Ministry in war of words with SA permits agency

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

The Ministry of Home Affairs has condemned Free Movement Consultants for charging Basotho after assisting them to make online applications for the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) being offered by South Africa.

The LSP was approved in October last year by the South African government and is valid for four years—from 1 May 2016 to 30 April 2020. Its purpose is to regularise the stay of Basotho who had been residing illegally in South Africa and allow them to work, study and operate businesses in the neighboring country.

However, many Basotho are finding it difficult to fill the LSP application form  online—a situation Free Movement Consultants (PTY) Ltd has since capitalized upon to offer assistance at a fee of M150.

According to the company’s founder, Teboho Kolobe, Free Movement Consultants was born after realizing most Basotho were computer-illiterate.

“We saw an opportunity for job-creation while simultaneously helping our people to get through the strenuous processes of filling the application forms,” said Mr Kolobe.

Besides charging M150 for the online application, applicants can also pay the M970 application fee through the consultancy’s bank account. The applicants are then given proof of payment which helps them secure an appointment with Home Affairs South Africa at their nearest Visa and Permit Facilitation Centre.

However, the Ministry of Home Affairs does not approve of Free Movements’ activities.

“It is very sensitive and against the law for these people to be taking money from applicants. Everyone has to pay through Standard Bank in South Africa; that’s the arrangement and nothing else. People should be careful about the things they do out of desperation,” said Home Affairs Principal Secretary (PS) Borenahabokhethe Sekonyela this week.

Chief Sekonyela also warned LSP applicants that the ministry had no connection with the consultancy and those who chose to engage in any dealings with it did so at their own risk.

“Basotho who apply for the Special Permit should know that the Ministry of Home Affairs has nothing to do with these people and their services. They should not pay them any money. We will not take the blame for people who lose their money to this consultancy,” Chief Sekonyela said.

“We have nothing and want nothing to do with these people and their company. We want them to evacuate the post office premises where they are operating from with immediate effect because they are misrepresenting themselves as part of us.”

He also said it was baffling that the consultancy acquired an office at the post office along Kingsway in Maseru “when we are the ones who have been leased that space.”

“We were told that they subleased because they said they would offer one-stop services but what is surprising is that our rent has not been reduced as should be the case. We are consulting our legal team and want them to evacuate the space.”

But Mr Kolobe said he was surprised to learn of the ministry’s allegations when he had held a meeting with Minister Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane and Chief Sekonyela on 5 January to discuss the same issue.

Free Movement has also consulted its legal representatives, R A Sepiriti Chambers who have since written to the Lesotho Communications Authority to direct radio stations which hosted the ministry on the issue to handover such recordings with immediate effect.

“Our client is the only company in the Kingdom of Lesotho that assists Basotho to register and apply for special permits online,” reads part of the letter.

The letter states that although the Minister of Home Affairs did not mention the name of the company in the various radio programmes he was hosted, “the public understood the said publication to be referring to our client and that has prejudiced the operations of our client because the said publication is false and intended to tarnish our client’s reputation and image.”

Mr Kolobe alleged that the fight was in fact “a political war between me and Minister Rakuoane”.

“I feel sorry for him because I am not going to back down as I am doing everything by the book. I am only trying to make a clean living and not defrauding anyone as it has been claimed.”

Mr Kolobe also showed the Lesotho Times copies of its Trader’s Licence and a tax clearance certificate.

Minister Rakuoane could not be reached for comment as his phone rang  unanswered yesterday.

 

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