Sunday, January 17, 2021

Ministry closes F/town immigration office as corruption takes its toll

Following reports of corruption at the Francistown District Immigration office, the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs last week dropped a bombshell when it announced that it was closing the office.

Speaking to The Sunday Standard on Friday Labour and Home Affairs Public Relations Officer, Lebogang Bok, confirmed that the ministry had decided to close the district immigration office indefinitely because of security concerns.

“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.

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 said.

However, complaints have already surfaced that the regional immigration office is too small to accommodate the large number of customers who usually frequented the district immigration office. Before its closure, the 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.

The regional immigration office has thus far proven to be unable to cater for the large number of people who visit the immigration office. When The Sunday Standard visited the offices on Friday there was a long queue of customers numbering hundreds outside the offices waiting to be served, while more were cramped in the reception area. At the same time, complaints were raised that the regional immigration office is inaccessible as it is located on the second floor. Elderly customers were unable to negotiate the stairs to reach the offices, as the elevator was not working.

Immigration insiders have also rubbished Bok’s contention that the immigration office was closed because of security concerns, saying that the move is a continuation of last year’s initiatives by Permanent Secretary Segakweng Tsiane to overhaul operations and root out corruption at the immigration department.

Bok said on Friday that some of the employees who were employed at the district immigration office have been transferred to different offices throughout the country while others have been deployed to beef up manpower at the regional immigration office. The immigration insiders however insist that the move to transfer some officers was meant to destroy 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 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 the stamp 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.

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