Fighting disasters in the era of neoliberalism

Fighting disasters in the era of neoliberalism

FOR countries such as ours, the outbreak
of the Coronavirus has further exposed the
bankruptcy of neo-liberalism and its advocacy
for a ‘small state’, capable only of looking
after the security and welfare of a minority
in society.

That was true for Lesotho state’s capacity
even before we were forced to reduce it further
— a process we completed in the 1990s.
What remained was a government whose
role became limited to using our taxes to pay
corporations and companies that provided
shoddy but overpriced services and projects
that cost more than good ones.

On a daily basis, we are witnesses to the
wickedness of the thinking behind a limited
state. Disasters such as the outbreak of the
Coronavirus always reveal how tragic a reduction
of state capacity is for the poor and
needy. We saw earlier when in its plans to
fight the spread of the virus the Lesotho government
seemed to have forgotten about the
homeless of Maseru. When their eyes were
opened to this, Ministers had no answer and,
instead, expressed hope that people and organisations
of goodwill would look after the
homeless.

In other words, if, as we are told, success
of strategies to curb the spread of the
Coronavirus requires provision of care to the
homeless, the government has relieved itself
of that responsibility and has shunted it off
to the goodwill of well-intentioned organisations,
company owners, and individuals.

We saw consequences of restricting the
state’s participation in the provision of social
welfare also when the government had to almost
beg wealthy individuals and companies
for assistance.

None of this is to say there is anything
wrong with the generosity of individuals and
companies who wish to assist at times like
now. What is questionable is when governments
become unable to perform what ought
to be their role, and have to depend on the
goodwill of private individuals.

Ordinarily, donations and assistance
ought to be additional to the government’s
resources and capacity. That is not where we
are. We are where private donations constitute
the mainstay of resources to fund a public
fi ght against a pandemic. It is undesirable
and dangerous. Among other reasons, there
is never a guarantee that monies and other
assistance from these corporations are not
ill-gotten gains.

It puts us at the mercy of companies such
as the one that the government has licensed
and allowed to operate from Thaba-Bosiu to
take Basotho wool-growers’ produce cheaply.
The symbolism and cynicism are probably
lost to the government but not to owners of
the company, in this world of neo-liberalism
where nothing has value and everything has
a price at which it can be sold to the highest
bidder.

From a government and governance perspective,
when corporations call on politicians’
indebtedness to them, governments
are never able to act impartially and transparently
when these corporations apply for
public tenders. Ministers would prevent offi
cials from ensuring that work and services
that such companies provide to the government
are performed up to the required standards.

These failures cost taxpayers hugely.
All of us, including the homeless, elect
politicians and not private companies during
election time; and we pay taxes to governments
formed by politicians we elect. That
should count for something at times such as
this.

We have been warned: this is not the last
time we will have to deal with something like
this. Globalisation has made sure of that.
The next outbreak must fi nd us having the
capacity to look after the most vulnerable,
and health facilities to identify and care for
the sick.

Professor Motlatsi
Thabane

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