THE Labour Commissioner, ‘Mamohale Matsoso says that there is need for an overhaul of the work permit system to do away with possible malpractices in the department.
Ms Matsoso said the current system has loopholes, adding that she had been unfairly accused of corruption in the issuance of work permits.
Last week Ms Matsoso and some ministry officials were accused by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of being part of a syndicate that fraudulently issues work permits in exchange for bribes from foreigners.
Ms Matsoso said while she felt bullied and vilified in last week’s PAC session with the Ministry of Mines, her ordeal gave her an opportunity to push the authorities to modernise the system of issuing the work permits.
She added that the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) had attested to the fact that Lesotho’s work permits system was outdated and needed a complete overhaul.
“During our discussion with the IOM in 2016, they said that our system is outdated,” Ms Matsoso said.
“The current system does not conform to international best practises. It is still manual so if you want a document you have to go through a heap of files. It needs to be computerised. We still rely on the police to issue work permits.”
Ms Matsoso said the IOM has also indicated that there should be a political will for the overhaul to be implemented.
“But their (IOM) reaction has been that without a clear political will they cannot even begin to analyse the system. We have learnt that they have already assisted Tanzania to computerise their work permit system. They have said they were ready to talk in reality about it if there is political will in government because it needs a complete overhaul.
“The IOM said it is a project that involves funds of very significant magnitude, costing millions. They did not give the exact figure of the money that would be needed but said it would be a project that is as big as the national identification system. It is something that you cannot just improve by changing few provisions of the law there and then,” Ms Matsoso said.
She said that the law was rigid so much that no distinctions were made on emergencies and other situations where work permits were required. She said the current law requires one to have a work permit even for short-term engagements which she said was not really necessary when the applicant is just rendering a service but not taking up a job.
“This is the rigidity of the law. If we were to apply this law, technically no one would come to help the country in times of emergency. I used to write letters to acknowledge the presence of such people who come on short-term engagements but I stopped once I realised that some officers were accessing my office stamp to issue such letters fraudulently.”
Ms Matsoso said that she was hopeful that the allegations levelled against her would inspire the authorities to work on the old-fashioned work permits system.
“Maybe this noise will stir our principals to start looking realistically at our situation. The United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) has also spoken on the work permits but there is no work on the ground to overhaul the system.
“There is no movement. However, we will see what happens once this dust has settled. My intention is to use this opportunity again to knock on the principals’ doors to plead with them that some work has to be done on the system.”
Ms Matsoso refuted the allegations that she was part of a syndicate that fraudulently awarded work permits, adding that there were checks and balances that ensure that there was transparency.
“We use a procedural system which allows us to ensure that there is transparency. The work permit applications go through the National Employment Services, my office, the office of the deputy principal and then to the Minister for final approval. I am not part of any syndicate. We try as much as possible to work in a transparent way,” Ms Matsoso said.