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Avert teachers’ strike

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THE government could face yet another headache after the three biggest teachers’ unions threatened to down tools to press for better working conditions when schools re-open on August 2.
The unions have given the government an ultimatum to address their grievances by month-end or face a massive job stay-away.
The Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT), the Lesotho Teachers’ Trade Union (LTTU) and the Lesotho Principals Association (LESPA) accuse the government of dithering in addressing their grievances.

The teachers and their principals are a very unhappy lot. They accuse the government of failing to consult them when it passed the new Teachers’ Career and Salary Structure in Parliament.
Under the new pay structure, teachers will no longer be paid based on their academic qualifications.
They are also not happy with the performance contracts introduced by the Ministry of Education.

While we would naturally want to sympathise with teachers, who have historically been underpaid and under-valued for decades, we doubt whether the teachers’ unions have exhausted all avenues to have their grievances addressed.
We urge the teachers to give dialogue a chance. Strike action should be a last resort.

That is mainly because strike action by teachers will not only hurt students, some of whom are preparing for their end-of-year examinations, but the strike will also unnecessarily antagonize relations between the unions and the government.
If the teachers are not happy, they must continue to engage and persuade the government to take up their cause.

Yet on the other hand, the government must demonstrate that it is committed to addressing the teachers’ concerns. It must cast off this image that it is aloof and is disinterested in solving the crisis.
As for specific concerns, the Minister of Education Prof Rapapa is in the best position to address those concerns. Take for instance, the issue of performance contracts.
We still do not understand why teachers would fight the introduction of such a noble endeavour which to us appears designed to improve academic standards.

If there are any differences, such differences should be quickly ironed out. The principle that teachers will be rewarded on the basis of their performance cannot and should not be faulted.
But differences of opinion between the two sides can only be ironed out when the teachers and the government give dialogue a chance.
We are also aware that grievances by teachers over poor pay and working conditions are not new. Teachers have been raising these issues for years, with very little political will on the part of successive governments to act on the issues raised.

That needs to change. Despite enormous sacrifices and the long working hours, teachers remain some of the lowest paid workers in the civil service.
We would be happy if a new, creative mechanism to reward hard working teachers could be found. That way, the education ministry will be able to retain excellent teachers in the classrooms.
It is a pity that some of the best teachers, incensed by the pitiable salaries, have walked out of classrooms in search of better paying jobs in the private sector.
If we retain half of such teachers, our education system, which is now a pale shadow of its former self, would be much richer.

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Stop the leaks

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IN our last week’s issue of thepost, we reported on a story of how the Examinations Council of Lesotho (ECOL) had withheld results of six schools following the leaking of examination papers.
The leaking of the examination papers is not just a criminal matter involving teachers and school principals. It goes to the very heart of our entire school system in Lesotho.

The implications for students and the education system are therefore huge. Once the integrity of our examination system is questioned, we risk ruining the future of thousands of students who might want to further their studies outside Lesotho’s borders.

Our universities and technical colleges might also end up recruiting students who do not necessarily deserve to be there. That would be disastrous.
It is precisely for these reasons that the police must get to the bottom of this embarrassing scandal. It is no small matter.

The police must channel enough resources to weed out the culprits and drag them before courts of law. Anything short of this would have serious implications for future generations.

The cost of failing to act against the culprits will be huge, in the long run.
We are shocked that teachers and some school principals were so brazen in their violation of the law when they leaked the examination papers.

They did not just allow the students to access the question papers way before the exams. But they went on and directly “coached” their students on how to answer certain questions.

At one school, we are told, students all had uniform responses to exam questions. What this scandal has proved is that the Examinations Council of Lesotho has a serious problem on its hands.
It will need to come up with a new, radical approach to stop the rot, or we will have to kiss the integrity of our exams goodbye.

Sadly, this is not the first time that we have reported about examination papers leaking in Lesotho. It has been a perennial problem that has been happening for years.
The tragedy is that the examinations authority has still not come up with a workable system to stop the leaks and effectively punish offenders. This is why we still have this problem bobbling around every year during exam times.

The big question we must all grapple with is: So what must be done?
ECOL, as the technocrats, must come up with fresh ideas to stop the rot.

Perhaps, what is happening in the education sector is a confirmation that we recruited the wrong people to manage and run our schools. We need men and women of integrity to run the system.

If any are identified as bad apples, by leaking exams, the Ministry of Education must be extremely ruthless at expelling such teachers and principals. That is because they would have sold their soul on the altar of expediency.

We need a new policy that weeds out offenders. That policy must be applied without mercy. Only when the ministry has punished offenders appropriately will we be able to see a stop to this madness.

The days of treating teachers and school principals with kid gloves should be over.

The leaking of exam papers is a criminal matter. It must be treated as such. Once the government takes the matter from that angle, then we will see a much more aggressive and serious attempt to stop the leaks.

 

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Tough times ahead for Lesotho

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ELSEWHERE in this issue, we carry a story of the rising and desperate levels of poverty in urban areas after thousands of factory workers were emptied on the streets in the last year or two.
We are aware that the textile sector has been in the doldrums for years. That crisis was worsened following the devastating Covid-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2022.

After decades of economic mismanagement, we are beginning to reap the bitter results of a spectacular failure to diversify our economy.
And so when the textile sector catches a cold, the whole economy falls into a tailspin. With no other solid sectors to stabilise the economy, we are in serious trouble as a country.

The textile sector, with about 35 000 workers, was the second biggest employer after the civil service. That sector, unfortunately now lies in ruins.
Over the last two years, we have watched helplessly as it suffered a devastating bloodbath with thousands of jobs being lost.
That was initially due to a drop in orders from the United States.

In a bid to stay afloat, the textile companies began resorting to laying off workers. The bloodbath has not stopped. More workers continue to be thrown onto the jobless heap.
Without jobs, people can no longer provide the basics for their families. The levels of poverty and desperation have suddenly increased.
But it is not just the factory workers who have been badly hit. Those who relied on the factory workers downstream have been hit too.

Think of the hundreds of landlords in Ha-Tsolo, next to the textile factories in Thetsane. As reported in this issue, the retrenched workers have since abandoned their rented apartments. Some have reportedly sought better opportunities in South Africa while others have gone back to their rural areas.

Without any steady income coming from the rentals, the landlords in Ha-Tsolo who housed textile workers, are in deep trouble. They too were relying on textile workers to eke a living. Now the goose that lay the golden eggs is no more.

Lesotho has a large segment of informal workers. Some of these make a living by selling foodstuffs on the streets in “open kitchens” by the roadside on in their car boots.
These hawkers are now on their knees.

All this points to a real crisis for Lesotho.
If there is anything that will pose a threat to social order in Lesotho, it is the desperate levels to which people are being subjected to. Without jobs, without a basic income to cushion them from poverty, we are likely to see an explosion of anger on the streets.

That is a scary scenario.
Prime Minister Sam Matekane is in an unenviable position as leader. Two years after his rise to the premiership, he must begin to think, fast, how his government can ameliorate this crisis.

Doing nothing cannot be an option. Neither is pointing fingers at previous regimes as the author of our misery. The people think it is him who is in power and he must sort this out.
The time of apportioning blame is over. The people are no longer interested in who caused the problem. All they want is a solution.

While the people were talking of Matekane in “messianic” terms, the reality is that the Prime Minister is no messiah. He is a man of flesh and blood just like all of us.
What he really needs is a team of technocrats to back up his vision with real action on the ground in pushing his transformation agenda.
Only then can his government begin creating the jobs that Basotho desperately need.

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The clock is ticking

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It’s been months since the passport crisis started and the government doesn’t seem to be anywhere near solving it. Instead, we have different explanations that come across as contrived excuses.
Last year, the Ministry of Home Affairs blamed the crisis on the Russia-Ukraine war which it said had affected the supply of chips required to produce e-passports.

This time the ministry says the delay is due to a clearing agency holding on to a batch of passports in South Africa.
Granted, all those explanations could have been correct at the particular times. True, the delay could be a combination of both. The shortage of chips could have created a backlog that was then worsened by the delay at the clearing agency.

Yet the trouble is that the government doesn’t fully explain why there is a delay at the clearing agency or whether the chips are now readily available.
Because the government appears to be economical with the details, the public is left to speculate out of frustration.
To calm and assure the public the government has to forthrightly answer the following questions: Why is the agent holding on to the passports?

Could it be because the agent is holding the passports over a current or previous debt? How many passports does the agent have now?
What is the government doing to expedite the delivery of the passports from Johannesburg?
And finally, when does it expect to solve this crisis once and for all?

As long as those questions remain unanswered, the ministry and the government will continue to be pilloried and accused of making false promises.
Whatever the problem, the government should deal with it. No amount of explanation or excuses will help the thousands of desperate Basotho stuck because they don’t have passports.

The backlog of passports was 42 000 at the last count but continues to rise because the government keeps accepting new applications.
We need not remind the government that the livelihoods and education of thousands of Basotho depend on passports. We believe it’s a fundamental right.
What makes the explanation for the crisis appear hollow is the fact passports are not the only basic good the government has consistently and dismally failed to deliver.
There are no number plates and drivers’ licences. The supply of basic medicines to public hospitals and clinics has been patchy for years. Police and chiefs don’t have stationery.

Livestock owners are not getting ownership documents. The shortage of basic livestock medication is perennial. Schools don’t get textbooks on time and sometimes students go for a whole year without them. Given this reality, it is not surprising that some, including this newspaper, are not fully convinced by the government’s explanation for the delay in passports.

It doesn’t appear that this is due to a hiccup. Rather, it could be systemic. There are too many delays to too many government services and goods.
Most of those delays were inherited from the past administration but that will not mollify angry Basotho.

It was precisely because it promised to solve these persistent problems that the government was elected into power. The people have a legitimate expectation by their government will deliver on their promises. Anything short of a complete delivery will be tantamount to betrayal.

The public’s frustration is building up and it might be only a matter of time before the people completely lose confidence in the government.
It would be tragic were the government to lose the massive goodwill it still enjoys merely because it would failed to resolve a key issue such as that of passports.
The clock is ticking.

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