THERE was some never-seen-before hype when the previous government touted the giant leap to ensure every Mosotho acquires an identity document. And surely earlier this year, with pomp and ceremony, our national ID project became a reality in our lifetime.
That such an important project was marred by questions over the tender was thrashed out in the media and investigations are still under way. That our leaders displayed maturity in bringing this project to fruition despite obvious opportunity to score political points is commendable.
Our nation had remained in the Dark Ages with an undocumented citizenry in our proud Kingdom and it was a dent in our sense of nationhood. But for all the clear merits that accompanied the initiative to provide every Mosotho with a national ID, the devil is in the implementation.
The way IDs are being processed is worrisome. “Many people still do not understand the requirements for national registry. People think we are being difficult. We are not being difficult. We just want to do things the right way,” Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo said earlier in the year. Understandably, Molapo says his ministry wants to prove the authenticity of information provided.
It is good Molapo rightly wants things done properly. It is important to ensure the authorities cover all the possible loopholes in order to guarantee a foolproof identification system that will last even a generation or beyond, if possible.
On the other hand, in trying to be thorough there is a clear risk of discouraging citizens who are increasingly frustrated by the rigorous procedure, which they view as forbidding.
Many are already complaining about the “impossible” attachments that they are asked to bring to register their births and ultimately apply for an identity document.
Applicants said they have been tossed back and forth to bring documents that are not easily accessible. If they are not sent back for a baptismal certificate they are asked to bring parents’ identity documents or marriage certificates. Many have complained, not without justification.
Take the case of one woman whose mother died a decade ago when she was only a child and was therefore oblivious to the importance of her parent’s particulars at the time of her mother’s departure yet the authorities insist on her bringing such particulars.
To make matters worse, the father disappeared in South Africa many years ago and has not been heard of since.
Where on earth can she start searching for them? We are of the view that while it is important to ensure a thorough system in guaranteed, this must be tampered with large doses of realism. A system that works, albeit with limitations, is better than an unworkable process which risks remaining an unattainable elixir.
In any case, systems are always in continuous motion, changing with changing circumstances. Even if authorities stick to their guns and insist on a strict regimen, a few years down the line someone will discover unforeseen shortcomings. Everything under the sun is anything but perfect. What matters is the practicability.
There was excitement that the registration system was also going to aid in the establishment of a new voter register.
While elections are a four far years away, at the slow rate at which citizens are acquiring IDs, the road to the next election will prove a short distance. This could likely breed chaos in the nation after many potential voters are disenfranchised.
Many Basotho are beginning to think the requirements are so hard to meet that the government doesn’t really mean to secure IDs for every citizen. The excitement is fast wearing thin, giving way to a bitter reality that makes the system seem like the notorious red tape that has hampered development in many emerging democracies is still in place. Reports that services are slow at Home Affairs leading to long queues will only lead the man or woman on the street to weigh options.
Inevitably people will ask: Why should I wait for hours on end to lose productive time just to get what should be my birthright?
The biggest question is: How do other countries do it? Can’t we take some notes from them so we expedite the issuance of identity papers? The slothful process ultimately slows down business. The private sector has repeatedly argued for proper national IDs. Without these, crooks will continue to successfully dodge one debt or the other, seriously denting business confidence.
Among nations the competition to attract investors has been getting more and more vigorous over the past decade and only countries which meet finer guidelines in providing an enabling environment for business will benefit. In the end, undue strictness in issuing IDs is likely to stifle the very economic and democratic opportunities that we set out to widen.