The computerization projects at the department of immigration are primarily meant to reduce the rampant corruption that has been inherent in the department’s structures.
Sunday Standard investigations have revealed that the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs was bolstered by the ever increasing cases of corruption and infiltration by unscrupulous foreign nationals who were working in cahoots with immigration employees, to expedite the implementation of the computerization projects.
The two projects: the visas, residence permits and citizenship computerization project and the passport and border control system project are already in progress and expected to be operational by March 2010.
The visas, residence permits and citizenship computerization project kicked-off in December 2007, at the hands of an Israeli company, NIKUV International Projects, and is expected to be complete by March 2010.
The Passport and Border Control System Project, which started in December last year, is expected to be complete by March 2011.
The issuance of the first e-passport is planned to start in March 2010. The e-passport will have a microchip that is machine-readable with improved security features and design.
Last year, the ministry had to move fast to salvage relations with the international community after a number of shady individuals were apprehended, some of them in criminal activities, in possession of Botswana passports.
Subsequently, the ministry rushed to centralize the issuing of national passports as a security measure and expedited the computerization of national passports and the national border posts.
Stringent measures were also put in place to ensure that lost passports are not replaced willy-nilly, with a fine for a lost passport going up to P2000. The e-passport will apparently be expensive to produce, such that it will be availed to individuals after thorough screening.
For most Batswana, travelling will be facilitated through the emergency travel document.
The Sunday Standard has, in the past, reported on a number of corruption cases at immigration, with passports routinely sold to expatriates, most of them with criminal backgrounds.
In Francistown, it has also emerged that like immigration officials, members of the public are also said to routinely sell their passports and later claim that they have been stolen.
Immigration officers deployed to work on the Botswana-Zimbabwe train last year told Permanent Secretary Segakweng Tsiane that they are unable to carry out their duties because of the presence of bogus immigration officials who serve clients at a fee. The officers reported how they have been edged out of their work stations by these independent consultants who are commonly known as “magumaguma”.
“These people are fully equipped with immigration officers’ uniforms, stationery and government stamps, such that customers are unable to discern between us and them. While we provide services for free, the bogus immigration officers, most of whom are Batswana, charge the gullible travelers a fee for their services,” they said.
Apparently, the independent consultants sought greener pastures in the Botswana-Zimbabwe train after the closure of the Francistown Regional Immigration office, at which they were plying their trade by conning foreigners into thinking that they would expedite their applications for work and resident permits.
Minister Peter Siele also confirmed that they are aware of magumaguma and their illegitimate operations, through which they process visas, trading licenses, and work and residence permits.
“The magumaguma problem will be addressed by the two computerizations. The new documents will have improved security features which will make them difficult to forge,” home affairs public relations officer, Lebogang Bok, said last week.
At the same time, the ministry also adopted stringent anti-corruption strategies which have so far netted over 30 corrupt officers.
Twenty-two of the said officers faced disciplinary action while 8 were shown the door.