Burning millions as people starve

Burning millions as people starve

MASERU – It started as M240 million. Now a further M248 million is about to be used.  In two years Lesotho, one of the poorest countries in the world, has ‘burnt’ M488 million on elections.

If we add the M200 million used for the 2012 election, which had been scheduled, it means Lesotho has spent M688 million on elections in five years.

In that time the country has repeatedly gone cap in hand to donors to ask for money to feed its people who are starving because of drought.
It has gladly taken donations and grants from other countries to fund its social, education and health programmes.

In its budgets it openly banks on the support of what it calls development partners. Yet it spends nearly M488 million on elections.
The 2015 election was supposed to resolve a political crisis triggered by squabbles in the coalition government.

A new government, it was thought, would clean the political mess. Instead things went haywire and the country began to stumble from one political crisis after another.
On June 3 Lesotho will have another election.

The government that has just fallen to a vote of no confidence thought it would deal with the political and security instability left by the previous government.
It failed.

It would not be overly pessimistic to say even the government that will come in June will upend before it has done much to resolve the fundamental problems.
When politicians speak about elections in Lesotho it’s as if they are talking about a Sunday picnic they can have on a shoestring.

But given the millions spent this means there probably should come a point when people should ask if we are paying the fair price for this ritual of democracy.
At some point the question of whether it is worth spending millions just to have a new government will have to be answered.

The issue is what Lesotho could have done with the money it has used on elections, especially the 2015 and 2017 ones because they were not scheduled.
Some examples of what that can money can do are apparent.

Tsepong Hospital cost M1 billion to build. It took M430 million to build Maseru Mall.  The state-of-the-art China-Lesotho Friendship School atop Berea plateau took M50 million.

We asked other people what they could do with the kind of money Lesotho has spent in elections in five years. Monaheng Papashane of Papashane Construction said with M688 million, he could build eight schools with standard classrooms.

He said each school could have four classrooms together with VIP toilets that could accommodate many people.“This could not be just ordinary schools but the standard ones with pillars,” Papashane said.

Minister of Communications Serialong Qoo said if his ministry could have the same amount, he could ensure that the whole country is covered with transmitters so that radio is accessed everywhere.

He said he could also ensure that all schools, both primary and high, are connected with internet to ease Lesotho’s education system.
The minister said he could ensure that the elders who earn an old age pension from the government, do not have to keep long queues but their monies would be transferred straight into their phones.

Qoo said another important project would be to improve the Lesotho National Broadcasting Services (LNBS) premises.
He also said part of the money could be used to better the standard of the staff.

“LNBS staff could be trained so that they are able to cope with today’s media dynamics,” he said.
In short, he said, this could significantly transform Lesotho’s economy for the better.

Dr ’Molotsi Monyamane, the Minister of Health, said with M688 million he could change Lesotho’s health landscape for the better.
He said he would establish health posts in communities where the village health workers could ensure that all the pregnant mothers get the necessary medication.

Monyamane said he would ensure that the village health workers get paid in time and be equipped with necessary resources like first aid kits to ease their work.
The minister said he could also use the money to buy helicopters so doctors and nurses can get to hard-to-reach areas.

With this money, the minister said, he could ensure that delivering mothers do not pay any fees at all health facilities as a means to encourage all women to go to those facilities.
He said part of this money could be used to assist pregnant mothers so that they do not pay anything when they stay at the waiting rooms ahead of delivery.
He said he could also build a regional hospital at Thaba-Tseka that could help the communities of Thaba-Tseka, Mokhotlong and Qacha’s Neck.

“I could also use part of the money to buy mobile clinics so that street vendors could also access health services because they normally do not have enough time to visit health centres,” he said.
“Civil servants and factory workers should also be availed with health services because they also do not have enough time to visit the health centres,” he said.
Monyamane indicated that he would also encourage the unemployed nurses to form their own organisation that would help test patients.

Asked what they could do with the money, the Marketing Manager of Matekane Group of Companies, ’Mapeka Polane, said they could put more focus on fighting unemployment by empowering young people.

She said they could host business workshops twice a month to sensitise the youth about entrepreneurship and also provide them with capital to start up their own businesses after the training programmes.

“We could build parks connected with internet throughout the country so that internet is accessed in all the 10 districts of Lesotho,” Polane said.
“Currently, youth in Maseru city are more advantaged compared to their counterparts in the districts,” she said.
Polane said lack of facilities such as internet in the districts fuels drug abuse and teenage pregnancy amongst the youth.

Papashane said he has more than 18 years in the construction industry and with this wealth of experience, he knows what it takes in the construction industry.
Likewise, Minister of Forestry and Land Reclamation, ’Marefuoe ‘Muso said if her ministry could have this amount, she would employ thousands of people in the poverty alleviation scheme (Fato-fato).

She said youth in and out of school could be given first priority to work in this project in a bid to cut the unemployment rate amongst youths.
’Muso said she can use it to industrialise bee-keeping and produce honey in large quantities countrywide.

She said most Basotho do not have interest in bee-keeping project which is under her ministry, and having this money, she could encourage youths to love this project as another step towards poverty eradication.

’Muso also said if not developing bee-keeping, she could help communities to build small dams so they could keep water for dry seasons.
“We could ensure that more youths venture into this project as yet another strategy to fight poverty and unemployment,” she said.

She said such money would enable her to go out there to the herdboys to sensitise them on the importance of protecting pastures and wetlands.
“This could also include chiefs and members of community councils,” she noted.

Majara Molupe and Senate Sekotlo

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