Au hits the ground running

….as he brings services closer to the people

MASERU – New Home Affairs Minister Tsukutlane Au, has set about transforming the ministry with an unprecedented gusto.

He is breathing new life into projects aimed at taking services closer to the people. These projects include Livestock Branding, revamping the National Identity and Civil Registry and seeking extension of the Lesotho Special Permits, which allow Basotho to work and move freely in the South Africa.

This week Public Eye catches up with Au, who has been in office for slightly over two months, and is also a former Public Service Minister, in former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s coalition government, which collapsed in March this year.

Au, along with Mosisili’s former deputy Monyane Moleleki, deserted the erstwhile premier’s camp with several other MPs to form the Alliance of Democrats (AD) in December 2016.

The new party entered into a new coalition government with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), Public Service Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rants’o’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), post this year’s national assembly elections.

Au, who lost his native Thaba-Putsoa constituency to Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC), was appointed to the Senate and eventually to cabinet as home affairs minister.

Below are excerpts from the interview with Public Eye’s Bongiwe Zihlangu, where Au details activities his ministry is involved in, while also looking into the crystal ball for future endeavors.

PUBLIC EYE: First things first. How do you find this new environment especially in comparison to the Ministry of Public Service, where you were Principal Secretary and the minister?

TSUKUTLANE AU: I was in Public Service both as PS for a long time, then as minister. In fact, one could say I’ve been in that ministry most of my working career. So, coming to the Ministry of Home Affairs is a welcome change for me. I’m enjoying being here and learning new things. It’s true that there were quite a number of projects that I was pursuing in my former ministry, but it’s good to be here pursuing something different from Human Resource Management, which was primarily what I did in public service.

P.E: In what state did you find the Home Affairs Ministry in? Did you immediately feel like making some changes or are you taking things one day at a time, learning as you go?

T.A: You know, there’s a saying that when you arrive at a place and you find a fence erected, you don’t just take it down. Instead, you must first establish why it was erected in the first place. It’s only when you understand the motive behind the erection of such a fence, that you can then decide whether to keep it or take it down.

Hence, I couldn’t immediately make changes because I first had to learn certain things were done and how some decisions were arrived at. I’ve made some changes in terms of breathing new life into already existing programs, such as the Livestock Branding and Identification project as well as the National Identity and Civil Registry.

For example, the NICR project is now called Operation U Mang (Operation Who Are You when loosely translated)? The livestock branding and registration project is now called Operation Ha Li Eme Re Botse (stop so that we can establish some facts).  

P.E: Please unpack the livestock registration and branding aspect, elaborate on what it’s all about.

T.A: Operation Ha Li Eme Re Botse, entails the branding and registration of livestock, under their owners who are also registered for authentication purposes. Animals are registered under their respective districts’ registration letters in a similar manner done with cars. For instance, Maseru wears the letter M, while Butha-Buthe wears B, Leribe C, Mafeteng E, Quthing G, Qacha’s Nek H and so forth, inscribed next to the traditional mokorotlo hat which represents Lesotho.

Also branded on the left-hand side of their bodies and tattooed in their ears, are their owners’ markings, as well as the principal and area chiefs’ unique numbers.

This way, we are doing away with age-old traditional marks and ensuring that animals from different districts in Lesotho have different codes branded on them, in a bid to avert rampant stock theft which is ravaging our country and rendering livestock farmers poor.

It’s also virtually impossible to remove the branding and tattoos unless you cut the animals’ ears and surgically removing the branded skin, thus subject poor animals to unnecessary pain. Secondly, if one goes to drastic measures to remove the branding, it will result in animals’ features being modified, which will have to be accounted for.

This way we are also building a data bank to easily identify livestock owners when their animals are found.

P.E: There were plans some years back, to introduce the micro-chip technology for tracking and identifying livestock. Are those plans still in the pipeline?

T.A: I’m yet to go back to it and establish what happened to the program, which was only a proposal at the time. It’s very important yes, but also very expensive, because it’s a tracking system which can function effectively using modern technology. It’s the same technology used to tack stolen motor vehicles.

While the technology is not prohibited, it’s also not part of our legislation. This means we’ll have to look into it when we amend laws. Expensive as it is, some livestock farmers might prefer to use it, thus causing it to become cheaper as time goes. Hence, we need to amend our law and include micro-chipping as one of our options.

Besides, government has been subsidizing crop farmers with fertilizers, with government paying about M200 for every M300 bag of fertilizers, while farmers pay the balance. But subsidies for livestock farmers are not clear, which says maybe in the future, we should consider subsidizing livestock farmers.

P.E: What are the adverse results of livestock theft, particularly to the country’s economy?

T.A: There’s immense damage to the livestock industry and the country as a whole. For example, wool and mohair farmers contribute an estimated M250 million to the country’s GDP annually, while also employing about 75 000 herd-boys nationwide. I was shocked when I discovered the figures, they emphasise the importance of owning livestock. When thieves take your livestock by force, even kill to prove a point, they are taking away your livelihood, rendering you poor.

I’m from the rural areas where I herded cattle for the better part of my education. Growing up, my cousin and I would take turns herding our family’s livestock. Some days I go to school while my cousin tended to the livestock and vise-versa. I didn’t go to school every day because somebody had to herd the animals.

Livestock is very important to owner because they generate cash through sales of wool and mohair, thus managing to sustain their families and paying for their children’s education.

I know many people are opposed to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s stance that thieves must be killed. The truth of the matter, is that those people are ruthless. If you resist when they steal your livestock or attempt to stop them when they drive stolen animals away, they kill you without so much as a morsel of remorse.

P.E: Now onto “Operation U Mang?” Please unpack it.

T.A: This is being done under the NICR, where we are touring the country, registering Basotho and issuing them with birth certificates and national identity cards. By virtue of having the two, it’s easier to apply for and get a passport in the space of day because your details are already in the civil registry.

Again, unlike in the past where passports were used as a means of identity, it’s now easier to get services by merely producing your ID, anytime, anywhere. We also issue marriage and death certificates, and issue licenses authorizing certain individuals like clergymen and so on, to marry couples.

P.E: What are the economic benefits of issuing Basotho with IDs?

T.A: What I’ve learnt is that poor means of identification for our citizens put us at a disadvantage, particularly in the banking sector, whose services are expensive despite it being the backbone of our economy. Due to our people not being properly documented, we were deemed as high-risk. But when we’re finished with the country’s biometric documentation, we can look forward to lower costs and cheaper services because of a reliable national identity register.

Previously, people would take loans using their passports, only to disappear and apply for new passports. But the biometric system means registration is a once-off thing, which cannot be changed.

P.E: Now onto the Lesotho Special Permit which allows Basotho to work freely in South Africa for four years, as a one-off deal, do you any plans in the pipeline, to engage S.A.’s government with a view to extending the LSP?

T.A: Arrangements are already underway, to meet with South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Professor Buhle Mkhize. I want to do away with the four-year deal. I mean, what do you expect to happen to Basotho working in SA when the prescribed period lapses?

I need to secure a long-term arrangement for my people, which is unique and takes into consideration our geographical situation.

Our relationship with SA which we are landlocked by, is different from that of the country with other neighbouring states like Zimbabwe and Zambia and the like.

The LSP was benchmarked on the Zimbabwean special permit. I don’t understand why our sub-project was modelled around that of Zimbabwe. But the new agreement has to be long-term and take into account a lot of factors.

While we cannot run away from the fact that the LSP was a great initiative, which put an end to the detention in Lindela of Basotho working illegally in South Africa, I want something that is much better and covers all Basotho working in that country.

Remember the LSP as designed only for Basotho who went to SA before September 2015.

I also don’t appreciate how Basotho were milked for the permits, being compelled to pay M970 to secure one.

This time around we prefer something that will cover all Basotho in S.A. and those who are yet to go. It has to happen, because our situation is different from that of other countries. Maybe we need to establish how the Vatican has managed to exist within Rome, or how Monaco has related with the French all this while.

We must a special arrangement with SA because we don’t have any other neighbor.

P.E: Previous Lesotho governments have briefly touched on removing the Dual Citizenship clause appearing in section 41 of the constitution of Lesotho. How far are you? Is the current government considering allowing dual citizenship for Basotho?

T.A: Because it is a constitutional issue as you’ve already noted, it’s something that will be addressed during the reforms programme that Lesotho is about to venture into. You will remember that we have parliamentary, constitutional, security, judiciary and public sectors reforms.

The dual citizenship issue will be looked into, when we undergo constitutional reforms. While there’s no official line as we speak, I think we will be forced to come up with an official stance.

We will have to talk about. We will have to talk to about it and involve interest groups in the process.

We will need to take a stand eventually, do what is best for Basotho.

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