THE Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has instructed the Ministry of Labour and Employment to temporarily suspend the issuance of work permits to pave way for investigations of alleged fraud by officials in the ministry.
The decision was made when officials from the Ministry of labour and their counterparts from the Ministry of Mining appeared before a joint sitting of the PAC and Natural Resources Committees (NRC). The two ministries were summoned on Monday to answer questions in connection with the fraudulent issuance of work permits to expatriates especially those working for diamond mining companies.
PAC chairperson Selibe Mochoboroane announced the temporary suspension of the issuance of work permits after workers in the mines submitted at least 21 cases in which they alleged that work permits had been issued illegally.
The Labour Code Order of 1992 states that the Labour Commissioner should only grant a foreign national a work permit (also known as a certificate of employment) after it has been established that there are no citizens of Lesotho who are qualified and available for the job in question.
On Monday, the deputy principal secretary of labour, ‘Makhoabane Lelimo, failed to prove that seven applicants out of the 21 cases presented by the workers had the requisite educational qualifications to qualify for the work permits.
In addition, most applicants that had already been issued with work permits only had certificates for completing short courses while some remained in employment and stayed in the country beyond the expiry of their work permits.
Mr Mochoboroane said he suspected the permits currently being processed by the labour ministry were also likely to be issued under fraudulent circumstances.
“Due to the investigations we are conducting as the two parliamentary committees (PAC and NRC), we have decided to suspend the issuance of permits starting Tuesday (21 August) until we have completed the investigations,” Mr Mochoboroane said, adding, “Our suspicion is that even those work permits which are set to be issued anytime from now were processed fraudulently”.
Mr Mochoboroane further said that work permits found to have been fraudulently issued would be canceled after the completion of their investigations.
Prior to the PAC ruling, Lehlohonolo Motlomelo, a worker at the Kao diamond mine in the Butha-Buthe district, said local employees were surprised by the continuous issuance of work permits to foreign nationals when there were locals who had similar or even higher qualifications.
“We see foreigners continuing to come into the country to work in the mines doing the work that Basotho are qualified to do. We cannot understand why the two ministries continue to allow this to happen,” said Mr Motlomelo who is also a member of the Construction and Mine Workers Associations Union (CAMAU).
He further said that some of the migrant workers arrive in Lesotho without the relevant skills for the positions they are given and they eventually get promoted ahead of their local counterparts who would have helped them to learn on the job.
Rapelang Mosae also from CAMAU, cited the example of a South African national who was granted a permit to work as an electrician at Kao Mine when there were locals with the same skills and qualifications.
“We wonder as to how he got that work permit because we have Lerotholi Polytechnic which produces electricians,” Mr Mosae said, adding the mine had also employed foreigners as crane drivers, supervisors, technicians, metallurgists, technicians, human resource and store managers.
He further accused the mine of using underhand tactics to sideline locals thus preventing them from taking over from foreigners once the latter’s contracts expired.
He said whenever foreign nationals’ contracts were about to expire, the mine would re-assign locals to other departments instead of promoting them to replace the foreigners. He said this then enabled the foreigners to get contract extensions on the grounds that there were no locals who could replace them.
Agnes Phatela, who was formerly employed as a diamond evaluator at Kao Mine, told the two parliamentary committees that she was unemployed after the diamond mines overlooked her in favour of foreign nationals.