‘Resolving border crisis the main priority’

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Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane
Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane

BARELY a week after his appointment, Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane and his Deputy Minister Phallang Monare were thrust in the fray of the recurring turf wars between South African and Lesotho transport operators and the deportation of Basotho from the neighbouring country. Added to that, the ministry faces many challenges in the provision of national identity cards and passports as well as rampant stock theft in the countryside. In this wide ranging interview, Advocate Rakuoane talks to Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Billy Ntaote about the strategies he will employ to resolve these and other challenges bedevilling the ministry.

LT: Basotho immigrants returning to their workplaces in South Africa on Monday were once again left stranded following a border blockade caused by the conflict between transport operators. How are you going to ensure free movement of people across the Lesotho-South Africa borders amid such challenges?

Rakuoane: Fortunately, I was able to talk to Transport Minister Tsoeu Mokeretla speedily, as the conflict was under his purview, and the police were also ready to assist in the matter. Through the intervention of the police and Transport ministry officials, the issues which caused the conflict between the operators are being addressed to ensure operations at the border are not affected once again by the conflicts. We have agreed with the minister (Mokeretla) to make the necessary arrangements so we can speedily meet with our South African counterparts and begin talks over these matters. We really need to find a long lasting solution that would ensure Basotho immigrants working in South Africa cannot be blocked from entering South Africa or leaving Lesotho for any reasons. When we went to meet His Majesty King Letsie III, we agreed that one of my priority assignments would be to address the challenges that our people continue to face at the borders.

LT: How will the government improve the conditions for the movement of Basotho into South Africa?

Rakuoane: Immediately after getting the necessary briefing about the operations of the ministry and settling into office, I will then arrange a meeting with my South African counterpart Malusi Gigaba. We will then get to hear the challenges they face with regards to immigrants from Lesotho while we also point out our issues of concern. I believe such a meeting would go a long way towards addressing the challenges we are currently saddled with.

LT: Your ministry’s image has been mired by allegations of corruption and fraud in the awarding of the tender for the provision of national identity cards and electronic passports to the Israeli company Nikuv International Projects. How are you going to work with Nikuv going forward?

Rakuoane: As I said, I am still getting acquainted with the ministry. However, as a result of the conflict between the ministry and Nikuv in the past that resulted in the stoppage of production at some point, we ended up having a peace deal that saw a new proposal being drawn up. There was no new contract that was signed with the company. What we have is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that is meant to ensure we move forward and have a working agreement. However, the MOU is an interim measure to ensure that we can continue to work and issue both IDs and passports to Basotho. The new agreement is still in the proposal form as we speak. There are still some issues we have to incorporate in the proposal for it to meet our demands. These documents have just been brought to my attention as we speak and I will soon be studying the whole agreement before it is finalised.

LT: Livestock farmers in Lesotho have raised concern about the high levels of stock theft. What is your strategy to ensure Basotho can identify their livestock and recover them more easily even in situations where they would have been smuggled into South Africa?   

Rakuoane: The implementation of some of the strategies will be dependent on the availability of funds. If the budget allows us, we will speed up the process of branding the livestock and ensuring that animal farmers also understand the significance of the process. What is, however, surprising is that I, as a farmer, don’t even know how these markings look like on animals. So we have a huge task of educating our farmers about the branding of animals using the new systems. We need to conscietise and mobilise our people on this matter speedily.

LT: What is your assessment of the manner in which the ministry has been run subsequent to coming into office?

Rakuoane: I have realised that this ministry needs to focus more on people’s needs and also on the issue of livestock registration which is integral in ending stock theft. I have also observed that the production of national identity cards, passports and the civil registry are meeting their targets. I want to believe that the other support services are working as hard as the aforementioned departments as we can see their output on a daily basis. Some of these departments are being run as projects and we have found out that the ministry needs to finish them in line with the deadlines set for them, especially the issuance of national identity cards.

LT: There are allegations that the public service has been politicised. How are you going to deal with this perception in your ministry and ensure the public service does its work without partisan considerations?

Rakuoane: To some people, the government we have today was not expected nor even desirable. So the real test for the public service will be whether it can work in the interests of certain political parties or serves every government since it is His Majesty’s government. However, since my arrival, I have appealed to employees in the Home Affairs ministry to ensure they pass this test with distinction and show that they are public servants who serve in His Majesty’s government without bias or any inclinations towards any political party.

They need to pass this test with distinction and show that they are like a well-oiled machine that continues to operate amid changes in the drivers. They are supposed to show that they are a professional public service of His Majesty. The only delaying factor is the implementation of our seven party government policy which is now awaiting the appending of the signatures of the leaders.

LT: How best should the public servants working under your ministry apply themselves to show that they are committed to serving the any government?

Rakuoane: If our government’s policy document was ready for public consumption, we could have clearly shown them our expectations in line with the document. However, there is an urgent need for the whole public service to work according to systems and not according to personalities or assumptions. They need to move away from the view that work should be carried out in a certain way according to the dictates or aspirations of certain individuals. I have already urged the ministry to put in place guidelines that clearly stipulate how work is supposed to be carried out in the ministry so that we have proper systems that guide our daily activities and not just assumptions dependent on personalities.

We aspire to see the whole public service having clear systems to end these personality-based procedures. This would go a long way towards improving the public service. It would also be a new standard that this government would have brought into the public service so that even if governments change there would always be a public service ready to serve in line with the government systems and procedures.

We also need to ensure there is real engagement with other stakeholders in civil society in the allocation of our duties on a daily basis. We need to give the engagement of stakeholders in our work the dignity it deserves as our work cannot be left to us alone as public servants.

 

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