By: Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – Being able to prove one’s legal identity is essential for participation in many areas of life yet some Basotho find themselves stranded as they are unable to do so because the National Identity Document (IDs) is what allows citizens to access the services.

As the first batch of IDs issued in 2014 is set to expire this year and, with the stock critically low at Home Affairs, the debate over removing the expiry date has been intense.

This week, Mekaling No.62 Member of Parliament (MP) and also an MP for majority opposition Democratic Congress (DC) Hon Thabiso Lekitla moved a motion in the highly charged house that seeks to have the expiry date on the IDs eliminated.

Mekaling legislator has called on the government to “suspend the validity period of section 9 of the National Identity Cards Act and issue a legal framework that extends the lifespan of expired IDs while the government is in the process of addressing the prevailing crisis of non-issuance of IDs for the sake of stranded Basotho whose IDs have expired; and who are unable to access some services”.

The section 9 in question reads: “An identity card shall be issued in the name of the King and shall be valid for a period of ten years.”

In 2011 the government passed the National Identity Cards Act, 2011, which operationalized the establishment of the national digital identity register and issuance of the national IDS. The government also went on to mount the new department, the National Identity and Civil Registry (NICR) to oversee these processes.

Last month, on their appearance before the parliament’s Law and Public Safety Committee,  the Ministry of Home Affairs made shocking revelations that the country then was left with just over 1 500 IDs and they were being rationed. The Ministry said they prioritized emergency cases.

It further stated that 179,515 IDs are expected to expire this year, and this number excludes people who will be turning 16 and will qualify to have IDs.

During the financial year 2023/2024 the government did not procure the IDs.

The condition for employment also requires a production of the ID on the prospective employee,  and since the introduction of the IDs, they have in some cases replaced passports as forms of identification.

The Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act, 2008 requires financial institutions to capture the important data of their clients and such is done through the engagement of IDs. The banks also from time to time needs to verify their customers’ information through the know your customer (KYC) process. 

There is a general public outcry over the absence of the IDs issuance in the country. With some taking their lot to the radios and social media platforms.

The World Bank data reveals that about 1.5 billion people are without any form of legal identification making it difficult for them to access economic opportunities and social services.

Seconding the motion, Mechachane No. 1 MP Hon Jane Lekunya argued that, due to expiration and eminent expiration of the IDs issued in 2014 are now up for renewal and some people face challenges of accessing essential services such as school admissions and the banking requirements.

He also pointed out that it is already hard for eligible citizens that are and will be turning age16.

Lekunya called on the parliament to “rescue” Basotho from the predicament of being without IDs.

He stated that even in the event of a death in the family, the Master of the High Court cannot administer the estate and inheritance act to legitimate beneficiaries without the necessary legal identification, as this process requires proof of identity for access.

The opposition members prompted the government to prioritize this motion and have the house work on this issue up to the night as they recently did with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact II three condition precedent laws that unlocked the grant to the tune of just over M6 billion Compact.

The motion was agreed to and now stands adjourned until revisited next time.

Recently, Tanzania has resolved to do away with the expiry date on their national IDs to address the challenges of having to do with the renewal of those IDs. This move comes just when theirs has just expired as they launched them in 2013 a year before Lesotho.

Also in 2023, Malawi announced the extension of their national ID cards that, even though they have expired, should legally be valid until January 2026. This point was also raised during the debate by Hon Kobeli Letlailana, questioning why the government cannot adopt this approach.

As the world rapidly digitizes, the need for digital IDs has become evident.

The African Union’s strategy, ‘The Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa’ 2020-2030 calls on the continent to harness digital technologies and innovation to transform the African societies and economies.

“Achieving digital transformation in Africa requires political commitment at the highest level, private sector and civil society engagement, aligning of policies and sector regulation and a massive scaling up of investment and dedication of resources towards the foundation pillars and critical sectors for digital transformation.

“Digital Transformation is a driving force for innovative, inclusive and sustainable growth. Innovation and digitalization are stimulating job creation and contributing to addressing poverty, reducing inequality, facilitating the delivery of goods and services, and contributing to the achievement of Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals,” reads the strategy.