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Matekane’s biggest test

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane comes into government with a strong mandate and substantial goodwill. We understand the euphoria and hope people have in his nascent administration.

The long list of self-imposed targets and timelines in his inauguration speech have only heightened the expectations.

We note that he wants to spend his first 100 days focusing on understanding the problems and implementing systems that will form the basis of his government.

Matekane has promised performance contracts for ministers and principal secretaries (PSs). He wants to plug leaks in the government’s finances, curb corruption and enhance accountability in the civil service.

He plans to engage stakeholders and push the devolution agenda. He says in two weeks the government would have developed a strategy to fight rampant crime and find answers to the M6.1 billion that the Auditor General had queried.

He wants a plan to monitor the government’s expenditure and use of state assets. State projects and parastatals will also be assed in the first three months. It’s a long and ambitious wish-list but one necessary to set the tone for a transparent and accountable government.

Yet if there is anything we learned from history it is that politicians should be judged by what they do, not their promises. The real test for Matekane will be in the implementation. His targets might look like low-hanging fruits but they are no simple tasks.

He will have to push against a civil service that has long abdicated its responsibility to serve the people. A public service teeming with people with no respect for accountability to either the government or the public they are employed to serve.

Matekane faces off against an establishment driven by vested and personal interests.

He is up against parastatals that have deviated from their mandate and made underperformance a second nature. Public enterprises that take more than they give to the government and the people. Perennial leeches that skive and underperform because they believe their roles are too critical for the government to allow them to fail.

When it comes to devolution, Matekane is going into battle with civil servants who want to hoard power and centralise the control of both resources and decisions at the expense of districts.

It is therefore predictable that many in the government will either actively or passively resist his attempt to implement systems to stop corruption and leakages.

They have become accustomed to enriching themselves at the government’s expense and treating state financial regulations as minor nuisances to be ignored at whim.

Blame that on the lack of consequences for those who have been caught hand in the cookie jar or have just bungled due to ineptness rather than ill-intention.

Matekane is going against a system that has been allowed to rot for decades. It’s a culture so potent that it has captured, swallowed and corrupted his predecessors. Changing that system will not be a 100-days’ work.

And he might soon realise many of the people that are crucial to implementing the culture change he desperately craves are either its captains or woefully unprepared to drive the change.

In that case, shuffling people across roles and departments would not be sufficient to achieve the desired results. He will have to let go of some people, some of whom have been his staunch supporters.

We strongly suggest letting go of some principal secretaries and paying off their contracts. That will be expensive in the short term but vital to the broader goal he wants to achieve.

These are hard decisions Matekane has to make within the first 100 days in office if he wants to live up to his promises of creating a strong, vibrant, self-sufficient and sustainable economy that delivers value, jobs and better lives to the people.

He has set himself the targets, now he has to deliver.

 

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Depoliticize civil service

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OVER the last few weeks, we have watched with keen interest as the new government led by Prime Minister Sam Matekane began purging Principal Secretaries (PSs) who were appointed by the previous administration.

Matekane has since appointed new PSs in their place.

Predictably, that has triggered howls of disapproval from opposition parties who accuse Matekane of ousting “their” people from the civil service.

However, it would appear Matekane has not violated any law. He has merely exercised the power vested in him under the Constitution of Lesotho.

As the appointing authority, he can also fire individuals he thinks are not suitable to his developmental agenda. He has since put in place loyalists who he thinks will drive his agenda.

While Matekane might have acted within the law, we do not think the entire process of dismissals was neither fair nor just.

It is part of the rotten, toxic fumes of the past 50 years that have contaminated the politics of this country. Every time a new government takes over, it appoints its own new PS’s.

The new round of removals and dismissals does little to ensure stability and a level of continuity in government ministries.

It is on this basis that we have always argued for a depoliticized civil service with all PS’s being appointed on the basis of their professional competence and not party affiliation. There are huge benefits of taking up the former model rather than the latter.

Matekane is generally an affable, humble man who has promised to transform how politics is done in Lesotho. He has promised to bring a business mindset in running the affairs of the government.

In seeking to transform the fortunes of Lesotho, he will need a competent team of technocrats to run government ministries who may not be party loyalists.

In line with his pre-election promises, we would want to see a meritocratic process as he appoints new PS’s and other key officials in government agencies and commissions.

The days of reserving senior jobs to party loyalists who know nothing about running government business must be over.

That is key if the Prime Minister is to succeed in his mission of transforming Lesotho’s economic fortunes. To do so, Matekane must block the noise coming from party apparatchiks and focus on what works for Lesotho.

We also understand why the opposition has been peeved by this purge. There is a perception that the individuals who have been shown the door were aligned to the previous government.

So it is natural that they would defend their own people. But to ensure that we deal with challenges of this nature in future, it has become urgent for MPs to resuscitate and pass the Reforms Bill that failed to pass in the last parliament.

That way, Lesotho would depoliticize the appointment of senior civil servants such as PS’s and other positions of government parastatals and institutions.

As long as Lesotho has not passed a new Constitution that regulates the appointment of PS’s we will remain stuck with these political appointments, much to the chagrin of the opposition.

To his credit, Matekane has not been brazen about how he has conducted the dismissals. Those he has so far removed are tainted by serious allegations of corruption.

Even if they had not been fired, ethical leadership should have dictated that they step aside until the allegations levelled against them had been fully investigated. That is how things should go if we want to clean the government.

 

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Matekane’s 5-year strategic plan

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IN our last week’s edition, we carried a story headlined, ‘‘Matekane’s five-year strategic plan,” which explained how the government intends to develop Lesotho over the next few years.

We must state that the strategic plan really looks impressive. Our only reservation is that the plan looks so broad to the extent that the government seems so eager to do so much in such a little time.

We would have liked the government to break down the plan to a few issues that need urgent addressing and are easier to implement given the state of its finances.

But generally, we are in full agreement with the vision as articulated in the National Strategic Development Plan for 2023/27.

Without a cohesive and cogent plan, the government would be fumbling in the dark and will not be able to bring the necessary changes that the people have been clamouring for the past five years.

Having articulated its vision, the people can see where Prime Minister Sam Matekane wants to take Lesotho which makes it easier for every Mosotho regardless of political persuasion to pull in the same direction.

That is critical if we are, extricate ourselves from the jaws of poverty and put Lesotho on the path to economic development. We need to look at the Rwanda-model to see that it can be possible to have a quick turn-around in economic fortunes.

After reading the document, it has become clear that Matekane is aware of the scale of work that needs to be done to roll back poverty and take Lesotho to the next level of development.

Half of Lesotho’s 2 million people are living in abject poverty. The unemployment rate is currently standing at over 20 percent, according to aid agencies.

Our private sector is so small that it is not creating enough jobs to absorb graduates from universities and colleges.

Without the support of donors, whom we euphemistically call development partners, the majority of Basotho would starve to death. This is the reality that needs to be turned around.

We are excited though that the National Strategic Development Plan for the 2023/27 successfully identifies the problem and goes on to prescribe what appears to be the correct medication to cure what ails Lesotho.

We will only cite two issues in this editorial: the push to revolutionise the agriculture sector and the decision to set up a National Social Security Fund.

The National Social Security Fund will be a contributory scheme for the employer and employee and will pay benefits to workers in the event they lose their jobs, are impaired or they retire.

As we have seen elsewhere, the fund is the surest way that pensioners can be looked after when they most need the funds.

It can also underwrite Lesotho’s economic development as it has the potential to amass lots of resources that can be invested into the country’s future.

The funds that will be generated will be pushed towards sustainable development within Lesotho. That way, we will build Lesotho together.

But the success of the fund will hinge on whether the government appoints the right calibre of technocrats to drive the strategy. It must break with the old, irritating habit of making appointments on the basis of political affiliation.

We need competent individuals to drive the implementation of the strategic plan. If the government botches the hiring, then it must be prepared for the consequences.

Matekane will only need to look next door in South Africa to see that the “cadre deployment policy” does not work.

 

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SR mob attacks journalist

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MASERU – TŠENOLO FM presenter, Abiel Sebolai, was allegedly beaten and injured by a mob of Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) supporters on Saturday.

Sebolai said the mob, which he suspected was drunk, attacked him with fists, sticks and stones.

He said the group was enraged after he tried to take pictures of their cars which belonged to the Ministry of Local Government

Sebolai told thepost that he had gone to Thaba-Tseka with the Thaba-Moea MP, Puseletso Lejone Paulose, on a work trip when he spotted a group of people clad in SR regalia riding in the government vehicle, hoisting beer bottles.

“We were in Mantšonyane when I saw the Local Government vehicle full of men and women with bottles of beer in their hands,” Sebolai said.

“I saw that the majority were wearing Socialist Revolutionaries regalia.”

He wanted to talk about the abuse of government vehicles on his programme the next day.

“I then took out my phone to capture a few pictures and a video,” he said.

He said just as he started taking pictures, the vehicle made a U-turn and approached him.

“The driver came to me and asked me what I was doing with my phone,” he said.

He said he told the driver that there was nothing wrong with taking pictures as a journalist.

“The person I was with reprimanded him and he attempted to walk away only to turn back and punch me.”

“After the first punch, I retaliated by throwing a punch too. I managed to hit him hard and he fell.”

He said the group then jumped off the car and started assaulting him with stones and sticks.

Sebolai said he tried to flee but was stopped by the “stones that were coming to me like rain until I was hit and fell”.

“What nearly took my life was a stone that was thrown while I was falling. It hit me on the forehead and from then I went blind.”

“They were insulting me so much.”

Sebolai said he was helped by a Good Samaritan who risked his life to drag him into his vehicle.

“From there I was taken to the clinic in Lesobeng before an ambulance took me to Mantšonyane Hospital.”

“I went to the Mantšonyane police station where I found the same Local Government vehicle parked,” he said.

“I am told that the Local Government Minister instructed it to be impounded and my assailants arrested.”

He complained that he was injured while doing his work “but the Ministry (of Communications) and MISA are silent about my attack”.

The SR spokesman, Thabo Shao, told thepost that they received a report about the incident and the party does not “condone that behaviour”.

“I hear arrests are not yet made, those people should be arrested,” he said.

The MISA director, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, said the board will soon meet to discuss the matter and call the victim before issuing a statement.

“We are going to work it out and then issue a condemnation,” Ntsukunyane said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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