Lessons from the Xie Yan case

Lessons from the Xie Yan case

The announcement that the Prime Minister had appointed Yan Xie a Lesotho citizen of Chinese origin as the“Head of Special Projects and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy and Trade Advisor on China-Asia Trade Network” was met with mixed reactions across the country.
Some people welcomed the decision and some were upset by it. People expressed strong views and opinions on the appointment notwithstanding the absence of full details about what the role entails.

This indicates the high level of public interest in the matter. One argument I heard in support of Yan Xie’s appointment is that his accomplishments as a local businessman coupled with his Chinese heritage made him the ideal candidate for the position.

This camp argued that his business experience and his connections in the Far East would be used to attract much needed investments to Lesotho.
Those opposing the appointment however, countered that: l Lesotho has many highly educated and skilled “indigenous” citizens who could do the job just as well if given the opportunity,

l Yan Xie is a naturalised citizen and therefore not a suitable appointee to serve in the PM’s office which they argue should be a no-go area for foreigner. l He is a dubious and dishonest businessman with a shady past. I am not going to argue either for or against the appointment because a lot has already been said about it. What I will do, is to lift out what I think are “bigger issues”that this appointment triggers which I think are more important.

Citizens must be taken into confidence when important appointments are made. It’s clear from this appointment and from many appointments before this one that Basotho expect to be taken into confidence when important appointments are made.

Both the process followed when making the appointment, as well as the criteria applied when making the selection need to be made transparent and shared with the public. If citizens were better informed of these things, a lot of the noise that often surrounds big appointments in Lesotho would be a thing of the past because we would understand the steps taken and the considerations that informed the decision.

I hope that going forward, the government will see the need to be more open about such decisions.
As a country, we need to become more welcoming of migrants .The argument that an“indigenous” citizen should have been considered before a “naturalised” citizen and the argument that the PM’s office should be a no-go area for citizens of foreign heritage, says to me that we are not very welcoming of migrants.

This is unfortunate because we need migrants’ skills to help us drive and accelerate job creation in Lesotho. Migrants the world over have been proven to be net job providers and not job takers.

This means that on aggregate, having a lot of migrants in the economy results in more and not fewer jobs.
Lesotho does not have in sufficient quantities, the skills required to initiate and sustain a fourth industrialization revolution. We therefore need to import these skills.

What we do have however and in abundance, are thousands of young unskilled people who are holders of certificates, diplomas, degrees and not holders of the relevant critical skills this economy needs to expand.
Unless there is a massive influx into Lesotho of people with the relevant skills to drive economic growth, our already untenable high unemployment will escalate.

So instead of debating Yan Xie’s naturalization, we should be debating and discussing ways to modernise our immigration laws and policies so that we attract to our shores, rare skills that will kickstart economic growth. Because on our own, we will not succeed.
We should of course also debate and discuss ways to modernise our education system so that it produces individuals with skills that modern economies require so that in future, we are less dependent on externally sourced relevant skills.

We need to define our national identity in the face of unprecedented global migration.
Due to migration because of economic, political, cultural, environmental and a myriad of other influences, we are not the same people we were 51 years ago when we gained independence.

Let alone the 200 years when this nation was founded. We have had a serious facelift over the years.
For example, in 1968 when we gained independence, we did not look the same as we did in 1818 when King Moshoeshoe founded this nation by welding together disparate groups of clans and chiefdoms.

In the same breath, today in 2017, we do not look the same as we did in 1968 because today, we have citizens of Chinese heritage (and of course from many other nationalities) something we did not have 51 years ago. But we are all citizens of Lesotho. We all bear our allegiance to His Majesty.

We must therefore question the correctness of those who suggest that some citizens should be entitled to reduced rights because they happen to have a different heritage. This is discrimination and therefore wrong. We should also start debating and engaging each other on the question of what we mean today when we say, “ke Mosotho.”

A lot of discussion is required before we can reach an acceptable definition of our common national identity i.e. an identity we can all rally behind because it encompasses our diversity.
We need to discuss for example questions such as the difference between a ‘Mosotho” and a “citizen” of Lesotho. Is there a difference? What is that difference?

What does this difference mean in terms of individual rights and entitlements and obligations to state and King?
Do we have a set of shared values that give us a unique identity in the world? What is it that binds us together and makes us distinct from other nations of the world?

Some of the things said after Yan Xie’s appointment tell me that we are not as a nation on the same page when it comes to how these and other questions must be answered. We don’t embrace a common national identity.
Our systems (intelligence, investigative, prosecutorial, oversight etc) should flag and block appointments of dubious and shady characters to positions in the public service.

If the system fails as some have alleged it has in this instance (Yan Xie’s appointment), it gives credence to claims that perhaps our state institutions and politicians are captured.  If they had not been captured, then Yan (alleged to be a shady character), would be serving time in prison for corruption and tax evasion etc and not serving the nation in the PM’s office.

If the allegations however are not true, then still something is very wrong with our systems.
How can aspersions be cast against individuals and government institutions to the extent we have seen and there are no consequences against the purveyors of such lies and defamatory accusations?

Such conduct is as bad as state capture because it tarnishes the image of government. It causes us to lose confidence in government and state institutions. It’s bad. Both these scenarios suggest that something is not quite right with our systems. Something needs to be fixed and fixed urgently.
Because if we don’t get it right, we run the risk of either being destroyed by state capture or being misled into believing our institutions are not relevant.

I conclude by reaffirming my position that Yan Xie’s appointment is the least of our issues. The four issues I have raised in this discussion are more pertinent and require a bit more than just a cursory consideration.

Poloko Khabele

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