MASERU — The National Identity Cards Bill 2010 which seeks to document all people living in Lesotho was read in parliament for the first time last Friday.
Home affairs minister and leader of the house, Lesao Lehohla, read the Bill following the opening speech of the fourth meeting of the second session of the seventh parliament by Speaker of the National Assembly Ntlhoi Motsamai.
The Bill, which will replace the National Identity Act 2004, seeks to provide for the setting up of a National Identity Register and the issuance of national identity cards (IDs).
The cards will be issued to all Basotho aged 16 and above as well as to non-citizens holding indefinite residence permits.
“The National Identity Register shall contain biometric and personal information about all Lesotho citizens and non-citizens holding indefinite residence permits,” reads part of the Bill’s statement of objects and reasons.
The Bill says the register will also ensure the existence of accurate and reliable information about applicants.
It further states applicants must be sixteen years of age and be citizens of Lesotho whose particulars have been entered into the National Identity Register.
Being entered into the National Identity Register, the Bill says, qualifies all registered persons to be assigned a unique identity number that will appear on the national identity card.
For purposes of security, the identity card’s chip shall contain the place of birth of bearer, marital status as well as prints of the right index, right middle, left index and left middle fingers.
To uphold an individual’s constitutional right to privacy, the Bill also provides for data privacy whereby a person’s data or information is to be treated “with utmost care and confidentiality”.
The power to issue an identity card, the Bill proposes, shall be vested in the minister (of home affairs) who at his own discretion may delegate the said powers to the relevant department’s director “or any other officer”.
The director’s mandate will include taking reasonable and practicable steps to ensure that personal information entered in the register is complete, accurate and up to date.
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The Bill proposes that when one applies for the national identity card they shall be required to provide the full name and surname, gender as well as the current passport number.
Also required are the applicant’s principal chief’s name, occupation and images.
Once the Bill is passed into law individuals who wish to access public services will be expected to produce identity cards.
“No person who is eligible to have an identity card shall access public services unless the person produces his or her identity card issued in accordance with this Act,” reads the Bill.
The Bill says any person who violates provisions of the proposed new law will be liable to imprisonment for a period of 15 years or a fine of M25 000 or both.
The new Bill has however been met with fierce resistance from the opposition.
The deputy leader of the opposition Lesotho Workers’ Party, Sello Maphalla, said the proposed Bill was in no way different to the National Identity Cards Act 2004.
“It is almost a carbon copy of the National Identity Cards Act 2004 which was first tabled in parliament in 2004 by the then home affairs minister Thomas Thabane,” Maphalla said.
“Six years later it crops up again, seeking to repeal the 2004 version. Are you aware that to date the Act has not made any difference as it has never been used effectively?”
Maphalla said the 2004 Act gobbled M20 million and “Lehohla should first explain what happened to the 2004 version”.
He said the Bill was costing the country “bucket-loads” of money.
“Do you know how much it costs to facilitate a Bill of this nature? This does not in the least make sense. It defies logic, the way these people do things.
“Even the Prime Minister himself (Pakalitha Mosisili) smiled when I raised the issue in parliament.
“He realised it was imperative for the minister to provide an explanation around the Bill.”
Responding to the charges, Lehohla at the weekend said there was need to repeal the National Identity Cards Act 2004 as it was “lacking in crucial security features”.
“The Act did not make provision for a National Identity Register and issuance of national identity cards,” Lehohla said.
“The major difference is that these features will allow for privacy regarding personal data.
“It is also necessary for purposes of the National Credit Bureau.”
In June, Lehohla said a new biometric system will “combat the multiple passport application problems” that the ministry was grappling with.
Meanwhile, Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) deputy leader Thabang Kholumo was sworn in as an MP in parliament last Friday.
Kholumo replaces party leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who resigned from parliament last May.
Rakuoane said he was stepping down from parliament to devote more time to party business in preparation for the 2012 general elections.
Motsamai notified the House that according to the National Assembly Election (No.1) (Amendment) Act 2001, section 146 A (1) the Speaker of the National Assembly was entitled to “appoint the next person on the list in order of preference”.
“The House is therefore informed that, in accordance with this provision of the law, the person so appointed is Mr Thabang Kholumo who shall proceed to the table to take the oath,” Motsamai said.
Parliament was on a three-month winter recess since May 27.