Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Long queues, shoddy service at Francistown immigration office

Officers at the Francistown Regional Immigration Office have their hands full as they try to placate enraged customers who are up in arms over the “shoddy service and unreasonably long queues” that they say has become a common feature at the offices.

Customers have raised complaints about the deplorable situation at the regional immigration office, saying that they are made to stand in interminably long queues, sometimes with little hope of getting service, as the office is undermanned. They maintain that the problem started when the Ministry of Labor and Home Affairs made an abrupt decision to close the District Immigration Office earlier this year. The customers maintain that the closure of the District Immigration Office was uncalled for as both offices were already operating at full capacity.

“We were used to the long queues at the district immigration offices and we were very surprised when the ministry decided to centralize all services to the already congested regional immigration office. This has only served to make things worse,” said one customer on Friday.

The ministry’s Public Relations Officer, Lebogang Bok, told The Sunday Standard earlier this year that they decided to close the district immigration office for security reasons.

“As you might be aware, the location of the offices does not augur well for a government office that handles sensitive information. Concerns have been raised about the safety of the documents that are processed by the immigration department and the security of revenue that the office collects on a daily basis,” she said at the time.

To that end, said Bok, the ministry has resolved to close the office indefinitely and move all of its services to the regional immigration office. “All of the services that were offered at the district immigration office will now be accessed at the regional immigration office until suitable premises are identified,” she added.

However, the ministry’s decision has seemingly backfired as customers have started complaining that the regional immigration office is unable to cater for the additional baggage. Before its closure, the district office used to cater for hundreds of individuals every day, most of them seeking to apply for or renew their passports, works, and residence permits and to extend their days of stay in Botswana. These applications would then be referred to the regional office for processing and approval.

However, because of the increased customer base, in the face of inadequate infrastructure and a reduced work force, the regional office has thus far failed to live up to expectations. Customers have thus started voicing very loud complaints about the poor service and the long queues at the regional immigration office.

Elderly customers have also complained that the regional office is inaccessible as it is located on the second floor. They complained that they have a problem negotiating the long winding stairs leading to the offices, and the situation is not helped by the fact that the elevator is perpetually broken.

Even harassed and flustered immigration personnel have also started mumbling complaints that the move to close the district office was a disaster. Speaking on condition of anonymity, an officer at the regional immigration office told The Sunday Standard on Friday that the ever-increasing number of customers overwhelms them.

He said that he felt that the ministry’s decision to close the office, though justified, was too hasty as no consideration was given to the problem of congestion, which has been dogging both offices for sometime.

“We do not have enough counter and waiting room space to cater for our clients, such that they are forced to loiter around our office windows, which is very distracting,” he said. He also revealed that they are always at a loss to explain their deplorable service to clients.

While Bok maintains that the district office was closed primarily for security reasons, immigration insiders insist that the closure was a move to curb widespread corruption at the district office.

They have also revealed that the move is a continuation of Permanent Secretary Segakweng Tsiane’s personal crusade to overhaul operations and root out corruption at immigration.

The insiders also read further into the ministry’s re-deployment of officers from the district office to different offices throughout the country. They view this as a way of destroying the corruption syndicate that the officers had set up in cahoots with independent consultants who plough their trade at the immigration department. While the ministry has repeatedly insisted that applications for work and residence permits and extensions of days of stay in Botswana can be submitted directly to their officers, it is general knowledge that the consultants can, for a fee, speed up the applications, and they have over the years become an integral part of the operations of the immigration department.

“The ministry is just looking to destroy the cartel. It seems anyone who was somehow suspected of corruption was transferred further and further away from Francistown,” they said.

While she did not wholly concur with these assertions, Bok accepted that the situation at the district immigration office might have facilitated some unsavory activities from some of the employees.

The Sunday Standard last year reported about corruption at the Francistown immigration office. Things came to a head when the office stamp mysteriously disappeared, sparking allegations that some officers had stolen it to use during extra official duties at home.

Undercover investigations by police and intelligence officers uncovered widespread corruption which was said to be fuelled by the influx of Zimbabwean illegal immigrants into Botswana. The investigations also revealed how scores of immigration officers were making a roaring trade, taking bribes to extend days of stay and normalize expatriates’ passports and work and residence permits. At the height of the probe, during which Tsiane was in Francistown, scores of immigration personnel were rigorously interrogated, and some of them incarcerated at the central police station. When the dust settled, some officers were quietly transferred while others left employment mysteriously.

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