A heavy load to carry

A heavy load to carry

At around 2pm last Thursday, 21st May, I had to leave everything I was doing to rush home with great enthusiasm to listen to an announcement of the “new” cabinet.
Well much to my disappointment I realised that it’s pretty much the usual suspects with a spice of newbies here and there. But my biggest worry and disappointment was the return of the “Mokhotlong squad”. It’s back in full force. Jesus!

The new cabinet seems and has a feeling of those “under new management” signboards you find at run-down and dilapidated hotels. I mean the signboard will say under new management but all else is the same. Same rude receptionist, same dull menu and the same stinking rooms. The only thing that is new is the signboard. 

I must first congratulate Dr Moeketsi Majoro on his appointment as Lesotho’s 7th Prime Minister since independence. I must also congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister, Mathibeli Mokhuthu, and the new cabinet of ministers at large. Well done! 

I hope and pray that Mokhothu will support Majoro and work with him earnestly. He shouldn’t see himself as a co-Prime Minister or competitor but a pillar of strength to support Majoro.
It is without a doubt that the incoming government has a daunting task ahead of it. It has the heaviest load to carry more than any government that has sat since independence. The biggest load to carry is the Covid-19 crisis coupled with the economic and unemployment crisis.

I pity the new health minister, Minister Maqelepo. He will certainly be the face of the Covid-19 crisis in Lesotho. The entire nation will look up to him for solutions. What I really do not understand is the reason why he was appointed to that position and why he accepted it.

I understand that Maqelepo is trained as a computer scientist and he would have slotted well at the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology. I failed to see the reason why Chief ‘Maseribane has retained that post. He excelled at the Ministry of Sports and did exceptionally well in the first coalition government of 2012.

In my opinion, Minister Maqelepo has been set to fail and that would be very unfortunate for a very young politician with a long career ahead of him. An appointment at the Ministry of Health is like diving straight into the deep-end on the first day of learning how to swim.
I wish Minister Maqelepo could have been afforded an opportunity to acclimatise in the business of running a government first, by posting him at the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology.
Throwing him to deal with the Covid-19 crisis that needs specialised skills is going to expose him badly. I don’t think he’s an incompetent person and from what I’ve heard he’s quite smart but this crisis needs someone with vast experience and excellent communication skills.
One the other hand, poverty has never looked so glaring like this before. Shacks are mushrooming at an alarming rate. Basotho seem to have gone in the business of planting shacks instead of food. Maseru, Maputsoe and Mafeteng have become shantytowns. The masses are very desperate and hungry.

I still fail to understand the reason why Basotho have neglected agriculture as a source of jobs and a way of producing nutritious food.
The incoming Government has to focus on the easy things first. Unfortunately, it only has about 18 months to achieve something. The danger is that the new government could be consumed by crisis management due to the Covid-19 crisis and the knock-on effects to the economy.

Not only that but to manage an ill disciplined, corrupt and demotivated public service. This could be Majoro’s biggest challenge. Management of Lesotho’s public service sector has been neglected for a very long time.
The trend has always been to throw a soft or incompetent minister and Principal Secretary (PS) at the Ministry of Public Service and this has created adverse long-term challenges. It’s like running an engine without oil.

The Ministry of Public Service is seen as the least important among all ministries and has been placed on par with the likes of the Ministry of Sports, Forestry and Tourism. Well, I guess the reason behind that thinking is based on the budget allocations per ministry.
Top dogs (Ministers) will be allocated to ministries with the biggest share of meat and those are energy, public works, health and education and that is a serious misconception.

The Ministry of Public Service is the engine of government. That is where the decisions made by cabinet are put into action. That is where the public interacts with a government. In fact, Public Service is the hand that interacts with the public or constituents. A weak public service sector will result is a weak government and a weak leader (Prime Minister).

Look, Majoro can have the best plans in the world or the best brains in the world. But the effectiveness of the plans and ideas that he has will be implemented by the public sector. Let me make a simple example with something that we see everyday on our roads.
Our police service is usually absent at the time that it is needed the most. No, I’m not saying our policemen and women are bad people but the management or mismanagement of them can make a government look weak and incompetent.

An example is with the traffic situation. When traffic is bad at hotspots such as the Cathedral Circle, Lakeside, Thetsane, Thabong/Lekhaloaneng, Ha Matala and Borokhaneng, the police officers are usually absent and what does that say to the public on the ground (the electorate)?
It quickly sends a wrong message that “this government is incompetent”. This would mainly be due to mismanagement or a few rogue individuals that simply don’t want to work. So, why post Ntate Sekatle at the Ministry of Public Service? At the engine of government?

I have to admit that there’s very little that can be done to undo the damage caused within the Lesotho’s Public Service sector, especially in the remaining two years.
Fixing the Public Service sector is like overhauling a damaged engine that either ran without lubricants or a damaged piston. It’s not a quick-fix solution and takes time to undo the damage.

At the very least, we need someone that can manage the front-line staff that interacts with the public at places such as the Passport Office, Department of Traffic, police officers and health workers. That is where most of the damage to government comes from. But how do you incentivise the government’s human resource department with very little money in the pocket?
The tax-revenue is very low. The diamond mines and the textile factories are not generating any income and that is the major source of tax revenue for the government. The current financial year of 2020/2021 will certainly be faced with a major cash-flow crisis that may result in salaries for civil-servants either being delayed or at worst, being cut. But what are the solutions?

As I’ve been saying, the time is definitely limited for drastic changes. An 18 or 24-month period left until the 2022 elections is very limited to achieve anything notable. But if I were Majoro or in Majoro’s shoes I would focus on the following with immediate effect:
l Set-up a development fund (Loti Development Fund)
Lesotho needs to establish a fund that will provide funding for major projects or projects of national importance.

l Raise capital from selling idle and redundant government assets.
Government can raise well over 10 Billion Maloti.
l Reintroduce the Privatisation Unit
l Prepare to sell Moshoeshoe International Airport
l Sell the Basotho Canners Factory
l Sell the Lesotho Post Bank to Capitec Bank and establish a National Bank of Lesotho with funds from the sale.
l Sell Victoria Hotel
l Sell the Setsoto Stadium, the Convention Centre and the state library (sell it to Limkokwing University).
l Sell the LNDC Centre complex
l Sell the Standard Lesotho Bank shareholding.
l Prepare a master-plan for new commercial border posts
l Invite expressions of interest for a new border-post and an upgrade and expansion of the Maputsoe border post.
l Focus on Public-Sector reforms
l Start vigorous plans to re-engineer the public sector.
l Strengthen the DCEO

More funding and more autonomy for the institution.
Seek external assistance.
l Audit the government assets (Compile a GoL balance sheet)
The government loses millions on an annual basis due to theft of government assets.
The Lesotho government needs to have a clear understanding of its asset base and liabilities.
l Tighten on illicit cash out-flows (leakages).
That will explain why there’s only 12.4 Billion Maloti in cash deposits in all four commercial banks.

l Regulate the Mining Industry
l Appoint a regulator (Lesotho Mining Authority).
l Localise the industry and stop illicit cash outflows and undeclared diamonds.
l Start marketing/advertising Lesotho internationally.
Lesotho needs to be advertised as an investment and tourism destination. The time to start is now, even in the time of global crisis.
l Re-capitilise the National University of Lesotho (NUL)
The National University of Lesotho and other institutions of higher learning have been neglected and undercapitalised. It’s time to start re-building the institutions.

In closing, the most important factor is to establish and cement the PPP policy in order for government to start engaging the private sector in re-activating and stimulate the economy.
However, the fallen fruits will forever be the visible things such as street lighting, road marking, repair of pot-holes, police uniform, garbage collection (cleanliness) and just simple law and order. Well, law and order includes cleaning up the mess at the Judiciary.
Good luck!

‘Mako Bohloa

Previous Majoro must seize control
Next Thabane in the dustbin of history

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