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Take corrective measures

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OUR lead story last week painted a bleak picture of the massive rot at the High Court which has the potential to tarnish the image of the judiciary in Lesotho.
The issue here is the manner in which the High Court leased an exorbitantly priced house for Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara.

The house, costing a massive M27 000 a month, way above her M4 000 monthly allowance, is owned by another High Court judge, Justice Teboho Moiloa.
The fact the house belongs to another judge has raised serious questions about issues of transparency and conflict of interest.

An explosive draft internal audit report done by the Ministry of Finance reveals that proper procurement procedures were not followed when the High Court leased the house.
The auditors expressed concerns about what they called the “uneconomical use of public funds”.

The report recommends that the lease should be reviewed “for better decision-making on the economical utilisation of financial resources”.
While we would not want to suggest that the two judges went out of their way to flout procurement regulations, we find it astounding that the High Court endorsed the housing deal.
Even after knowing the house belonged to a fellow judge, the High Court failed to initiate any corrective measures.
They still went ahead with the deal.

That is staggering. Yet, we have no doubt that the two judges represent some of the best legal brains in Lesotho and that they have contributed immensely to the development of the justice sector in the country.

But all that good work could be undone. Their sterling record and squeaky clean reputation as judges now stands at the risk of being tarnished.
In our opinion, it is not too late to take immediate corrective measures to reverse the institutional damage in the eyes of the public.
In fact the audit team recommends that the Chief Accounting Officer must “enforce compliance” and take any other corrective measures in accordance with Public Service Regulations”.
We agree.

This is critical to salvage the reputation of the judiciary.
Judges carry an onerous task in dispensing justice and must therefore be squeaky clean.
Any suggestion of impropriety would seriously soil their reputation.

That is why it is critical for the High Court and the two judges to sort this matter pronto.
The issue of perception is quite critical for the judiciary.

Judges must be irreproachable. It would be sad were the public to impute wrong motives on the part of judges.
We therefore agree with the audit report that immediate corrective measures must be taken to salvage and protect the High Court’s reputation.
That should be enough to deal with this matter.

We do not think this matter should be escalated any further.
Any talk of impeachment is therefore both premature and misdirected.
We believe this could simply have been an administrative oversight.

Perhaps the biggest lesson from this episode is that judges must not unnecessarily open themselves up to attack from hawks in the political arena.
They must apply their minds to ensure their behaviour is always above board.

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ABC must allow free, fair contest

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THE former ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) party is back in the news, for the wrong reasons once again.
This time, the party’s National Executive Committee has conspired to block four candidates from contesting for the highly coveted position of deputy leader at an elective conference set for this weekend.

Over the last two weeks, Basotho had to bear the bad news with a spate of increases in the prices of basic commodities.
The Lesotho Flour Mills, the country’s biggest milling company, announced a seven percent price hike on all maize products. The increase is with effect from next Monday.

Those that have been blocked include former Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka, Kefeletsoe Mojela, Katleho Molelle, and Lekhetho Mosito.

Mphaka told this newspaper this week that he has since instructed his lawyers to challenge the ban in the High Court.
That was to be expected.

On the face of it, the decision to bar the four looks irregular and highly unreasonable for a party that touts itself as a democratic party.

It would appear there are individuals within the ABC leadership who are not comfortable to allow a democratic process to elect a new leadership. They want to ring-fence the deputy leader’s position for their own cronies.

That is sad.

If party leader Nkaku Kabi fails to handle this dispute well, he risks yet another damaging split that would leave his party’s seriously weakened.

That is a possibility if history is anything to go by.

At one point, Professor Nqosa Mahao stood on the cusp of the deputy leader’s position until former party leader Thomas Thabane came up with a similar excuse to block Mahao. It all ended in tears for the ABC.

Mahao was to later walk out of the ABC with a sizeable chunk of supporters ahead of the 2022 elections. The result was that his departure severely weakened the ABC as seen from the general election results of 2022 where the ABC received a thunderous clap from voters.

Kabi risks going through a similar patch if he resorts to underhand tactics to block any potential rivals. We hope Kabi is not in any way linked to the decision to block the four.

There is fear among some ABC leaders that the four command grassroots support and could win outright if allowed to contest. It would be highly undemocratic to bar the four from contesting on the basis of a flimsy excuse that they were not in the party’s committees.

Kabi must not seek to surround himself with pliable “yes-men and women”. He must allow the best minds within the ABC to contest for leadership positions if the party is to make any inroads ahead of the next general elections.

That would allow the ABC to renew itself.

That starts with the elective conference this weekend. Any attempts to muzzle that democratic process will likely backfire for the party and its leadership.

At the heart of the ABC’s troubles is the party’s dismal failure to renew the leadership structures. While former party leader Thomas Thabane was a charismatic leader when he was at his peak, he made terrible mistakes by seeking to hang on to the leadership position when he was way past his sell-by date.

Thabane never made any plans for a smooth succession process. He had to be hounded out of office after he was accused of masterminding the assassination of his estranged wife Lipolelo Thabane in 2017.

Two years after Thabane left, his sad legacy of bungling continues to haunt the ABC.

It is precisely for this reason that Kabi must allow an unhindered contest for the deputy leader’s position. That is the best he can do to prepare the party for succession.

 

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Time to act to avert hunger

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A surge in food prices will likely make life miserable for Basotho in the coming year. Their situation had already been precarious in the previous year as the effects of Covid-19 continued to linger.

Over the last two weeks, Basotho had to bear the bad news with a spate of increases in the prices of basic commodities.

The Lesotho Flour Mills, the country’s biggest milling company, announced a seven percent price hike on all maize products. The increase is with effect from next Monday.

A ton of maize, which was trading at between M3 700 and M3 900 in January, is now costing a staggering M5 300. The result is that the high cost of maize will now be transferred to the consumer.
The surge in the price of maize is a result of crop failures in the southern Africa region due to high temperatures and erratic rains. The shortage has now triggered a surge in the price of maize.

Much more worrying was a warning by Lesotho Flour Mills that Basotho should brace for yet another round of price increases in the next two months.

The company warned that the wholesale price of maize could hit as high as M8 800 per metric ton.

It is not just the price of maize-meal that has gone up. Other basic commodities have also gone up in the last few weeks.

The price of fuel has gone up. A surge in the price of fuel will likely see a knock-on effect on the prices of basic commodities such as maize-meal and bread.

The result is that transport operators are likely to demand a review of taxi fares in the next few weeks. If the government rejects the request for a hike, we are likely to see protests on the streets.
With food in short supply, the prospect of food riots must not be discounted. We are heading into unknown territory for Lesotho. The general hardships could trigger instability in Lesotho.
This is not fear-mongering. It is real.

The massive price increases on the back of a jobs carnage in the textile sector, which is the second biggest employer in Lesotho.

At least 15 000 jobs have been lost in the textile sector in the last few months as companies closed.

What has compounded the crisis is the fact that no new jobs are being created. Instead, we are shedding jobs at an astonishing pace. The massive job losses have increased the levels of hardships in Lesotho across all levels.

This is deeply worrying.

While this is a matter of grievous concern, we do not see any concerted efforts by the government to prepare for the troubled times ahead.

Nearly every country in the southern Africa region is scrambling to put in place contingency measures to deal with the disaster. We are hearing very little from Lesotho about the plans to deal with the crisis.

Basotho are waiting to hear from the government what sort of safety nets it will put in place for the poor. They want to hear what orders the government has put in place to acquire enough maize for the next year.

We hope the government is not banking on some donor out there to avert the crisis. While donors might be welcome they must complement what the government is already doing for its own people.
The time to act is now.

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BNP must not recycle deadwood

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ELSEWHERE in this issue we write about a fierce power struggle within the BNP pitting current party leader Machesetsa Mofomobe and former leader Thesele Maseribane.
Mofomobe has accused Maseribane of orchestrating a rebellion against his leadership.

If Maseribane is indeed plotting a political comeback as BNP leader, that would be highly unfortunate.
It would, in our humble opinion, be a recycling of deadwood.

Such a tired approach will not do any good to the BNP, a once glorious political movement that is now a shadow of its former self.
Instead, a Maseribane comeback will likely deliver the final knockout blow to a party that has teetered on the brink of collapse in the past two decades.

We hold no brief for either politician. However, we are of the strong opinion that Maseribane had his chance when he served as BNP leader during his two terms. And that a return at this point would not do any good to the party.
Maseribane must therefore move on.

Mofomobe took over the reins following a violent election that left one person dead. He has not done spectacularly well as party leader either.
Under his watch, the BNP has continued to decline as seen in the results of the last general elections when the party only won slightly over 7 000 votes.
As party leader, Mofomobe must shoulder most of the blame for the BNP’s disastrous performance.

So we can understand why BNP stalwarts across the divide are now asking hard questions and demanding a totally new broom to take over the reins.
Instead of rebuilding the party Maseribane and Mofomobe are tearing it apart. That is sad.

There are fears within the BNP that Maseribane wants to amend the party’s constitution to allow him to serve a fresh term.
That too would be unfortunate.

Maseribane, as an elder party statesman, must step back into the background and play an advisory role for the new generation of leaders within the BNP.
For that to happen, the BNP must be allowed to go through a self-regeneration process. And Maseribane must not have any role to play under the new leadership, serve to be an elder statesman.

If the BNP fails to manage this conflict, it risks slumping into yet another cycle of decline. The party will have none but itself to blame for euthanizing itself.
The BNP has been declining starting in 1998 when it won over 145 000 votes in the elections. That figure fell to 124 000 in the 2002 elections. In the 2007 elections, the BNP won a paltry 30 000 votes. In 2012, the BNP won 33 000 votes which increased slightly to 31 500 in the 2015 elections.

But it declined further in 2017 when it won just 23 400 votes before things really went south in 2022 when it won just 7 300 votes.
The stats are damning for Maseribane and Mofomobe. The two might be equally culpable for the BNP’s decline, having presided over the affairs of the party when its support significantly declined.

Admittely, the BNP is gifted with brilliant minds who are now disgruntled and have recoiled into a cocoon. It needs these brilliant minds if it is to reclaim its former glory.

That means electing fresh individuals with new ideas on how to take the party forward. That new generation of leaders does not certainly include Maseribane, a man who had his chance and did his best for the party when he was still at the helm.
It is nothing personal. It is the hard reality.

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