks to ever rising corruption in which tenders are routinely rigged by ruling ANC cadres. 

Lesotho cannot afford this route at all costs.

What is urgently needed in this country is an effective anti-corruption watchdog to fight for the national interest.

The current one is frankly speaking a national embarrassment. It’s never too late   to do the right thing. We urge the government to stop this rot in its tracks and advertise the e-passports tender as widely as possible before choosing the right candidate.

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Lesotho’s widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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