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The Validity and Expiry of National Identity Cards in Lesotho: A Double-Edged Sword


Theko Tlebere

National identity cards are crucial instruments in modern governance, serving as primary proof of identity for citizens. In Lesotho, like in many other countries, the introduction and regulation of National Identity Cards (NICs) in 2014, was found to be a significant move for the country that would have serious implications for Basotho’s socio-political and economic life. Ten years later, the government of Lesotho is unable to provide services for renewals, therefore, causing serious problems for the masses. This has even called for a member of parliament to indict a motion calling the government to suspend the validity of the National Identity cards. In my quest to continue educating and showcasing the importance of education in Lesotho, this article shall explore the pros and cons of the validity and expiry of national identity cards in Lesotho, highlighting the intricate balance between administrative efficiency, security, and inclusivity.

The first question that my uncle from Ha Khohlopo would have asked me when we talked about NICs and such a question is what influenced this write-up is the importance of National Identity Cards. National identity cards in Lesotho are more than just documents; they are vital for accessing various services, including healthcare, banking, voting, and social welfare programs. They are also instrumental in enhancing security by ensuring that only legitimate citizens access state services and privileges. However, the regulation of these cards, especially concerning their validity and expiry, presents a range of challenges and benefits.

Let us then inaugurate our arguments by looking at the benefits of having Validity and Expiry Dates on National IDs.

First, Security Enhancement: One of the primary benefits of having a validity and expiry date on national identity cards is the enhancement of security. Expiry dates prevent the long-term use of potentially outdated or fraudulent documents. Regular renewals ensure that the government maintains up-to-date records and can re-verify the identity of the cardholders, thereby reducing the risk of identity theft and fraud. I am sure we are all witnesses to cases of fraud that are in the courts of law relating to NICs.

Second, updated information. Regular renewal processes ensure that the information on the national identity cards remains current. Changes in personal details such as address, marital status, or appearance can be updated, making the identity cards more accurate and reliable.

Thirdly, administrative efficiency. In an ideal situation, I say ‘ideal’ because I cannot proudly allude to this or corroborate it with evidence, but the reality is that implementing expiry dates can streamline administrative processes. It allows for periodic checks and updates, ensuring that databases are not clogged with outdated information. This can lead to more efficient service delivery and better resource management.

The fourth and last benefit that I want to share is the encouragement of civic Engagement. The renewal process can serve as a reminder for citizens to update their details and stay engaged with governmental processes. This can enhance civic participation and ensure that citizens are aware of their rights and responsibilities. This is why banks request us to periodically update our identity documents and most of us do not understand why because we update the same information all the time.

The implied conundrum here could be civic engagement system should be tied to the bank systems so that we are not forced to update our documents with the National Identity and Civil Registry (NICR) department and the banks all the time.

Having said that, let us now look at some of the challenges of having validity and expiry dates on national IDs.

The first one is access barriers. One of the significant drawbacks is the potential barrier to accessing essential services. For citizens who fail to renew their identity cards on time, even if it is because of reasons known to the government like not having cards, accessing healthcare, voting, or banking services can become problematic. This is particularly challenging in rural areas like Ha Khohlopo where my uncle stays full time where access to renewal facilities is very costly for him and even becomes impossible sometimes.

Second, financial and administrative burdens. The process of renewing national identity cards can be costly and time-consuming, both for the government and the citizens. The fees associated with renewal can be a financial burden, especially for low-income households. Additionally, the administrative load on government offices can lead to delays and inefficiencies, just as is the situation now in Lesotho.

Third is the exclusion of vulnerable populations. Vulnerable populations such as the elderly, disabled, or those living in remote areas, might face significant challenges in renewing their identity cards. Let alone receive their cards, after application or at renewal. This can lead to their exclusion from essential services and social benefits, exacerbating existing inequalities. The fourth disadvantage is the potential for corruption. The renewal process can create opportunities for corruption and bribery.

In countries with weak institutional frameworks like Lesotho, the need to renew documents can lead to exploitation by officials, who might demand bribes to expedite the process. Basotho can say a lot on this one because I am certain many of you have a story to tell. With the current situation In Lesotho, these pros and cons are particularly pronounced given the country’s socio-economic and geographical landscape.

The mountainous terrain and widespread rural population make access to renewal facilities a significant challenge. The government has made efforts to streamline the process, but logistical difficulties remain. Furthermore, the socio-economic divide means that the financial burden of renewing identity cards can disproportionately affect the poorer sections of society more than any other part of society.

Despite these challenges, the importance of maintaining up-to-date and secure identification systems cannot be understated. The balance between security and accessibility remains a critical issue for policymakers. Even though I am not a policy maker nor a government official I would like to urge our government that, to address these challenges, the government of Prime Minister Matekane should consider the following measures.

Firstly, extending the validity period of national identity cards could reduce the frequency of renewals, thus lessening the administrative and financial burden. Because other countries have already removed the validity part in their IDs, I think twenty (20) years of validity would be more acceptable for Lesotho.

Secondly, reviewing the contract with the Israeli company NIKUV could be a move a government with ‘Balls’ can make. I know that’s a no-go area but I suspect their involvement in the ID production is part of our problems. Reducing or subsidizing renewal fees for low-income citizens could also help mitigate the financial impact.

Finally, strengthening anti-corruption measures within the renewal process is essential to ensure it remains fair and efficient.

It cannot be denied that the validity and expiry of national identity cards in Lesotho present a complex interplay of benefits and challenges. While they enhance security and administrative efficiency, they also pose significant barriers to access and risks of exclusion for vulnerable populations. Finding a balanced approach that maximizes benefits while minimizing drawbacks is crucial for ensuring that national identity cards serve their intended purpose effectively and inclusively. The Future is NOW!

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