Open letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Honourable Prime Minister Mosisili,

WITH revenues from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) that have long accounted for a greater portion of Lesotho’s income dwindling fast, it is imperative for Lesotho to be prudent in the management of her scarce resources.

Proper management of resources is important especially for a country whose manufacturing sector is too tiny to generate substantial wealth.

In this time of waning donor support due to the worldwide recession there is urgent need to ensure that those entrusted with managing the national pursue do it in utmost good faith to promote national interest instead of narrow selfish pursuits.

Yet judging by the way the process to select a new company to take over the administration of our new e-passport issuing system is being handled, we strongly feel that this is far from being the case.

Should it only be the case, Prime Minister, that effective and transparent standards of awarding lucrative tenders should be followed only when an international donor is involved to provide a watchful eye?

Witness how the related tender for a new national identity card system has been handled.

Because of the involvement of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), the US-funded donor for the project, there is a veneer of legitimacy to how the process is being conducted.

A number of reputable international firms have since tendered for this very complex project.

At the request of some of them, the tender was even extended until it closed on January 17 2011 to give them more time to submit bankable bids.

No one willing to be involved was excluded.

At the opening of bids, 10 of the best companies in the world in providing ID systems were present.

We are extremely concerned that this is in sharp contrast to the veil of secrecy surrounding the current attempts to identify a supplier of new e-passports.

The way this process is being handled is greatly disturbing if not debilitating.

We notice that because this project will be funded purely from the state’s own coffers without the watchful eyes of any donor demanding transparent standards, the vultures are already circling, with very scant regard to national interest.

We feel this is unfortunate. 

We are sure that you would not like your legacy Prime Minister to be tainted any more by corruption scandals.

The taint of the 2006 scandal in which luxury state vehicles purchased at taxpayers’ expense were doled out to government ministers and bureaucrats at less than a pittance and the subsequent international headlines this attracted must be avoided at all costs.

This you can only achieve by ordering the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Home Affairs to stop their current shenanigans over the e-passports matter in favour of an open, transparent, fair and well-advertised tender process in which the best company will win the job. 

It goes without saying that the current passport administration system in which Basotho wait for years to access this critical document is a tragic national circus needing correction.

The current backlog of 200 000 plus passports in a country of less than 1.8 million people is a major national embarrassment and bears testimony to the crass incompetence, not only of the French company originally entrusted with this tender, but those who selected it in the first place.

While the belated realisation that this problem needs fixing is welcome, the fixing needs to be done properly.

And there is no better way to achieve this than through an open public tender process which gives the best in this trade a chance to present their cases.

Despite the words from Minister Lesao Lehohla that the process is above board, evidence is mounting that this process might be manipulated by those involved in favour of an already identified particular bidder. 

At face value there appears nothing wrong with the minister’s claim that his bureaucrats have gone to Botswana on a fact-finding mission.

The question is why Botswana? What process has led them into selecting Botswana in particular? Why not Namibia? Why not Angola? Why not any other country?  Will other would-be bidders be afforded an opportunity to take these bureaucrats on tour to witness their successes in installing e-passport systems elsewhere?

Why waste money on fact-finding missions when a simple open tender process would have been the best way to bring in the best solutions?

We fear that one service provider could be favoured.

There are fears that by agreeing to take on the Botswana trip they could seal a deal without any open tender.

It’s now common cause that only a few selected bidders have been invited to tender for this multi-million maloti project that has serious implications on national security.

It is not a case of any would-be provider pitching up at the Ministry of Home Affairs to present their cases unannounced.

We are confident that you will agree with us that identity documents, passports and drivers’ licence tenders are akin to the procurement of arms because of their very lucrative nature. 

Companies involved would stop at nothing to land these deals, particularly if the selection processes are as opaque as we are seeing on the e-passport tender.

Honourable Prime Minister, we feel the only transparent and effective way to remedy this debacle is through an open, well-publicised tender process in which the best bidder will be selected.

The case of the MCA tender is telling.

There were no shady fact-finding missions dispatched to any country. A tender was widely advertised and the best responded.

Prime Minister, the ball to stop this e-passport rot is firmly in your court. We think the consequences of rigging this important process are too ghastly to contemplate.

Please spare a thought for international donors who are rightly showing increasing antipathy towards corrupt regimes and are now withholding their aid. In light of our poor status, our systems must inspire the confidence of those willing to help with aid.

Moreso, as the ID system, being funded by the MCA, will inevitably feed into the new passport system and vice-versa, we cannot afford to have a transparent process in the adjudication of one strand of this system and a completely opaque process for the other.

The only person who can stop this rot is you, Honourable Prime Minister. We therefore appeal to you to decisively intervene, in the national interest, by ordering an open tender process for this project.  

Lesotho Times

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